Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Chris Sinding




Substance abuse is a serious and long-standing problem that causes significant personal, social and financial hardship in our society. In response to the difficulties stemming from alcohol problems, Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) was formed to help individuals adopt and maintain a goal of abstinence. A.A. is well-known in our society and in fact has been referred to as "the major force dealing with alcoholism today" (Murray et aI, 2003: 26) that has shaped society's view of addiction (Le et al., 1995). While the literature has clearly documented the role that self-help groups such as A.A. can play in assisting people to achieve and maintain sobriety (Burman, 1997), there are fewer studies that take a critical approach, examining A. A. 's limitations. This study provides an important contribution by giving an opportunity for individuals who have expressed some dissatisfaction with A.A. to have their voices heard concerning how A. A.'s practices and beliefs have shaped their experiences. Using an anti-oppressive practice perspective, this study draws attention to issues of power and oppression within the A.A. organization, identifying the structural dimensions that serve to marginalize problem drinkers.

This research project is an exploratory, qualitative study conducted within an interpretive, critical framework. The sample consisted of six Caucasian women, four who continue to attend A.A. and two who attended A.A. in the past. While the participants in this study conceptualized their involvement in A.A. in a variety of ways, for the most part they confirmed the following concerns that have been raised in the critical literature about this organization: A.A. is a patriarchal institution that oppresses women; A.A. promotes the disease model of alcoholism which fosters powerlessness in people's lives; blaming the individual shifts the focus away from structural issues; labelling increases stigma which contributes to the marginalization of problem drinkers; and A.A. excludes full participation in society. The theme most evident throughout the study was one of powerlessness. Drawing on the participants' experiences, recommendations are presented in order to develop a model of support that fosters empowerment and self-efficacy, recognizes people's strengths and abilities, and takes into consideration a diversity of needs.

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