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Clinical Social Worker/Therapist

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a household name. We all know of their existence and we see the organization depicted in television shows and movies. However, unless one has had direct experience with AA, it's easy to believe the many social myths and misconceptions.

Myth 1: AA is Religious. You Have to Be a Christian to Be a Member.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritual program, not a religious program. The distinction is paramount and best explained through the old saying, "Religion is for people who are afraid to go to hell and spirituality is for those of us who have already been there." AA is inclusive. Their literature refers to a "God of your understanding." In other words, whatever works for you is just fine by them.

The key concept is embracing a "Higher Power." The belief in something more powerful than self that has the ability to help one stay sober. It's too easy to get caught up in the connotations of a "God." Many of AA's members brilliantly circumvent this pitfall by offering a conceptualization of G.O.D. (Group Of Drunks). This simply encourages the agnostic or atheist to consider that the organization of AA is itself more powerful than the individual and has greater ability to help each person achieve and maintain sobriety.

My experience is that the hardest thing to believe in is ourselves. We tend to view "God" in the same light we experienced our parents. We are shame based and find it hard to imagine that if there were a God that He, She or It would want anything to do with us.

Myth 2: Research Shows That AA Doesn't Work.

There exists very little research on AA relative to all other forms of addiction treatment or intervention. AA does not perform research on its members, nor does it invite itself to be researched. What research does exist is inherently problematic because (very appropriately) AA is based on confidentiality and anonymity.

Myth 3: AA Is a Cult!

If it is, it's doing a very poor job of doing what cults do. It doesn't make money or ask people to surrender their personal belongings and its founders are long dead. No one is in charge and there certainly aren't any compounds or Kool Aid being passed around.

What this comparison seems to be based on is that people in AA do tend to associate and socialize with other people in AA. One of the greatest strengths of the program is that it offers fellowship amongst good people who are clean/sober or are seeking sobriety from drugs and alcohol. One could search the world over in pursuit of friends like these, or one could simply go to a meeting.

Myth 4: Rehab and Counseling Work Better Than AA.

This is an easy dichotomy to embrace. Alternatively we could ask, "Why not do both?" Treatment and rehabilitation are time limited, cost money and tend to offer little or no aftercare. The needs of an individual in recovery are lifelong and holistic. Why limit ourselves to the number of resources we utilize?

What I can do as an addictions counselor (whether in counseling, intensive outpatient programs or rehab) is limited to what managed care allows to a person in recovery. You cannot call me at 2 a.m. if you fear taking a drink and you can't expect that I'd ever pick you up and have coffee with you. AA's membership is approximated at 2 million. A counselor is one person and a rehab at best is a handful of professionals in one location. AA is worldwide, offers emergency help lines, and takes care of its own.

Myth 5: In AA You Sit around Listening to People complaining about Their Problems.

You also get to hear about the solutions. AA encourages its members to share, "experience, strength, and hope." A member who is expressing their problems is a person who is seeking support.

"Reinventing the wheel" is one of the most inefficient things a person can do. Rather than "figuring things out", one has the opportunity to learn from people who came out on the other side of a struggle.

Myth 6: I'm a Drug Addict - AA Can't Help Me.

My experience is that addiction is addiction is addiction. Yes, there is some variance in how we experience it when active, but overcoming it is a shared and similar experience. It's one of the hardest things a human being can do and it requires support from people who understand the experience.

I recommend Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to any person in recovery from addiction. It is sometimes the case that an individual meeting will expect that one identify as an alcoholic or addict depending on AA/NA. I see no conflict in identifying thusly even when it's not true at face value. Anyone who thinks they can use one substance safely after being addicted to another is kidding themselves.

Myth 7: I've Been to AA. It Didn't Work for Me.

There exists a diversity between different meetings and different types of meetings. In this respect, AA is no different than any other organization in that there are some churches that are more friendly than others, some civic organizations that are more ego driven than others, and some social circles that contain no small number of, well, jerks. It's like buying shoes: sometimes you have to try on a few to find a good fit.

About the author Jim LaPierre:
My story is I'm forever a work in progress and I love connecting with REAL people who are doing great things. I'm blessed to be making a living doing something I love. I'm a proud dad and the luckiest husband ever. I'm an aspiring author - check out my recovery blog at: recoveryrocks.bangordailynews.com Thanks! Jim
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Page last updated Mar 05, 2014

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