Story Pick: The Secrets of Alcoholics Anonymous
The church will be closed tomorrow, and the drunks are freaking out. An elderly lady in a prim white blouse has just delivered the bad news, with deep apologies: A major blizzard is scheduled to wallop Manhattan tonight, and up to a foot of snow will cover the ground by dawn. The church, located on the Upper West Side, can’t ask its staff to risk a dangerous commute. Unfortunately, that means it must cancel the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting held daily in the basement.
Many people think they know what Alcoholics Anonymous is about. The 75-year-old organization has been the subject of articles, dramatized, and lampooned in films and other art for years. Its 12-step program to treat addiction is ingrained in our collective psyche. In his new Wired piece, though, Koerner poses some fairly basic questions about the organization that no one seems to have the answer to. Which part of AA's program -- such as an addict's apology to someone he or she has wronged, or surrendering to a higher power -- works the best? "Stunningly, even the most highly regarded AA experts have no idea," Koerner writes. He adds: "The problem is so vexing, in fact, that addiction professionals have largely accepted that AA itself will always be an enigma. But research in other fields—primarily behavior change and neurology—offers some insight into what exactly is happening in those church basements."
Koerner's piece offers a thorough look at the research behind addiction, addiction therapy, and AA's history. The most compelling part, however, is the article's introduction, when Koerner immerses us inside that actual AA meeting at a New York church. After the attendees were told that the next meeting was canceled due to snow, Koerner shows how the group reacted:
A worried murmur ripples through the room. “Wha… what are we supposed to do?” asks a woman in her mid-twenties with smudged black eyeliner. She’s in rough shape, having emerged from a multiday alcohol-and-cocaine bender that morning. “The snow, it’s going to close everything,” she says, her cigarette-addled voice tinged with panic. “Everything!” She’s on the verge of tears.
| June 24, 2010; 6:28 PM ET
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