That perception has since radically changed, albeit gradually, thanks in no small part to the concerted efforts of AA’s early pioneers. They “realized early on that to establish true legitimacy, they would eventually need to earn the imprimatur of the scientific community,” writes Dodes. Which they did, with aplomb, largely by manufacturing an establishment for addiction scholarship and advocacy that did not previously exist. They created a space for AA to dictate the conversation.
The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, one of the foremost American advocacy-agencies for recovering addicts, was founded in 1944 by Marty Mann—a wealthy and well-connected Chicago debutante, and the first female member of AA. The Center of Alcohol Studies at Rutgers University, an international leader in alcoholism-related research, was founded at Yale in 1943 under the direction of E. Morton Jellinek. Jellinek, the author of several seminal texts on alcoholism and an eventual WHO consultant on the condition, placed AA-founder and Big Book author Bill Wilson on the faculty—a man who claimed to have been cured of his own alcoholism not through the progress of scientific research, but by divine intervention.
In 1951, based on what Dodes calls “the strength of self-reported success and popular articles” (The Saturday Evening Post was a major supporter), AA received a Lasker Award, which is “given by the American Public Health Association for outstanding achievement in medical research or public health administration.” This despite “no mention of any scientific study that might prove or disprove the organization’s efficacy,” writes Dodes. But it was nevertheless a marked moment AA’s history; the moment it entered the medical establishment, and by proxy, gained implicit trust from the American public on matters of alcohol abuse.
Two decades later, in 1970, Congress passed a landmark bill called the “Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Prevention Treatment and Rehabilitation Act,” precipitating the establishment of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. “Among those testifying to the lawmakers in support of the bill,” writes Dodes, “were Marty Mann and Bill Wilson.”
In 1989, America’s first drug court began sentencing “nonviolent drug offenders” to 12-step programs. Although court-mandated participation in 12-step programs would eventually be deemed unconstitutional (thanks to items like Step Six), Dodes claims “judges still refer people to AA as a part of sentencing or a condition of probation.”
This brings us to the present: an addiction-treatment landscape envisioned and engineered almost entirely by AA. TSF is the law of the land. If you have a drinking problem in 2014, or a drug problem, or a gambling problem, your medically, socially, culturally, and politically mandated solution is a set of 12 steps. The only other options, as asserted by the Big Book, are “jails, institutions, and death.”