I heard so many good things about AA and numerous people testified that it can help you kick the habit, my first impulse was to turn to it for help. True, after undergoing the 12-step program, I actually learned how to reach out to the “higher power” so I can “bring the body, so that my mind can follow”.
However, when I was just about to relapse for the third time now, I’ve come to realize that you do need more than the acclaimed “higher power”. In fact, given the rough road ahead, you need to go beyond talking and actually learn how to replace your unhealthy behavior, once and for all.
But isn’t AA about group psychotherapy?
Yes and no, folks! Despite the fact that most of us tend to associate Alcoholic Anonymous with spiritual healing, at a closer look, you will come to realize that this 12-step program includes numerous principles utilized in cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive therapy refers to the techniques employed to modify the way a person thinks, whereas behavioral therapy implies modifying an individual’s demeanor.
For instance, the phrase “I’m a drink away from a drunk” can be classified as a cognitive restructuring method, while the idiom “Listen to the message, not the messenger” can be cataloged as a behavior modification technique.
AA’s first step uses one of the basic principles of CBT, considering that you have to admit you’ve become powerless when confronted with your addiction and basically recognize a conduct that you can focus on, here and now.
Close, but no cigar
The 12-step programs are packed with cognitive and behavioral interventions that take the shape of common phrases used during the meetings or suggestions. However, these techniques are far from what a certified psychotherapist would employ. Essentially, the cognitive behavioral therapy uses its two main components in order to treat alcohol and drug dependency, meaning:
- Functional analysis
During this stage of recovery, the psychotherapist works closely with the patient to discover the overall circumstances, feelings and thoughts that present the highest risk of throwing the patient into relapse.
The difference from the first step used in AA’s 12-step program is that the approach is more critical in the sense that the patient doesn’t only identify the high-risk situations, but also gets some insight as to why he feels the need to turn to drugs.
As the treatment progresses, the role of the functional analysis is to dissect specific episodes and further understand the reason why he has trouble coping without the use of alcohol or drugs.
- Skills training
It is important to note that a person who needs professional in order help to deal with the addiction has reached a phase where substance abuse has become a form of coping in itself. In other words, drugs or alcohol were used to address the fact that she didn’t learn to or forgot how to deal with the challenges of the adult life or those strategies were weakened by other personal problems.
The skill training component helps the addicted person learn new and healthy habits that will – in time – replace the old, harmful ones.
A final thought
Nevertheless, I want to point out that cognitive behavioral therapy and the 12-step programs are not mutually exclusive. Both therapies have provided numerous success stories over the years and like things in life, I always believe that each individual will always have a best treatment route suited for him or her so there is not much value in determining which way is the superior one.