People sometimes quote statistics about AA, for instance the success rates of fifty to seventy-five per cent cited in the Big Book, or the assertion that AA, statistically speaking, is no better than 'doing nothing' or is even harmful to people's chances of staying sober.
The problem with these statistics is that no one defines what 'AA' means.
Sometimes, the population includes anyone going to a meeting at any point. Of course, the proportion of these people who stay permanently sober is very low.
On the other hand, the proportion of people viewing holidays on Expedia who travel to the locations suggested is very low, too. AA is not attending the odd meeting or even attending regular meetings. Meetings are the shopfront of the programme: they are not the product on offer.
The success of a method should be assessed on the basis only of those who actually try and complete it, not those who are offered it but reject it or abort their participation. Why people reject the method is another question, but given the amount of support available to complete the process, inability is only exceptionally an issue: the only real stumbling-block is lack of willingness.
The best test is this: what proportion of the people who apply the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as set out in the book Alcoholics Anonymous stay sober (practically speaking: write a simple and concise inventory of past behaviour, admit the worst items to an AA friend, apologise to those harmed and set right the wrongs, try to establish a working relationship with God or (for humanists) a 'hitherto unsuspected inner resource', and spend time teaching this method to others and making AA visible to the outside world)?
A friend of mine has compiled statistics concerning the people he has sponsored [i.e. offered to guide through the AA programme] over the last few years.
These are illuminating.
'I have sponsored 210 people over the last few years. All were offered the Twelve-Step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous and unlimited support from an unlimited number of people to complete the simple programme.
18 are currently in the process, and all are staying sober.
67 aborted the process. Of these, 21 are confirmed sober, 1 died drunk, 1 died sober, 1 is currently drinking, 2 turned out not to be alcoholics, and 41 are lost to follow-up.
62 reached Step Nine [i.e. started the process of making amends] but are not confirmed to have completed this process. Of these, 2 died drunk, 10 are lost to follow-up, and 50 are confirmed sober today.
63 completed the process [i.e. made all amends]. 1 is lost to follow-up. The remaining 62 are staying continuously sober.'
I think these results speak for themselves.