A Critical Review of Qualitative Interview Studies with Alcoholics Anonymous Members

Hannah S. Glassman*, Paul Rhodes, Niels Buus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a community-based NGO that supports people with alcohol misuse concerns to achieve and maintain abstinence. Qualitative methods are best suited to investigate individual experiences of recovery in AA, since this typically involves not only abstinence from alcohol but also the global psychological growth of the whole person. Despite this, the growing body of qualitative research exploring individual experiences in AA has yet to be collated. Objectives: The aims of this paper were to systematically search for and critically review qualitative interview studies with AA members. Methods: A systematic database and citation search identified 21 articles published between 1977 and 2014. Two independent reviewers assessed each research report and extracted data pertaining to the findings and the methodological quality of the studies. Results: Major themes across the reviewed articles included ‘rock-bottom’ experiences and powerlessness, and identity and change processes in AA. Findings related to the methodological quality of the papers were both general to qualitative research and more specific to AA. Conclusions/Importance: Research in this field has been characterized by a relatively uncritical discovery of AA narratives among AA members and by a lack of methodological rigor, which is likely to perpetuate its negative standing in the context of academia, and therefore in public and political discourse. Overall, findings demonstrated a pressing need for high quality qualitative research on AA.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSubstance Use and Misuse
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)387-398
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • 12 Step Programs
  • Alcoholics anonymous
  • critical review
  • insider research
  • stigmatization
  • systematic review


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