12-Step Programs for Addiction Not For Everyone
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its sister program, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), have been considered the standard treatment for recovering addicts since their inception. AA, founded by Bill Wilson, is based on the 12 steps, first published in 1938. Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 and follows similar principles.
An estimated 23 million Americans struggle with addiction. Many of these addicts seek AA or NA as part of their road to recovery. A number of rehabilitation centers focus on the 12 steps and urge those in recovery to continue attending meetings on a regular basis to maintain their hard-earned sobriety.
The 12-step program is responsible, in part, for saving many lives. This cannot be debated, but neither can the reality that the program is not effective for everyone. Those recovering from addiction recover in different ways, and the underlying spiritual elements of AA and NA can be confusing and uncomfortable for some.
Deborah’s story is common: Drugs and alcohol, once something she could control, began to define her life after a time. It is also important: It sheds light on the reality that recovery does not necessarily have to be found within “-Anonymous” programs. In fact, some of the principles of the steps can be frightening for people.
Deborah has been sober for over seven years, although she still and will forever describe herself as “a recovering addict.” This is the general consensus in regard to addiction recovery. Similar to chronic mental or physical illness, the nature of addiction requires those living with it to constantly monitor mood changes, life events, and triggers that may spawn relapse. Addiction is, in fact, categorized as a mental illness.
Deborah has two children, both under the age of 15, and she has been married for 23 years. She works part-time as a nurse and spends her spare time hiking and with her family and a close group of friends, many of whom also are in recovery. While this may sound like the stuff of a normal, everyday life, it was not always this way.
Deborah describes the impact of her addiction on her family:
My children were young when I was active in my addiction. I don’t believe they understood what was going on, though my husband worked to be honest with them. He told them I was sick and would become well. When I was an addict, my family, while important, were not as important as drugs. I felt I needed drugs in order to function, and I did function for some time. I managed to complete my nursing degree, but it all fell to pieces. Addiction nearly killed me, and I needed help. I finally realized, after five years of serious addiction, that I could not do it on my own.
During her stay in a rehabilitation center, Deborah was taught that the 12 steps were an important part of her success. However, she struggled with some of the core principles, the spiritual principles in particular. She is not alone.