It is routinely said that only 3% of people who walk through the doors of Alcoholics Anonymous will stay sober.
To the best of my knowledge this is true though I’ve seen numbers as high as 6%. This is irrelevant to the discussion though. Those who have something, anything, against AA use this figure as evidence to discredit its efficacy. After all, if only three measly percent of people who attend a meeting achieve success, they must be doing something wrong! Can I get an Amen?!
Allow me to enlighten. In the early days of “the program” AA’s enjoyed an estimated (non-scientific) 75% success rate. Of the remaining 25%, an estimated half came back to find sobriety after another bout or two with King Alcohol.
Here’s where today’s numbers get watered down. Today, studies show that of those 3% who make it to one year, 85% make it to five years sober. Now that’s more like it, right? I’ve made it 23 years without so much as a Near-beer, puff of pot or a muscle relaxer (though I did have two occasions, an injury and a surgery, where something with a little kick was required – 22 years ago and 20 years ago). Zero mood or mind-altering substances. I even turned down prescribed narcotic pain medication after my car was rear-ended on the expressway by a kid who failed to see the three miles of brake lights due to a construction backup about five years ago.
I got my back and neck cracked by my DO instead. And took an Aleve. Just one.
So is my success in abstinence a fluke, only to be enjoyed by the lucky few? Hold on to your butts, this is gonna get bumpy.
In the opening of the Fifth Chapter of AA’s Big Book it says
Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.
Now, of those who walk through the front door, of all those who are sentenced to attend (either by the court or because of a quart), how many do you think thoroughly follow the path? Put simply, I’ve never seen someone fail who thoroughly followed the path. Not one (and the path isn’t rocket science. It’s quite simple, it just isn’t easy.)
My guess, because nobody believes in perfection, would be about 3.00125%, using the initial 3% who make it, actually follow the path. Of those, again, a full 85% make it to five years. The interesting thing would be to see how many make it to 10 or 20 (my best guess is north of 80% for 10 then another 75% of those for 20).
In other words, the Courts and Lawyers dilute the pool from which we draw the numbers from with those who simply show up to get out of trouble and have no desire to admit they’re alcoholic let alone give a sober life a half-hearted attempt.
Let’s take sobriety out of the equation entirely for a second. What if the prerequisite for pleading a DUI down to an impaired was enrolling in college and completing six weeks worth of classes.
College attendance in the 101 courses would swell beyond belief but how many of those who started would stick around to get a degree after they successfully avoided trouble? My guess is a lot less than 3%… after all, our meetings are entirely free of charge. College only costs you an arm, a leg and your pinky toe off the other foot.
Ladies and gentlemen, choosing to forsake alcohol is hard. I gave up the one thing that, even though I allowed it to destroy me, made me feel good. Also, as a reminder in this ever-politicized world, remember this the next time someone throws out a ridiculous figure that makes no sense to make an argument that makes even less (like you’re safer if you can’t protect yourself)… The numbers can (and usually are) fixed all of the time to get the gullible to believe that which isn’t true.