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Should recovering addicts really be anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous has long viewed secrecy as crucial to getting people to seek help, though some are questioning whether that's still really necessary
An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: Some wonder whether it's time for A.A. to drop its demands for anonymity.
An Alcoholics Anonymous meeting: Some wonder whether it's time for A.A. to drop its demands for anonymity.
John Van Hasselt/Corbis
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t's no secret that the second "A" in "A.A." stands for anonymous. But anonymity is harder and harder to come by in the age of social media and confessional chic. And many people who have overcome drug and alcohol problems are fueling that trend by writing revealing recovery memoirs. Is greater openness in the recovery world a good thing, or will it make people reluctant to seek help from groups like Alcoholics Anonymous?

Dropping anonymity would make recovery easier: "We are in the midst of a public health crisis when it comes to understanding and treating addiction," says Susan Cheever at The Fix. By sticking with its old-school principle of anonymity, A.A. has "taken on the air of a cult, with secret language and rituals," reinforcing the tired idea that people with addictions should be ashamed. That only makes it harder for people to speak frankly about their problems.
"Is it time to take the anonymous out of A.A.?"

Actually, secrecy still has its place: The shame of being identified as a recovering alcoholic or drug addict "may be narrowing to a vanishing point," says Victoria Pynchon at Forbes, but the raw struggle to conquer addiction is nothing anyone would be happy revealing on TV, Facebook, or Twitter. "In the age of confessionals, Alcoholics Anonymous has remained one of the few places where the CEO of Exxon could freely mingle with the janitorial staff over at Google" without fear of exposure. Surely there's some benefit in that.
"Negotiating the boundary between the public and the private — Alcoholics Anonymous in the age of the internet"

But nobody is forced into secrecy: The criticism of A.A.'s anonymity makes no sense, says Addiction and Recovery News. "There is nothing in A.A.'s traditions that prohibits publicly identifying oneself as an alcoholic in recovery" as long as one doesn't reveal oneself as an A.A. member. If you want to share your story of recovery with the world, knock yourself out. If you want to become an activist, go right ahead. Just keep your word, and leave A.A. out of it.
"The second 'A' in A.A."

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