Why So Few Doctors Refer Alcoholics to AA for Treatment

The answer why so few health professionals refer problem drinkers to AA may surprise you. But to a recovering alcoholic, it makes perfect sense. This post is exclusively for AA members in Europe who could use a 10x boost to their serenity and peace of mind this holiday season.


Hi all, this post is for AA members within the Continental Europe Region (CER) who have a desire to get a 10x return on a 5 minute time investment. If that’s you, feel free to scroll down to the bottom where there’s a link to a gForm SURVEY and answer a few questions. I can’t promise when your 10x dividend will pay out, but I absolutely guarantee it will. 


My name is Joel B. and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also our region’s HLO (Health Liaison Officer). This means I’m leading members’ outreach initiatives to health professionals. These include psychiatrists, therapists, MD’s, rehab or clinic staff & administrators, psychologists, GP’s and the medical schools who train new doctors and nurses. If one of these is you, or you have experience working with these professionals, we especially ask for your participation.


The World Health Organization reports the European Region has the highest proportion in the world of total ill health and premature death due to alcohol. As so many recovering AA’s stories disclose, our physical and mental health problems grew as the disease of alcoholism progressed. Visits to doctor’s offices and hospital emergency rooms were frequent. But few medical professionals refer alcoholics to AA or to seek treatment. Why is this? The answer goes to the core of why AA outreach to health professionals this coming year is so critical.

In a Harvard Magazine article about alcoholism, George Vaillant M.D. was quoted as saying that 50 percent of the people brought into emergency rooms with fractures are there as a result of alcohol, but that blood-alcohol levels are never checked. Dr. Vaillant expounded on doctors’ “oversight” in an interview published by Grapevine Magazine, May 2001.

Grapevine:  how do medical professionals view alcoholism today?

George Vaillant: What happens in emergency rooms is actually much more dramatic than that (Harvard article). Probably 50 percent of all the people brought into emergency rooms had blood-alcohol levels over .25 – which is enough to make any non dependent person comatose, not just prone to accidents. And even though this is a clear biochemical fact staring doctors in the face, no referral is made – nothing is done about it – because when it comes to treating alcoholism, the medical profession feels so helpless, so without hope. And for a doctor, feeling powerless is reason enough to put his head in the sand.

Grapevine: Why do you think medical professionals feel that way?

George Vaillant: You have to remember that very few doctors have ever seen a recovered alcoholic. If you’re recovered, you don’t have any reason to tell your doctor you’re an alcoholic. And if you’re not recovered, you go back to see him a hundred times, so you’re forever etched in his memory. Consequently, doctors overcount the failures and have no knowledge of the successes. They don’t understand that 40 percent of all recovery has probably occurred through Alcoholics Anonymous ….

Read Dr. Vaillant’s full interview to hear what he thinks can be done to change health professionals’ perceptions. 


After undergoing brain surgery in 2015, I began seeing a neurologist (who also had license to practice psychiatry and psychology) for recurring depression, a common after-effect of stroke victims. But despite telling him I was a recovering alcoholic and addict, the good doctor prescribed antidepressant medication and to “use your willpower” to deal with my dark mood swings.


I’m sure this doctor and his peers are deeply knowledgeable in their respective medical fields. And I’m sure they have their patients’ best interests at heart. But they have little or only hearsay understanding of AA’s program of recovery. Consequently it falls to those of us in recovery to bring our solution to them. 


I’ve never met a recovering alcoholic who disagreed in theory with our primary purpose of carrying the message to the still suffering alcoholic. But in practice, in taking action? Not so many. Truthfully, I was once one one of those who took satisfaction hearing about others doing the footwork. But once I started volunteering, first at a Group level, then my Zurich Intergroup (IG), then Region and Conference, I experienced more and more evidence of a direct correlation between doing service and my personal happiness.

Ready to get your 10X return on investment? Then give 5 minutes to complete the survey linked below to help me, and the HLO working group, kick off the “Health Liaison Outreach to Professionals” (HLOP) 2022 campaign. 


The experience of AAs doing outreach to health professionals is rich in successes, failures and lessons learned. But it all depends on IG’s, groups and local fellowships willingness to reach out to their respective professional communities. Therefore, the survey is a first step to inventory our Region’s willingness and ask for input to better understand where to focus energy and resources.

Take the survey. Refer folks to this post at local meetings. Share the survey link with your AA chat groups. And enjoy spending your ROI with friends, family and yourself through this hectic month and beyond!

LINK TO SURVEY or copy/paste https://forms.gle/L19p7hnAMwU3yHfS8

Joel B. Zurich