Updated on March 28, 2024
4 min read

Why Do People Stop Going to AA?

People leave Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for a variety of reasons. Maybe the program, its methods, or the culture just isn’t for them.

However, it’s important to understand that leaving AA doesn’t mean you should give up on sobriety. Here are some of the common factors that might lead to parting with AA:

1. Perceived Improvement

Some people might feel like they’ve made a complete recovery and prematurely leave AA. However, recovery is an ongoing process, and they might miss out on crucial skills for lasting sobriety.

Additionally, comparing oneself to others in the group can minimize their own issues. This can lead them to believe they don't need the same level of continued support.

2. Time Constraints

AA is a long-term commitment, and some people might have a hard time making the time for it. However, continuous support is crucial for maintaining sobriety, and not having the time to prioritize recovery can affect that. 

3. Fear, Reluctance, and Social Concerns

Another reason why people might stop attending AA is due to fear. People can be scared of AA for multiple reasons, including:

  • The thought of going to AA
  • AA being ineffective
  • Stigma
  • Anxiety about choosing a sponsor or mentor
  • Messing up or relapsing

People might also be reluctant to surrender themselves to God or a higher power. Overall, certain fears and anxieties can cause people to leave AA.

5. Emphasis on Spirituality 

AA emphasizes believing in a higher power, whether God or something else. For many people, this is a great approach that resonates with their beliefs.

But this can be problematic for secular people or people who don’t identify with a traditional religious belief. For some, this can be uncomfortable, stressful, and potentially triggering.

6. Criticism of the Program & Effectiveness

Some may feel that AA’s structure, language, or methods aren’t for them. Although there is growing evidence for AA’s effectiveness, people’s experiences can vary. 

Some factors that can affect AA’s effectiveness include:

  • Personal commitment
  • Severity of alcohol addiction
  • Experience with the support network

Some critics argue that more studies are needed to fully understand AA’s effectiveness. For some people, these criticisms can drive people away from AA and seek other support systems.

"I noticed there were a lot of people [...] who would have one day of sobriety, and the next week, they'd have one day of sobriety. They just were drinking still, but they would go in and say, ‘I have one day’ and you know, everybody would applaud. [...] It felt like a place to go to constantly be forgiven and accepted for being a drunk. "

7. Desire for a Different Recovery Path

AA can be a wonderful experience for many people. Their life-long commitment to the community can be encouraging and fulfilling.

But it’s not the final solution for everyone, and as people go through AA, their needs and goals can evolve over time. This can lead many to explore additional or different forms of support like therapy or coaching. 

"I am so eternally grateful to AA and my participation in AA, but it was the only game in town that I knew about. [...] It pushed me to explore other recovery programs."

8. Negative Experiences or Perceptions

Everyone’s experiences can vary, even in AA. Some people might have a great time, but others might feel different.

Difficult experiences within meetings can leave people feeling pressured or concerned about the program’s culture. Members might not get along or some might sully their experience by getting romantically involved with other members (13th stepping).

Overall, a person’s negative experiences can make them less likely to attend meetings. In some cases, this can make someone never want to attend any AA meeting ever again.

"The negative experiences that I was having at meetings and with people were far outweighing the positives that I was experiencing."

9. Seeking a Sense of Direction

AA can be a great starting point for many, but sometimes it heavily focuses on not drinking. Although not drinking is good, sometimes people need more tangible goals and aspirations.

Because of this, they might want to look for other programs that give them a sense of direction. Primarily programs that focus on building a life beyond sobriety. 

"Although I am no longer in the program of AA today, I still implement structures, readings, and things that I learned in the program in my everyday life today."

AA Alternatives

While AA provides an invaluable path of recovery for many, it's important to recognize that one size does not fit all. Seeking out the best fit for individual needs, with diverse and adaptable approaches, is crucial for lasting success in the journey toward addiction recovery.

Some popular alternatives are:

Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list. Many more alternatives can help you on your sobriety journey.

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Updated on March 28, 2024

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