Recovering Alcoholics Taking Sides In Dispute Against A Washington 'AA' Group

Armen Hareyan's picture

Alcoholics Anonymous Group

After a few months at Midtown, one of the oldest and largest Alcoholics Anonymous groups in the Washington, D.C., area, 15-year-old May Clancy felt that something about the group was not right.


The group's embrace began to feel like a chokehold. She tells Newsweek that the sponsor assigned to give her moral support and help keep her sober pressured her to cut off ties to anyone outside the group. Another member snatched her cell phone and deleted names in the directory. She says she was pressured to stop taking the medication a doctor had prescribed to manage her bipolar disorder: group members told her she couldn't be sober if she was taking any kind of drug. There was a hierarchy to the group. Younger members were sometimes expected to wash cars, clean houses and do other menial chores for more senior members, according to a report in the current issue of Newsweek.

May tells Newsweek Reporter Nick Summers that she was especially uncomfortable with the emphasis on dating within the group and sex between members. She would listen as girls her age compared notes on the men in the group they had been encouraged to sleep with, some of whom were decades older. Her suspicions were confirmed when she left Midtown and began attending a different AA meeting. She was surprised-and relieved-to find that many of Midtown's common practices were exactly the opposite of what Alcoholics Anonymous literature teaches. By design, there are no "leaders" in AA groups who exert control over other members, AA doesn't expect members to ignore doctors' prescriptions and it doesn't tell them to turn their backs on friends and family.

As Summers reports in the May 7 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, April 30), May is one of hundreds of recovering alcoholics who are taking sides in a bitter, unprecedented dispute among Alcoholics Anonymous adherents that pits members of Midtown, who insist the organization has saved their lives and kept them sober, against angry former members, who charge it is a coercive, cultlike group that uses the trusted AA name to