Further Reading

Can you develop an alternative program when a court orders you into AA?

Hi Stanton—

I understand that you don't give referrals for treatment providers in geographical areas. Is there a referral source for such practitioners?

My concern is that, as a legal secretary for over ten years, I have seen the Courts "sentence" addicts/alcoholics to 12-step programs many times. Like a lot of people in my community, I have misgivings about these programs and their one-size-fits-all approach. I wonder if the courts might be moved to let defendants pick their treatment approach, if they could provide the court with an alternative...?



Dear Alice:

The important thing to know is that it is illegal for a court to sentence anyone to AA without offering them an alternative program. All courts which have decided on this issue (including two federal appeals courts and the highest court in New York state) have ruled AA is a religious organization, and that the state (as represented by the courts) cannot force an individual to seek a higher power (one that clearly is derived from the Christian God) without violating the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. (All of this is described in my book with Charles Bufe and Archie Brodsky, Resisting 12-Step Coercion.)

It is worth bringing this to the attention of the authorities, perhaps by citing these cases. Of course, most people are not in a position to challenge the legality of a court order. So the best approach in most cases would be, as you suggest, for a person to develop an alternative program on their own, perhaps involving their own therapist, or a support group organized for some other purpose than strictly alcohol or drugs, or a non-AA substance abuse support group.

I have forwarded your e-mail to the largest provider of alternative support groups for substance abuse problems, and I enclose their response below.

Interestingly, following my appearance on John Stossel’s TV show entitled, Help Me, I can’t Help Myself, which questioned traditional beliefs in the addiction field, I appeared on some radio call-in shows. For the first time, I heard from a Moslem (a physician). You know, the United States is no longer all Christians (or even Jews), and I wonder how a growing recognition of world diversity may affect AA referrals.

Stanton Peele


I want to direct you to our website at www.smartrecovery.org. At the site, you can access the meeting list (click on the meeting info in the left column index, then on the local meeting index on the following page), and there is an abundance of other information at our site! You might wish to read through the documents contained in "About SMART Recovery" — that will give you a good overview of the program.

After you have an opportunity to visit the site, please let us know if you have any questions.


Shari Allwood
SMART Recovery Central Office