In the 1990s, membership in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other mutual-aid, disease-specific support groups may have peaked. Yet political scientist Robert Putnam’s data from that period suggested that Americans were “bowling alone,” retreating from participation in traditional forms of civic life like bowling leagues, Rotary clubs, and college alumni fundraisers. They had less social capital and weaker emotional bonds. Critics suggested that the growth of so-called self-help support groups represented a narcissistic, responsibility-shirking substitute for deeper commitments to family, community, and faith (and Putnam partly agreed).
Both 12-step skeptics and AA purists also questioned whether corporate motives were influencing the growth of grassroots groups.