Are Support Groups for Alcoholics Really the Best Form of Treatment?

Are Support Groups for Alcoholics Really the Best Form of Treatment?

Several shadow people

Some people have asked me in the past: “Are support groups for alcoholics and addicts really the best form of treatment?”

Well first of all, most people are referring to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous when they say “support groups.”  Second of all, 12 step meetings such as these are not actually treatment per se, at least they are not professional forms of treatment.  They are fellowships that are loosely organized where addicts and alcoholics try to help each other while attending regular meetings.

So what is my take on the question?  I believe that 12 step meetings are probably the best option for most people in very early recovery.  But that leaves at least a few pieces of the puzzle missing.  Let’s take a closer look:

* Based on my experience and what I observe, most addicts and alcoholics cannot just start attending 12 step meetings and experience success.  No, the prior step for most people is to go to an alcohol treatment center or drug rehab of some sort, and possibly get detoxed while there.

* Second of all, I know several people who are living a successful life in long term recovery who do not rely on regular meetings or the fellowship at all in order to stay clean and sober.  For example, one friend I have is heavily involved in his church community, and has been sober for over a decade now.  He used to attend NA meetings regularly but stopped going several years ago and now is involved in religion.  Another example is someone who basically replaced their regular AA meetings with exercise.  That might seem strange at a glance but it works wonderfully for them, and it also works well for many others as well.

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On the other hand, I know several people who have stayed in AA or NA, not really branched out and tried to grow in any new directions, and they ended up relapsing.  Many of these people simply return to the 12 step program, blaming only themselves, and never seeking an alternate path in recovery.

* My belief is that nearly everyone needs a lot of support in early recovery especially, and that support is most easily obtained from a 12 step program.  You could get it in other ways, for example, by living in a long term rehab.  But most people do not have that luxury, while nearly everyone has access to 12 step meetings in some form.

* For what it is worth, I am not bashing AA and NA here.  They offer a ton of support (for free, basically) to anyone who is in need of help with their recovery.  It is not professional treatment but in some cases it may work even better.  On the other hand, there are certain people who will simply never thrive in a group environment like AA, and so alternative paths are always going to be necessary.

* The longer you are clean and sober, the less you need support groups or meetings.  If you find this to be untrue in your experience, then this should point to a serious flaw in your personal growth in recovery.  We should be growing stronger as individuals and more independent in recovery, not less so.  If you are becoming more dependent on AA or NA over time then you are not making good progress.  Dependency in any form is probably not good.

* So what is the best form of treatment?  My opinion–and experience–is that in patient rehab is the best way to start out in recovery.  Support groups and meetings might be a strong part of your early recovery.  But long term recovery needs to be fueled by personal growth and holistic health, not by a dependency on a group.

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