Dr. Barnes and Dr. Wilson personally answer the phones from 8:00AM until 5:00PM (PST) everyday.
In U.S. & Canada: 888-541-6350
In Southern California, Nationally, or Internationally, call:
818-466-9258

The Bucket of Crabs, or Why AA and Alanon Are Bad For Your Health

The “Bucket of Crabs” is one of our favorite analogies. Pulling crabs out of traps on Kodiak Island, we’d just toss them into a big bucket – no need to put a lid on the bucket.

Why not?

Because as soon as one crab would start to climb out, the other crabs would drag him, or her, right back down into the bottom of the bucket. There’s no escape to life back in the ocean.

And that keeps happening until all of the crabs end up in the steamer.

The point?

Pick your support group with care. Most so-called alcohol support groups are, in fact, merely a bucket of crabs that will keep dragging you back down to their level. Try and escape and you’ll be warned that it’s too dangerous to get a life, or to mingle with “normies,” or grow up. It’s too dangerous to stop building your life around alcohol.

So you stay in the alcohol bucket, drinking or not, or complaining about your spouse, or parents, or children, or……

And what’s the point of all of this?

Obviously the point is to avoid actually making any real change. That’s what groups like AA and Alanon and Alateen do best, they help you maintain the “security of familiar miseries” – as we termed it 25 years ago – instead of fixing your life.

But why would you want to trade the illusory security of the crab bucket for an actual life out in the real world?

Remember, despite all of the con men and hucksters, alcohol abuse is a choice and you are free – not powerless – to make a different choice at any time. If you’re the spouse, parent, or child of an alcohol abuser, you are also free to make choices, including the choice to get a life of your own. Not a life focused around another’s alcohol abuse.

You can always choose to be recovered, not in crippling, life-denying, “recovery.” You can choose to be an ex-drinker just as many of us are ex-smokers. You can also choose to be someone who used to waste you life on a drinker but got a grip, got over him or her, and got a life of your own.

Please, alcohol abuse is a choice, not a disease, and you can escape the AA/Alanon Bucket of Crabs. Don’t let the doomed continue to drag you back to share their misery and their fate.

By |2010-05-12T10:18:01+00:00May 12th, 2010|For Families|62 Comments

62 Comments

  1. Corrina April 25, 2018 at 6:07 am

    I went to an Al-Anon meeting, 4 codependent meetings, and I also supported a friend by going to his AA meetings. I totally believe you have to figure out what is not working and on making a change to do something different. But to sit there and listen to everyone go on and on about their problems, it’s a drainer. If they had a more structured meeting with clinical help to make firm boundaries with people that are there, keeping their sentences short and to-the-point, and problem solving what a better reaction might be, it would be helpful. I seen a lot of people there just want validation for what they’re going through and to be able to discuss it. I would like to see actual problem solving and change.

  2. Ann April 27, 2018 at 4:41 pm

    I have been attending al-non for several months. AA years ago. This description of the crabs in the bucket is not only dead on its dangerous. I’ve been seeing regulars actually getting worse. They look suicidal at times. It helped me at first knowing others were struggling however the organizers in my opinion are lining their pockets. It’s not a lot of money but they sure are like wolves. Checks made out to them personally. And money is the topic for the first 30 minutes. Some people get singled out and reprimanded others (men) who have been regulars are permitted to do and say whatever. I was selected to be talked to like a child for a comment I made about CRAFT another type of support and she went on to say maybe al-non isn’t for me. I was so shocked. She said people who read a lot don’t always work out here. Meaning having an opinion or a brain is not permitted. I highly recommend anyone considering al-non choose the meeting carefully. Get recommendations and seek counseling also. Even reading there are tremendous books on copdepency, addiction, and books on tape.

  3. Monica May 5, 2018 at 1:45 pm

    I am an AA spouse, and mother of addicts. I totally get what you are saying. Does anyone else see a perverted sense of pride that these aa folks have towards others. “Other people are not like us” “We are different.” “Only another alcoholic can understand.” It drives me nuts!

  4. John May 8, 2018 at 6:29 am

    AA has worked for me for 15 years.

  5. Susie May 9, 2018 at 3:15 am

    Not all Alanon groups are the same. A healthy group will not focus on the problem and we know we have choices. I’ve been a grateful member of Alanon for 6 years. I haven’t experienced what you mention. Nor has some of the things you mention been endorsed. What I do know is I am a better person today because of the 12 steps and the action I had to take from it. Much better. I’m sorry your experience wasn’t that positive. But for me it’s been a life changer. In my marriage with my son, in my job, in all aspects of life.

  6. Deborah May 15, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Al-Anon is making my spouse selfish and treating everyone like they are the alcholic or drug addict; he says to me that his feelings come first, and he demands my 100 percent attention and when I cry I am a cry baby because it’s not a mature thing to do, I think my husband needs help and A
    AL-ANON IS ONLY MAKING HIS PROBLEMS WORSE; He shows no empathy and puts him first before everyone; even his children and making his sponsor ( his crazy 12 step brother) who has deserted him numerous times in life the only thing that matters. He is 53 and I think he has s
    One to his brother 20 years only yet he is now his Al-Anon mentor, He walks around saying he is in recovery but from what….. he isn’t the drug addict or alcholic , He states he isn’t there for them anyhow n it has nothing to do with them it’s about him. His recovery ;
    , I think he has lost his mind and I know he is loosing his marriage. It’s so sad and I don’t know how to stop him and help him. I am not the enemy. I just wish he would listen to me and together we face the world. I am the one that has been with him for years n when he struggles I want to help not walk away:::: it’s helpless. I am fighting a war with him that I cannot win, I’m afraid for him and Fraid for us. It’s so sad n I wish he would realize how much I love him and just want to hold his hand. His heart and help him. Help us. Help me. He thinks I am the enemy n I’m scared when he realjzes I’m not it will be too late. He needs to see that it was his brother that left a long time ago n he is only on your side now cuz it’s his craziness he is listening toooooo. I promise him if he turns a inch his brother would be gone. I want to be his best friend. Inside n out. And he just don’t trust me. I have only loved him n been a devoted wife n mother. Everyone thinks he is crazy but Al-Anon and his brother. It’s so sad to watch. Heartbroken in new york

  7. Sally A Helmerich June 17, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    I really despised AA and Alanon. For my daughter, it was a 14 year experiment that failed horrendously. She found a good therapist and psychiatrist, and she went on MAT, which she’s now tapering off of. She has no desire to drink or use. I found Alanon to be harmful. There were people there who’d been attending for 20 years and had gotten nowhere. The stories were depressing and unhelpful. I disliked everyone I met, and I tried a few groups. All the same trash.

  8. D Jones June 22, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    I was also singled out and reprimanded in front of the entire group by a regular. I was new to Alanon and the topic was meditation. I thought it would be helpful to suggest an iPhone app that has guided meditation. You would have thought I was trying to sell the app to everyone there!! I was talked down to like a child. I’m 64 years old !!!! and I was just trying to be helpful. I would have appreciated a private suggestion after the meeting, this would have been more respectful and kind which is what Alanon “says” it is supposed to be. I think they are mostly victims complaining about their alcohoholics without leadership or someone present that can actually help them heal.

  9. Silver Damsen September 16, 2018 at 8:50 am

    And what was true in 2010 is still true today. What this article doesn’t mention is that while 12 Step is emotionally damaging for for those that don’t drink that it has a higher rate of death for heroin and other opioid users than continuing to use street heroin and not even attempt to stop.

    I think it is useful when those in 12 Step, especially those who with a heroin or other opioid use disorder (Note: I don’t like the term “addict” because it suggests that people can’t change but just as an Al-Anon can actually make it out of he bucket–even if it might be hard–so can those with a substance abuse disorder).

    It’s also relevant to point out when people say that 12 Step works for people because people will say that it works for them, but this ignores all the accounts that the group culture is actually damaging and if you analyze how it functions it is clear that it functions exactly as the crabs in the bucket–except, of course, beause we are people and not crabs, we have a chance of getting out.

  10. John Jones September 22, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    Went to Alanon.
    Apparently, I didn’t say it right – was basically attacked, so, I left.
    I’ve been recovering (from all things worldly) for over 25 years.
    Adding Alanon to the list.
    The book is pretty good — people way to controlling.
    They need to bring fly swatters (or paddles) to the meetings.
    Thanks

  11. Nancy Leffel November 23, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    I went to my first alanon meeting this week. I didn’t see how reading a list of steps/principles over and over helpful. I also didn’t love that you had to stick to the theme (this one was forgiveness) and not just talk about what you came there to talk about. I really didn’t love all of the rules that MUST be followed. Some of those folks have been reading those lists over and over for years. It’s like a picture that stays in the same place. After while you don’t see it anymore. I also didn’t like that the steps were the same as AA, for example, ‘I am powerless over alcohol.’ Shouldn’t it, if be more like ‘I’m powerless to change the behavior of another person.’ Why admit to being powerless over alcohol, when you couldn’t care less about drinking?

  12. Cindy W. February 1, 2019 at 11:28 am

    I have been attending Alanon for 2 years. I have worked the steps. I am beginning to question myself because all of the members in my group do not want to give more than a dollar as a contribution. In reality it takes alot more money to run a small group of ten. There is the responsibility of rent, literature, traveling expenses for area and district meetings. There is also a donation recommended for the Word Service Center. Yet all of these members (all 10) want all of this to be accomplished yet there is nothing they give but a dollar! Really. I mean really makes no sense here. For me, I have decided to stick with my psychologist (who is a professional of course) and as said in those Alanon meetings “take what you like and leave the rest.” I am leaving this group and Alanon. Thanks Alanon for teaching me to leave the rest. And I did just that. Leave

Leave A Comment


Important This site makes use of cookies which may contain tracking information about visitors. By continuing to browse this site you agree to our use of cookies.