Why should someone choose Alcoholics Anonymous for their recovery?
Twelve step programs have at least two major advantages that all but guarantee their survival into the future, as well as illustrate why they are such a dominant force in the field of recovery today:
One, they are widespread. Meetings can be found in virtually every major city, worldwide. Membership numbers in the millions. There are tens of thousands of meetings every week. Chances are very good that whoever—and where ever—you are, you have access to at least some twelve step meetings.
Two, meetings are free. In the face of the rising costs of health care, and the increasing reluctance of insurance companies to pay for extensive treatments, “prescribing” addicts and alcoholics to meetings is certainly the cheapest route available. In a majority of cases, people seeking recovery don’t have the necessary funds or insurance to be spending on expensive in-patient treatment or counseling sessions.
So there you have it: twelve step meetings are virtually everywhere you go and cost you nothing. Other forms of treatment, including therapy and counseling, all cost quite a bit of money. Furthermore, none of these treatment/therapy options (including twelve step programs) can boast outstanding–or even decent–success rates. It seems that addicts and alcoholics, regardless of any treatment or therapies they receive, have a very low rate of recovery, regardless of which type of treatment they receive.
Twelve step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are not perfect. As a program of recovery from substance abuse, these programs do have some limitations, and they may not be the best choice for everyone. However—given the average newcomer to recovery who is looking to change their life and start living clean and sober—I have to recommend these programs as the best means of support in early sobriety.
The shift from active addiction or alcoholism into recovery requires tremendous change, and therefore it requires support. This should be obvious, as most struggling addicts have tried to change many times on their own without success. They can not do it alone; they need help. This sentiment is echoed a million times over in every form of recovery, therapy, and twelve step group. In order to change, we need help. And that means some form of support—be it through a private counselor, an inpatient treatment facility, or twelve step meetings. We need help. We need support. We need this support for a couple of specific reasons:
One, the support helps us to identify with others that are like us. A typical sentiment of someone who is trapped in the cycle of addiction is that no one else could possibly understand what they are going through. This is so common amongst someone who is new to recovery that it might even be a universal feeling among addicts. We feel that we are unique in our addiction, that no one else could possibly be driven to use drugs like we did. Finding a support group who is seeking the same goal of recovery allows us to identify with them. Identifying with others who are living a successful life of recovery leads us to hope.
Building hope through identification is the second reason that we need this support. When we are alone in our cycle of addiction, there is no hope. Seeing others who have achieved a life of freedom gives us hope only if we believe they were driven to consume drugs like we were. Otherwise, we might dismiss these other people as being unlike us; we might believe that their situation and their success in recovery does not apply to us. This is why so many twelve step meetings tend to focus on “telling our story,” because the identification it provides is so important. If someone can see that we are truly drug addicts and alcoholics, and that we have since found a new freedom from those substances, then that person might develop some hope that this could work for them too.
A third reason that support is critical for recovery is because of the new associations it provides. Most of us have basically been living in a world of drinking buddies and people we got high with, while at the same time pushing “healthy” people further and further out of our world. Swapping out the destructive relationships of our past with new people that we meet in recovery should be a no-brainer.
There is simply no widespread infrastructure of support outside of twelve step programs. There may be a few select groups that represent the alternatives, but they are few and far between. Whether any of these programs or therapies or twelve step groups actually provide long term solutions for sobriety is irrelevant—people in early recovery need support and help from others, period. AA and NA meetings are the easiest way to get that support for the vast majority of people. These twelve step programs are certainly not perfect, and the people who attend the meetings are a mixed bag, but where else can you possibly find that level of support? That is why I recommend twelve step programs—not because they are especially effective at treating addiction (although many would argue that they are), but because they offer overwhelming support from people sharing the same basic goals.
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