Women and Alcohol Treatment: “Her Best-Kept Secret”

In Her Best-Kept Secret, journalist Gabrielle Glaser reports on extensive research she conducted regarding women and alcohol and declares that women of all ages are drinking more problematically than ever before in this country.

Well, let’s say a woman discovers she does have a drinking problem—she can just go to AA, right? Well, although AA is where many do wind up, Glaser found that this longstanding recovery network often fails them in ways it may not fail men.

Reasons for this include the fact that AA was developed by men, the problematic higher power concept, and the lack of clinical expertise among members and sponsors.

Part of Glaser’s research involved attending some open AA meetings herself. She tells Kirkus Reviews she saw significant differences between the women-only and the mixed ones. “I went to several women’s-only meetings, and I was struck by how deep the longing for the drink was. It seemed like these women had quit with a gun to their heads. And then I went to mixed meetings, and men tried to pick me up. And I thought: Well, that’s weird.”

In response to the outreach Glaser then conducted regarding women and alcohol treatment, a large number of women indicated to her “how much they had been damaged by AA.” Interestingly, although one of the major issues, 13-stepping, is all too common in the U.S., it doesn’t exist so much in such countries as Great Britain and Australia. Why? Because they’ve instituted safeguards against predation: victims are advised to use the police.

Although Glaser recognizes that some women do find AA helpful, she cites research showing it’s actually one of the least effective treatments available today:

…12-step programs are near the bottom of the rankings in terms of efficacy. From the Cochrane Review to the COMBINE study to the more recent graph of effective treatments, the 12-step treatments have been surpassed. In the book, I also use AA’s own numbers, which show a 5% success rate. If abstention and meetings work for someone, that’s fantastic. But for the vast majority of people for whom they don’t, there are other options.

On her site Glaser offers possible alternatives to AA, most of which don’t view alcoholism as a disease as does AA. Included are some therapy options as well as support networks such as Smart Recovery, Women for Sobriety, and Moderation.org.

It’s noted also that medication is available for cravings reduction. Glaser tells Anna Breslaw, Jezebel: “Our own government spent $30 million to find that one method — the drug naltrexone, combined with visiting a doctor who can talk to you about your drinking, is the most effective method for reducing alcohol abuse. Under our new health care laws, this sort of treatment will be covered.”

In sum, Glaser’s intent is not to get women to avoid or drop AA but for women and alcohol treatment to mesh better. From Maia Szalavitz‘s Time interview with the author, an analogy Glaser offers:

I have chronic sinus disease. Over the years, treatment for it has changed. The only solution of my day was surgery, and today it’s the last resort. If it works for you, that’s great, but people respond differently to different therapies.

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