Since its founding in the U.S. in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has proven to enjoy the support of a wide range of individuals, authorities, professionals, and civic organizations. According to AA, it was estimated in 2007 that worldwide there were over 116,000 AA groups, with more than 2 million members. Yet for all its popularity, relatively little is known about how and the extent to which AA actually works. The organization’s insistence on anonymity has made research about members difficult, and estimates of its success rate have ranged wildly, from 5% to 75%.
Wired magazine and the blog neuroanthropology.net offer up two articles, attempting to explain the draw of Alcoholics Anonymous. Brendan I. Koerner’s “Secret of AA: After 75 Years, We Don’t Know How It Works” examines the history of AA in a critical, yet balanced, fashion, discussing both the successes and shortcomings of the group’s approach. Mark Flanagan’s “Hard Drinkers Meet Soft Science” is interested in addressing the question, “Why do so many science-based medical providers recommend AA?” His answers: it’s free, it’s convenient, and it comes with passionate anecdotal evidence to support it.