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Gender Oppression in 12-Step Literature

How you choose to describe an illness does not immediately equal mental illness stigma

Resistance to changing the gendered text of AA literature places an unfair burden on the many people who want to get sober but feel ostracized by the oppressive language.

Alcoholic Anonymous has a language problem.

Humans are complicated, and 12-step programs do not work for everyone. Substance use disorders do not have a single identifiable cause and there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Like most things, treatment options are limited for people who are already marginalized. People of color, especially women and non-cis folks, are at a particular disadvantage when trying to access services. Despite opinions on the usefulness of the program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs are frequently the only options for someone who needs help to stop abusing their substance of choice. They’re free and exist all over the world.

AA is the original 12-step program; all others have been based on its literature. Other programs such as Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous all use the same script with the term “alcoholic” replaced with the relevant description. These other 12-step programs tend to utilize AA’s 12 traditions, a set of suggested guidelines to help groups organize themselves. The traditions state that there is one primary purpose for each group and that is “to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”

There are some who believe if AA doesn’t work it’s because the person isn’t doing the necessary work and that objections to old-fashioned language and sexist stereotypes are something people have to get over. AA members sometimes say, “The language is archaic, but it works as is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Just because something doesn’t harm you, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t harm others…

Find out more about the current exclusionary language in all-inclusive recovery programs in the original article Gendered Language in 12 Step Programs at The Fix.

Gender Oppression in 12-Step Literature

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APA Reference
Guest Author, P. (2018). Gender Oppression in 12-Step Literature. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 1 Jan 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.