For members of Alcoholics Anonymous and even Narcotics Anonymous, the dogma that “AA is the only way” is far from offensive. In fact, the 12 step program has become a significant meaning of life for each individual regularly attending AA and NA meetings. However, for individuals seeking addiction treatment elsewhere, such as through medical means often referred to as medicine assisted treatment (MAT), hearing this can be overwhelming and even downright destructive for their individual mindset and addiction recovery. Many members of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that medicine assisted treatment and other modalities are simply not effective. What’s more, those who use Suboxone, methadone and even naltrexone (Vivitrol and ReVia) aren’t considered part of recovery. So why do 12 step program members feel this way?
Being Authentic at AA meetings
While the 12 step program has a long history of being effective for some men and women suffering from the disease of addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous in particular doesn’t allow anyone other than alcoholics to be truly authentic at meetings. Anyone with the desire to get clean, which means the desire to be free of any and all mind altering substances may attend meetings as often as they would like. However, if your drug of choice is anything other than alcohol, when it’s your turn to speak, you must still proclaim that you are an alcoholic. Furthermore, it is strongly advised not to mention any use of medicine assisted treatment options for opiate or heroin addiction such as Suboxone or methadone. So for those who genuinely believe, such as this community believes, that other addiction treatment modalities including medical ones can be an effective way to treat drug addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t allow members or guests to discuss this at meetings. Moreover, for those partaking in various medicine based programs, they may not share their true story or they may be silenced or even ridiculed.
Narcotics Anonymous or NA allows its members and meeting attendees to be a bit more authentic since indiiduals are allowed to mention their drug of choice that led them to drug addiction. However, medicine assisted treatment including methadone, Suboxone and even naltrexone are still taboo to discuss at meetings.
12 Step Members See Addiction as a Spiritual Problem
Exactly as the title says, members of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous believe that all aspects of addiction is a spiritual problem. That’s why on Facebook, the popular quote “There is no chemical solution for a spiritual problem” is often passed around. The 12 steps revolve around spiritual issues and ways to resolve any conflict you have with yourself, God and others. This is not too distinct from how psychologists and counselors deal with the problem except there is no requirement to accept a “higher power”.
Now this community wants to acknowledge upfront that it supports the 12 step program but does not believe it is the only way to get clean and sober and maintain it. Statistics show and prove that medicine assisted treatment, and cognitive/behavioral therapy works just as well if not more so than the 12 steps alone however, the fact that such an amazing support group exists for no cost is outstanding and helps a plethora of drug addicts.
Understanding People – The Human Being is Made up of 4 Circles
According to Dr. Larry Crab, there are four components that make up the human being, that he puts into four categories or “circles” that overlap one another. These are the emotional, the rational, the volitional and the personal. This community believes that the spiritual component that exists within human beings not only touches all four circles, but surrounds and affects them. The environment and genetics also surround and affect our entire being.
Think about yourself for a moment. When you experience something outside of yourself, first, you experience emotion(s). These emotions are sometimes experienced in the subconscious which in turn, creates thoughts – also sometimes formed in the subconscious. It is these emotions and thoughts that work together to create a volition, or a choice to behave in a certain way. The personal circle encompasses our both deepest and superficial longings that ultimately control the emotions we experience. Our environment and experiences affect all of the circles, as does our genetics and the spiritual component.
These four circles or concepts work together to create the total being and addiction, since it affects the brain according to the American medical Association and other well respected organization’s, how we feel, what we think, what we long for and our behaviors are all perverted or altered because of addiction. Because the spiritual affects all all the circles just as addiction does, you could say that the spiritual and the disease of addiction are fighting one another and/or are at conflict consistently with one another especially in active addiction.
So to say that addiction is a spiritual problem, in our opinion is correct but it is also true that it is a cognitive (rational) problem, a volitional problem, an emotional problem and a personal problem. This is why medication actually works. Medication affects the brain and put it back into a semi-normal state.. But medication is only designed to be a temporary solution, and works the best when coupled with therapy and other modalities designed to fight against addiction such as the 12 step program, cognitive/behavioral therapy that can be found in counseling or top drug rehab facilities, etc.
But what about people who don’t believe in God? Is the whole concept of a spiritual realm encompassing the entire being complete and utter nonsense? An individual’s ultimate beliefs about who they are, where they came from, whether or not there is a higher being, etc. is the spiritual realm. Not believing in God but believing in science and evolution is still part of the spiritual concept. It’s a personal ultimately making sense of their destiny, their purpose and the world around them – even if they conclude there is none. This creates a longing for something bigger than themslves, often called a “God shaped hole” which is a crucial longing defined in the personal circle.
Why 12 Step Program Member Believe AA is the Only Way
Most people who feel that AA is the only way have experienced what they believe is some connection with their higher power. While this is outstanding and often leads to an individual’s road to recovery, it sometimes prevents individuals from recognizing that other addiction treatment options such as therapy at drug rehabs and/or medicine assisted treatment can be effective. This is also the same reason why many religious groups go door to door and try to convert other individuals to buy into their religion. They’re so convinced that what they believe is true, that they want others to experience the same thing. While intentions are often good, a lot of harm is often done, creating anger, diversity and dissension.
Bridging The Gap
Not everybody believes the same thing and diversity will always be a part of life. Trying to convince somebody else that your way is the only way, even if it worked for you isn’t an effective method to convert people. Even if you are reading this and still believe your addiction treatment method and option for addiction is the only solution, acceptance and understanding of another’s beliefs and methods (including addiction treatment) is the best way to demonstrate your beliefs and success without potentially damaging someone else’s road to recovery.
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Written by William Charles for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™, Heroin News, and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC)
We are a community for recovering heroin addicts providing support and recommending the best treatments and clinics to people interested in conquering their addiction.
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