Book Review - More Revealed--A Critical Analysis of AA and the 12 Steps

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1995, Volume 12, Number 1, pages 110-111. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - More Revealed: A Critical Analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps. 

K. Ragge. Alert Publishing, Henderson, NV, 1991, 250 pages.

This book is a critique of Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-step recovery program. There is no table of contents or subject index and no chapters designated as such, only one-line bold-print subject headings. There are 243 footnotes and six pages of references. Books recommended in Appendix C reflect the author's bias (e.g., Lifton, Schein, Hassan, Milgram, Szasz).

The author's preface states he "made every effort to be fair" and "to stay as close as possible to original, universal sources of "A doctrine" but concedes it is "not a scientific work per se." This is evident in unclear, incomplete footnotes such as on page 27 where it is reported that certain AA members had a "pathetic outcome" to "two important MMPI scales," such as "the Finney Addiction Scale." The Finney is a subscale, not routinely given, and therefore cannot be regarded as "important." Such half truths weaken the book.

Elsewhere there is excessive, useless detail -- for example, footnote 1 ("Horace, book 1, Ep. VI, cited from Harrison ,1934"), referring to the quote on page 1 ("The worst of madmen is a saint run wild"--Pope). How could Horace quote Alexander Pope (if that's the "Pope" in question) who lived centuries later? Did Pope quote Horace or did Harrison in 1934 think he did? The reader is left with a quote hanging somewhere among three sources.

Three appendices are devoted to "finding assistance," the SAP subtest (Substance Abuse Proclivity Profile) from the MMPI (from the outdated original MMPI, now replaced by MMPI-2), and "further reading" of books dating from a very old 1932 through the 1960s and 1970s.

Ragge considers AA to be more like a cult than a self-help group. He questions recovery statistics and the disease and addiction models. He refers to AA as "the 12-step religion." Ragge recommends terminating treatment if a therapist suggests attending AA meetings (p. 230), considers the word spiritual a "danger sign," and "self pity a gross misnomer of scant value" (p. 234). He charges that the SAP test is used to validate AA "doctrine" and to Again acceptability." The AA program is more like indoctrination, "manipulation through fear" (p. 31).

The book devotes much space to minor details, little space to more important subjects. Robert Jay Lifton is referred to as "the world's foremost authority on totalitarian organizations" (p. 10). The "subconscious mind" is described (p. 59) when the more precise preferred term is the "unconscious." Broad generalizations are made from limited data such as "three times as many alcoholics moderate drinking as abstain ... treatment sabotages the ability to moderate ... teaches learned helplessness," and "for most problem drinkers abstinence is an unrealistic goal" (pp. 97B99).

A basic problem, Ragge maintains, is when AA becomes the sole source of credible information about oneself (p. 134). He contends that moderation may be a better alternative and a more attainable goal than total abstinence, which flatly contradicts AA doctrine of "one drink, one drunk." He worries about increased suicide risk if the drinker sees AA as "the last house on the block" for help (p. 175) and cites three persons who attempted suicide in an AA group of 12.

The book is unashamedly biased but useful for that reason alone. Unless questions are raised about treatment, there is the danger that programs become fixed, stagnant, and impersonal. AA is more a self-help organization than a cult. A lay organization without charismatic leaders and with clearly stated goals toward improved mental health, AA lacks the features of a cult. AA's slogans and mottos may be simplistic, but they have helped thousands to stay dry. AA has nothing to fear from this book and much to gain from its criticisms. Alcoholism is a continuing major problem and anything that helps drinkers to sobriety--AA and Ken Ragge included--is worthy of further study.

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Center for the Study of the Self

Gloucester, Virginia