In my therapy practise these days, I tend to be seeing a lot of women with various addictions including alcohol, drugs, food, and unhealthy relationships. As part of their recovery plan, I always go over what resources they plan on using besides one-on-one therapy sessions in order to meet their goal (which with any addiction is basically to stop using their particular ‘drug of choice’). I often suggest joining some sort of recovery group as well as individual counseling in order to get extra support, recovery tools, and to help them discover that they aren’t the only ones going through this particular problem. I find that many of my clients are able to let go of some of the shame that inherently goes along with addiction when they meet other people like themselves who are having the same struggles.
When most of us think of addiction recovery groups, we automatically think of the classic 12-step groups that began with the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith and have since blossomed into almost countless variations on the theme depending on the type of addiction people have. I couldn’t believe the list when I read it! Turns out you can be addicted to almost anything!
Not everyone is a fan of 12-step groups and I understand there are definitely pros and cons. A recent book by Lance Dodes, a psychiatrist who’s treated addiction for 35 years and works at Harvard Medical School has just written an anti-12 Step book called The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. In essence, he offers an overview on the history of AA and it’s subsequent development and questions why it continues to be the main component underlying the majority of incredibly expensive addiction rehab centres; while maintaining a very poor recovery rate (between 5-10%) with no scientific merit.
Another book I recommend highly to anyone struggling with the 12-step model is called Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps by Charlotte Davis Kasl. She takes issue with the traditional 12-step program being a program created by men for men, and has created an empowering recovery approach called the 16 Steps that seems to work really well for many women.
And now, I’ll share with you some of my thoughts on 12- Step programs. I’ll start with the Pros and end with the Cons:
- They are free (run by donation only) and highly accessible in most communities
- I think there is a certain magic that happens when we sit with others in our own, and their suffering, and learn to ask for help and to help others
- I love the spiritual component and truly believe that having a Higher Power (in whatever shape or form personally appeals to you- it doesn’t have to be tied to a religion to work) is a wonderful strength to lean on when dealing with our own ‘addiction demons’
- 12 step groups are the great equalizer- it doesn’t matter who you are, how much money you have or where you’ve come from- you all share one common thing- the same addiction. This can be a huge relief and can help you get to know people you wouldn’t normally hang out with in a very special way
- I love the fact that there are no leaders- everyone is equal and I think humility naturally follows as a direct result of this principle
- I know of countless people who have credited ‘going to a meeting’ or ‘calling a sponsor’ to saving them from using their drug-of-choice and sometimes even saving their life
- I love the two-way flow of giving and receiving which tends to happen in 12-step groups
- between the ‘newbies’ and the ‘old-timers’- each has so much to offer the other
- Groups are certainly not for everyone and for some people, cause them much anxiety and stress and those people usually do better with one-on-one counseling
- People become addicted to 12-step groups and often add on another addiction to the onethey started with. To me, this is problematic because they tend to come from a place of fear and are often told that if they stop going to meetings or don’t go to x number of meetings per week, they will lose their sobriety. This is simply not the case. Many people find recovery without ever attending a single 12-step meeting
- If the 12-step format doesn’t work for someone, they often blame themselves and declarethemselves “unfixable” which is often not the case
Lastly, while 12 step groups can be a wonderful means to help people stop using their addictive substance-of-choice, it often stops there and they never get to the bottom of why they started using in the first place. This often leads to the development of new addictions and thus, the cycle begins all over again. This is where I find one-on-one counseling to be a great addition.