12 Step Meetings: Is This The Only Way To Beat Addiction?
12 Steps Dominate Addiction Treatment
A.A And The 12 Steps Dominates Over 90 Percent Of Rehabs In The United States. It is the primary form of post-rehab aftercare that is recommended, and the majority of mental health and addictions professionals recommend the 12 Steps to individuals suffering from addiction.
This dominance throughout the country is very strong, and the 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous truly have a monopoly in the system. Although there are other treatment models for addiction available, the 12 Steps are recommended by the majority of the time by treatment providers.
What Is The Main Philosophy Of 12 Step Treatment?
The main philosophy of the 12 Step model is one of powerlessness and surrender. You must admit that you are totally powerless over your addiction and that your life has become unmanageable. You also must surrender your will and your life over a higher power.
You are told that you must attend 90 meetings in 90 days, and that you must continue to attend meetings for the rest of your life.
You are also told that you have a disease that you can only put in remission and never cure. Even if you stop drinking for 25 years, you must always refer to yourself as an alcoholic or addict.
The labeling of oneself for life, the powerlessness concept, and the religious aspect (higher power and referring to God) are a few of the more controversial aspects of the A.A and 12-Step philosophy.
The 5 Percent Success Rate
Several studies have shown that the success rate for A.A and other 12 Step Meetings is between 3 and 5 percent. Some experts say that it is zero due to spontaneous remission. These are the individuals who recover on their own without any help at all.
Many drop out of A.A in the first month because they are turned off by the strict dogma and the religious aspects of the program. The retention rate is not high, except for maybe people who get mandated to meetings by the criminal justice system.
A.A And Binge Drinking
A study showed that alcoholic men who went to Alcoholics Anonymous became 9 times more likely to subsequently “binge drink” than those who used a CBT approach that focusing and thinking and emotions.
They were also 5 times more likely to binge than a control group who got no help whatsoever.
The study was called the Self Help Alcoholism Research Project (SHARP), and it was done over 30 years ago, in the mid 70′s. These results were reported in an extensive book entitled Outpatient Treatment Of Alcoholism by Jeffrey Brandsma, published in 1980.
Other studies have shown the same outcome regarding binge drinking and the A.A program. This is definitely a concern for anybody considering the 12 Steps as a form of treatment.
The reason for this may be the self-fulfilling prophecy of believing you are not in control and fully powerless. Many will just throw in the towel and say “what the heck.. I am out of control and have a disease….so I am all in!”
Binge drinking can be quite dangerous for people and creates drunk driving accidents, alcohol poisoning, and worst of all, suicide.
We Are Powerless In The 12 Steps
The concept of powerlessness is something I want to discuss a little bit more. Powerless is the polar opposite of empowerment. I know that for myself, I want to feel empowered as a person, knowing that I can help myself and learn to make good choices and decisions. Feeling powerless is not a good feeling because we can lose belief in ourselves and our abilities to heal, make better choices, and thrive.
It is my belief that this is a major flaw in the 12 Step philosophy and one of the reasons I believe that there needs to be other options for people to recover from their addictions.
When people are empowered, hope is instilled. On the contrary, when people are disempowered there can be a feeling of defeat as well as hopelessness.
The Religious Aspect Of The 12 Steps
The 12 Step programs and Alcoholics Anonymous do have a very strong religious component even though proponents call in “spiritual”. It is said in the program that you can use a doorknob as a higher power if you want. The problem is that the word God is mentioned many times throughout the Big Book of A.A and meetings end with the Lords Prayer.
The origins of A.A, originally founded by Bill Wilson came from a fundamentalist evangelical Christian group known as the Oxford Group. The Oxford Group focused on confessing ones sins and being of service to God and to others. Members of this group were highly religious and focused on living a puritanical life that is free of sin.
Many people get turned off by the religious aspects of the program, especially those who do not believe in God. I read many stories by X-Steppers that believed A.A had a very cult-like atmosphere that focused too much on religion, strict doctrine, and very controlling and authoritarian sponsors.
Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book
Focus On Character Defects
The 12 Step philosophy focuses on the concept of character defects. In Step 4 a member is asked to complete a personal inventory of all of the mistakes he or she made, in addition to their character problems.
It is supposed to be a very humbling experience and one is supposed to complete this 4th step with his or her personal sponsor.
The problem I see here is the fact that this step mentions nothing of character strengths and personal attributes. There is NOTHING about this. We grow and get better as people as we build on our strengths. Of course we want to work on our personality traits that need some improvement. I see nothing wrong with that at all. The difficulty I have with this 4th step however, is the pure focus on the negative.
Focus Only On Abstinence
The 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous focuses purely on abstinence. It is the belief of the program that one drink or drug will result in pure disaster. There is no focus on modification or harm reduction at all.
The group focuses on the “progressive nature of the disease” and that abstinence is the only way to live life so one does not go to jail, an institution, or die.
Members of the group who have the greatest abstinence have the highest status in the program. Members who are new or who relapse are considered “low man on the totem pole”. Old –timers are revered and worshipped and many times can do and say no wrong.
What Are The Alternatives?
There are many alternatives to 12 Step meetings and A.A groups, however, these groups are not mainstream. There is Smart Recovery which focuses on a more cognitive behavioral approach and is abstinence based.The group holds meetings both online and offline. There is SOS, Lifering, and a group called Women For Sobriety as well. There is also a very interesting website online called www.thecleanslate.org which gives alternatives to A.A and the disease model of addiction. There are many articles that are very well written there with some very interesting feedback from the readers.
There are also individual therapists and counselors who can help you with your addiction and not demand or push you to go to 12-Step meetings. These counselors are not as easy to find, and it is important that you ask a potential therapist if they adhere primarily to the 12 Step philosophy or not.
I conclude that the 12 Steps can work for some people but not most. I truly believe that if it was that helpful for people that there would be more than a 5 percent success rate. If a 5 percent success rate for a cancer treatment was found to be conclusive, that particular treatment would not be in existence.
There needs to be other treatment options for people with addictions that are based on scientific evidence. Even though Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing and other treatment options have proven to be successful, these are not available to the majority of people looking for help.
It is hoped that addictions treatment will move beyond the 12 Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous and focus more on 21st century treatments that can truly help people get better.