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People use addiction as a substitute for intimate relations and AA cleverly provides an intimate relationship." Caroline (not her real name), 39, took four years to break away from AA and looks back with loathing at what she now sees as its self-serving and coercive methods."I had doubts from the start but I carried on because, at the time, I had very low self-esteem and no confidence.With any addiction, that is the most urgent need initially; you have to stop killing yourself. Once you've been clean for, say, two years, you should move on to therapy.You have to get away from the AA paternal structure that may have been missing in your childhood.Which is good to know when you consider that there are currently 3,350 AA groups in the UK, and counting.Addiction Counselling World magazine also lists 23 UK 12 Step fellowship groups in its current issue (including Survivors of Incest Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous).

Obviously this is vital and clearly sensible when you're coming off one drug already and that is your most urgent need, but later on this approach blocks progress when say, antidepressants and therapy would help." Nigel Walsh, 37, attended various AA meetings over a three-month period and found the approach wilfully inward looking.

AA started in the Thirties in the US but, despite 60 years of expansion, its core programme has remained unchanged.

Anyone who wants to stop drinking can go to one of hundreds of meetings held every night across the country and will be introduced to the 12 Steps and the Big Book (of guidance and member stories) as well as a sponsor for one-to-one support.

He was very critical that I would still speak to someone who had `fallen away'. I wanted friends and I wanted to be liked but now I've detached. I've been emotionally damaged by their mind games to keep you a member, to keep you needing them.

It's sold to you as if you're part of a special order. It's a bullying environment." David Oddy, 43, went to AA for eight years on and off before leaving to cure himself through therapy. It doesn't empower or encourage independence." Oliver James and other professionals also have problems with the AA identification of alcoholism as a disease.

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