By Leslie Rosenblood

In the  July 2019 edition of Critical Links , we told you about Byron Wood, an atheist nurse and alcoholic. He wanted to attend a rehabilitation program that was non-theistic in nature. His union did not provide one, and when he did not complete the Alcoholics Anonymous program because he refused to turn his life “over the care of God,” he was fired. (Half of AA’s  12 steps  directly refer to God or a Greater Power.)

Though popular, AA and similar programs do not work for everyone. How effective they actually are is a matter of considerable dispute, with  AA claiming  “up to 75 percent of its members maintain abstinence,” while  addiction specialists “cite numbers closer to 8% to 12% for sobriety by [AA] members after the first year.” Gabrielle Glaser in the Atlantic  writes , “In 2006, the Cochrane Collaboration, a health-care research group, reviewed studies going back to the 1960s and found that ‘no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.’” A  2012 report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University stated, “The vast majority of people in need of addiction treatment do not receive anything that approximates evidence-based care.”

For many addicts, other treatment methods — including medication, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and  deep-brain stimulation — have proven to be superior to the more well known 12-step program.

Mr. Wood launched a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal in 2015, with support from the Centre for Inquiry Canada and the  BC Humanist Association (among others). He  reached a settlement with Vancouver Coastal Health in early December 2019. Though the details of the settlement are confidential,  Wood writes , “I’m really happy about the outcome — it means that VCH [Vancouver Coastal Health] employees are not required to attend 12-step rehab centres, 12-step meetings, or participate in any 12-step activities if they object for religious reasons. It’s what I’ve been fighting for, for the last six years.”

As a result, the 14,000 employees of VCH will no longer have to attend AA “if that approach to treatment conflicts with their religious or non-religious beliefs.”

The agreement is a settlement between Mr. Wood and VCH, not a ruling by the BC Human Rights Tribunal. As a result, its terms are not binding on other organizations. However, CFIC hopes that other employers realize the intrinsic theistic nature of 12-step programs, accept the principle that attending any religious gathering should never be a requirement for employment, and provide an option for secular addiction rehabilitation services to their employees.

CFIC salutes Mr. Wood’s courage and stamina in his fight to have secular approaches to sobriety be recognized by his former employer. Mr. Wood is applying to have his nursing license reinstated, and CFIC wishes him luck in his future endeavours.

Read more about AA on the CFIC website .

This article appears in the January 2020 version of Critical Links.