Why do AA and NA Members Smoke Outside of Meetings?

Why is Smoking Ok at AA and NA Meetings (Alcoholics Anonymous / Narcotics Anonymous)While the traditional 12 Step programs which includes Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are proven effective tools for sobriety, both consider the use of Suboxone and Methadone as being counterproductive to recovery. Because NA and AA support abstinence from all mind altering substances, those known to use MAT (medicine assisted treatment) are sometimes judged, ridiculed and unfairly maligned at meetings. But if AA and NA members are so against mind-altering substances, why do many of them publicly and blatantly light up a cigarettes immediately outside of AA and NA meetings?  After all, nicotine, the active ingredient in a cigarette is a mind altering substance.

Now I’m sure that this part of the article will be ignored but I can already see it now.  AA and NA enthusiasts are going to throw stones at us and become very defensive when they read this.  So I want to make it clear upfront that this community does support and are proponents of the 12 step program.  This includes Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  The point of this article is NOT to downplay the importance of the program in itself, but to point out some of the major problems that exist within.  This does not mean that all members are guilty of this.  Some of the nicest, most accepting and intelligent people I’ve ever met are part of AA and/or NA.  Therefore, we encourage anyone reading this to be open-minded and instead of getting defensive, recognize and admit that these problems do exist and start coming up with a solution on how to solve them.

Allowable Vs. Not Allowable Mind Altering Substances at AA/NA Meetings

For many AA and NA members, there seems to be a exceptional difference between “allowable” and “not allowable” mind-altering substances, which frankly seems hypocritical.  Just about everybody knows and understands that cigarettes can cause lung cancer and produce a ubiquitous addiction.  Yet somehow, cigarettes and nicotine has made its way into the “allowable” camp at AA and NA meetings.

Medicine assisted treatment which includes Suboxone, Methadone and Naltrexone (ReVia and Vivitrol) is becoming more widely accepted, especially since addiction has been declared a disease by the AMA (American Medical Association), SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) and other well respected medical associations and organizations.  Yet for some reason, medicine assisted treatment options have become the notorious “those we don’t speak of” at meetings.  Those that do are often confronted by judgment and ridicule.  One gentleman William spoke with was even stripped of his 30 day clean medallion after openly admitting he was using one of the MAT options to stay “clean”.  He was publicly told by that night’s meeting leader that he was “not clean and sober” and that he must immediately give back his medallion.

Other Bizarre Attitudes and Problems Found Within AA and NA Meetings

Is Religion a Crutch?However the view on MAT isn’t the only problem found within the 12 step programs. Some of the long time members of both NA and AA have become trapped in their own cycling of behaviors and beliefs. Have you heard the statement made that negativity breeds negativity?  In many cases, this is true for those in these programs because the first steps of Admittance and Acceptance are the only ones being followed.

Without practicing the other steps, one remains without resolve. There are sometimes those members that have surpassed the first step, have learned it and practice it, but have continued to ignore the rest. This defeats their own personal progress and leaves them bitter, and in in turn they have maintained the mindset of addiction by constantly complaining about their own complacency and not yet being accepted by others in society. Even so, their own recovery has been at a standstill, while they are continually finding fault with others by ignoring their own necessary self-improvements. Are they against the use of MAT’s, like Suboxone and Methadone?  Or have they just become bitter toward another person’s personal positive progress?

The Famous “Trading One Addiction With Another”

Supplementing one opiate for another (or trading one addiction for another as the cliché goes) seems to be a moot subject, but the true purpose of being medically assisted is to eradicate the illicit drug from being ingested in order to feed the addiction and dependency. While these substance abuse treatments can be abused and addictions to them have been known to occur, proper and appropriate physician supervision should always be enforced by the one administering an MAT.

For the most part, Suboxone, Methadone and Naltrexone are meant to be short term treatments that are tapered down. But, we also know that every person’s road to recovery is different. There is no set guideline for a maintenance program to be followed by everyone – just as being a member of a 12 Step program doesn’t make you sober unless the steps are being followed in succession toward improvement. Not fulfilling the steps by practicing and applying them, may leave the addictive behaviors in tact, in a sense keeping the addict in a similar mental state as if they were using.

Is Medicine Assisted Treatment (MAT) a Crutch?

Is Methadone and Suboxone a Crutch?Addiction is an incurable “broken leg” and all treatment options and long-term recovery methods are “crutches” that help us walk and live normal lives.  This is not a bad thing.  After all, it’s the sick that need that “something extra” to help them get well, right?  Since there is no cure for addiction and recovery is forever, a recovering addict will always need some kind of crutch to walk correctly.  But the complacent 12 stepper only sees MAT as a crutch.  They are wrong.  12 step meetings are a crutch.  MAT is a crutch.  SMART recovery is a crutch.  Residential and outpatient treatment at a top addiction treatment center / drug rehab facility is a crutch.  Acknowledging powerlessness over our disease is supposed to be step 1 isn’t it?  People need to stop using the term “crutch” as a bad thing.  Because without it, those with a broken leg couldn’t get around and the addicted can’t live normal lives in recovery.

Is Religion Replacing One Addiction with Another?

In the instance of using one addiction to replace another, religion, just as another substance, even those of caffeine or nicotine or in the instance of the non-improving program stepper, the replacement becomes like an addiction. Many can be quick to surrender themselves to a program, involving either religion or spirituality, under the misunderstood belief that a sudden purpose and epiphany will be brought to light. However, the problem arises when accepting a religious affiliation without personal acknowledgment by the addict.

Religion teaches understanding, virtues, and good ethics, among many other aspects. In the same respect, spirituality is personal as well, and is used in reference to a person’s beliefs and practices that are supposed to lead to a selfless life. It is through awareness and inner peace, that one’s true purpose is found and fulfilled.

Religious and spiritual based treatments offer support and guidance toward becoming a better person. But just like MAT,  it certainly becomes a crutch – but not in a bad way.

Signs and Symptoms of Religious Addiction

Religion can also be abused to the point that it fulfills an addict’s lack of responsibility. Religious addiction is actually common for those in recovery. Signs and symptoms of this include someone using divine guilt to shame another or waiting for God to ‘”fix” what has gone wrong while failing to take action to address personal problems. Someone addicted to religion often becomes uncompromising, judges quickly by finding fault in another, and using it as a way to avoid emotional and/or social problems. Religion can also be used as an excuse to be abusive to others; those suffering can be irritable and become defensive if questioned, and as a result will often threaten others with divine punishment.

Divinity and Spirituality’s Real Purpose

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 about loveMost of us holding faith in religion understand that our religion helps us to be empathetic individuals that assist in helping ourselves as well as serving others while discarding selfish behaviors. Religion also teaches us to not evaluate or differentiate anyone because of their circumstances or choices. The religious community is one that is supposed to make us feel welcome when we have not been by society nor by the law.

Spirituality is about one’s own personal searching within to find true purpose while letting go of outside constraints. Rather than running away from problems, we face them head-on addressing underlying issues that require repentance and change.  Spirituality is about balance; making time for others and helping others. It helps us find acceptance within ourselves and promotes divine love and understanding of other’s, including their imperfections. Moving into the spiritual self is about letting go of the external issues and living each day with self-driven purpose. I think what the Holy Bible says about love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 – New International Version (NIV)

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Supporting Multiple Roads to Recovery

supporting multiple roads to recoveryNo matter what routes that an addict takes in his or her own individual recovery, the tools used to ensure sobriety are personal for each individual. There is no right or wrong decision. What works for one does not necessarily work for another.

As shown, there are ways to supplement one addiction for another. The use of an MAT, like Suboxone and Methadone, is not mandatory, nor is it shameful. Religion, spirituality, counseling, group therapy, and the 12 Step programs are all good tools, but are also not for everyone.

Regardless of what an addict chooses in his or her recovery, the consensus should be positive. It seems that what is often overlooked, regardless of the choice to become sober is that in recovery, the main concern is that one has decided to take the necessary steps to move out of active addiction. Sobriety is the ultimate goal; regardless of the tools used to achieve it and to maintain it. But sobriety takes desire, action and commitment. Ultimately, using a combination of many available tools and resources promotes successful sobriety and recovery.

As an advocate, I have found that the overall recovery community is uplifting, positive, and accepting.  The only way to erase the shaming and the stigmas is to share information about addiction and recovery. The saying usually goes that “it takes a community to raise a child” – when did our communities decide that division is the best route?

Written and Published by William Charles and Kristi Tullis – Publisher and Writer/Blogger for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™

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