Debunking Myths About 12-Step Programs
Many myths about 12-step programs have grown up since Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935. Since that time, numerous fellowships have patterned themselves after the humble beginnings of AA. These 12-Step programs have enjoyed success over the years; however, they have also been criticized for their practices. Many of these criticisms, I feel, are somewhat misguided and have fed into the myths about 12-Step programs. I say this from the perspective of someone who found freedom from addiction using 12-step recovery. What are the myths about 12-Step programs that keep people away?
Myths About 12-Step Programs You Can Ignore
12-Step Programs Are Cults
First, 12-Step fellowships are not cults. The truth is that members of these programs not only have the ability to come and go as they please, but there are ample opportunities for open discourse and an exchange of ideas. If anything, there is a considerable amount of freedom and latitude to practice one’s program. The one common denominator is the desire to quit (fill in the blank).
Belief in God Is Mandatory
Another myth is that 12-Step programs require that you believe in God. In reality, The 3rd Step plainly states, “(We) Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” This is the concept of a Higher Power, as long as it is loving, caring, and greater than oneself.
There have been many who have simply used the group as their Higher Power. For others, the higher power may be nature, the subconscious, or any other power you feel is greater than your conscious mind. In the end, there is no one who will tell you what you have to believe in.
12-Step Meetings Are One-Dimensional
Another misconception is perpetuated in the media. I have seen numerous movies and TV shows that depict 12-Step meetings. More often than not, they show an individual standing in front of a room at a podium telling their story. While this may be the case in some meetings, many are much more involved than that. For example, Big Book studies, Just for Today discussions, and Informational Pamphlet meetings explore the vast literature of 12-Step programs.
I acknowledge the fact that some people have difficulty getting involved with a 12-Step program. I also realize that there are other alternatives to 12-Step programs such as Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), SMART Recovery and many other secular and religious organizations designed to aid addiction recovery (Is AA the Only Way to Recover from Alcoholism?). What I need to stress is that untold thousands have been able to find a new way of life through 12-Step programs. Speaking for myself, it saved me and has helped me discover a life I once thought was impossible.
CASAC, K. (2012, September 3). Debunking Myths About 12-Step Programs, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/debunkingaddiction/2012/09/debunking-myths-about-12-step-programs
Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC
Who would sign up for this? Sick and vulnerable people - that's who.
I went to AA for 2 years, and then stayed sober (or "dry drunk" as AA's would call me) for 18 more years. After my divorce I drank again, and I can certainly say that this was a conscious choice on my part. 5 months later, the "fun" is over and I realize that drinking (for me) is simply not safe and I am trying to medicate underlying mental health issues with a numbing substance - alcohol.
Sober 7 days now, I will prove that - once again - a person can refrain from substance use for prolonged periods without membership and complete and lifelong dependence on a group. Also, I will prove that a slip is not a death sentence, or a reason to feel shame or be shamed by others.
I don't really care what AA book-bashers think of my way of not drinking. They even shame others with long-term sobriety, calling them "dry drunks" on "bad spiritual ground" who are doing it wrong and don't have *quality* sobriety. ("Quality Sobriety" is how AA members shame eachother when they can't use a persons track record against them).
12-Step has become an industry. Be wary of those who run big dollar 12-step recovery centers who bewail the benefits of the 12 steps.
You can stop using/drinking if you want to and you don't need a 12-step program to do it. In fact, 12-step programs inherently lack the REAL psychological testing and treatment that addresses the *underlying* causes of a persons vulnerability to substance use. My first "slip" in 20+ years has to do with the process of loss, grief, guilt, shame and isolation that resulted from my divorce. Now that I have stopped drinking I need to find a constructive way to deal with my divorce and start putting it behind me and planning the next stage of my life.
Sitting in a church basement for the rest of my life with people giving each-other the hairy-eyeball and comparing each-others "quality of sobriety"? I'd honestly rather be dead.
I'll happily be a "dry drunk" and simply quit drinking. I don't need cult membership for that or adapt this "powerlessness" (read: learned helplessness) trip.
I think it's important to point out that Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous do not run any treatment centers. The entire treatment center industry is highly unregulated and I believe some of them are over-priced scams (while others are not). But Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous do not receive money from treatment centers, even those who advocate 12-step programs, except, perhaps from the sale of books.
Thank you for your thoughtful and kind response. I definitely agree that the more supports the better!
On this matter, however, I think we will have to agree to disagree! haha The joys of this field; everyone has a different opinion, but it is important to discuss with those who may not share your point of view.
Keep up the good work.
As an addictions counsellor myself, and former member of AA and NA, I see the negative impact of this approach to recovery every day. I don't think you are doing anyone any favours by constantly recommending a program that works less often than simply doing nothing at all.
I do not see AA/NA as a "negative approach" to recovery. If anything I see it as a beacon of hope to the addict who still suffers. Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.
But most of all, in my humble opinion, the use of your full name and face in this blog on this public site along with your disclosure of being an AA member is in direct conflict with the suggestions of Tradition 12:
"At this altitude (press, radio, films, television), anonymity - 100 percent anonymity - was the only possible answer. Here, principles would have to come before personalities, without exception."
I assume you have thought of these things, prayed about them, talked to your sponsor about them....or maybe not.
For the good of AA, but more so because I am a not-cured alcoholic :), I had to say something to you about this. And hopefully, I am not harassing you, because I hate making amends to people - lol.
And no, you're not harassing me.