Recovery Programs

The original model self-help group was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935 by “Bill W.” (William Griffith Wilson) and “Dr. Bob” (Robert Holbrook Smith). It is now estimated that 1 million people attend more than 40,000 groups in 100 countries (Borman 1992). AA has come to be known as a “twelve-step group” because its program for sobriety involves the following twelve steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

There are numerous twelve-step groups modeled after AA, including Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, Alateen, Cocaine Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Divorce Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Neurotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Workaholics Anonymous. Families Anonymous is a fellowship of relatives and friends of people involved in the abuse of mind-altering substances. These “anonymous” groups help their members to recover from their various addictive behaviors while maintaining member confidentiality. This confidentiality extends to not recognizing members as members when they meet outside meetings. Most groups are self-supporting, do not have dues, and decline all outside support to maintain their independence; they do not engage in any controversy, and they neither endorse nor oppose any cause.

Increasingly, there are groups that work toward recovery from addictions but reject certain tenets of twelve-step programs. Charlotte Davis Kasl (1992) has written about the need to fashion different models for recovery for people with different needs. For example, Rational Recovery Systems (affiliated with the American Humanist Association) and Secular Organization for Sobriety both reject AA’s emphasis on spirituality.

Several self-help groups that specifically work with families are Parents Anonymous (for family members, to combat child abuse and neglect), Al-Anon (for relatives and friends of persons with alcoholism), and Alateen (for teenage relatives of persons with alcoholism).

Parents Anonymous (PA), founded in 1971 by “Jolly K.” and Leonard Lieber (Borman 1979), assures anonymity but is not a twelve-step group. There is no religious commitment. Members provide suggestions and referrals to each other and may work toward solving problems together. PA is the oldest and only national parent self-help program with specialized groups for children. Approximately 15,000 parents and 9,200 children participate in its support groups in the United States each week. There are specialized groups in various states—for example, groups for homeless families. In several states there are groups for grandparents and grandchildren. Weekly meetings are representative of the communities in which they are held (Parents Anonymous 1993).

Al-Anon and Alateen, twelve-step groups affiliated with AA, welcome and give comfort to families of persons with alcoholism and give understanding and encouragement to the person with alcoholism. Meetings are held weekly. “The Al-Anon Family Groups are a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength and hope in order to solve their common problems,” believing that “alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery” (Al-Anon 1981).