I have an ongoing discussion with my closest friend about the value of AA, NA and all of the rest of the support groups for addicts. I have believed for years in the importance of such groups. I have seen dozens of friends and clients benefit from these groups, some saying they saved their lives.
Let’s take a look at their value. In my 30 years of counseling addicts, I have seen various reasons for turning to drugs and alcohol for soothing their hurting hearts. As I mention in many of my articles (jerusalemteencounseling.net), most addicts seem to be born with very thin skin and hurt, for most of us which may range on a scale of 1-10 as a 4, often feels like a 9 to them. I would venture to say that often the using begins due to a crisis involving interpersonal relationships. Whether it’s a husband and wife, pressure from officers in the army, abusive parents or being abandoned by a loved one, the pain tends to overwhelm them and they search for relief in all forms. Many begin drug abuse as a form of self-medicating often beginning with prescription medication and ending up with illegal drugs or exaggerated amounts of prescription medication.
In the AA model, addiction is considered a disease, one that can’t be cured but can be controlled. How is this done? Admitting that the addiction is more powerful than the addict and only by admitting this can they seek to control their disease through the belief in a Higher Power of their definition. The program speaks in plural, We. It is a program based on community support, that the addict cannot do it on his own. That he needs a support system based on meetings, a sponsor and literature reflecting the experiences of other addicts. The message is that no one is alone and there is nothing one addict has suffered that another one hasn’t. No one is too sick to get better and no one is unworthy of getting help no matter what they have done to support their addiction. Finally, the newcomer is the most important member of the group keeping the group “Green,” reminding them from where they came and to where they can easily return.
Another support group is called Smart Recovery. Different from the precepts of AA they take the position that addicts are not powerless, that they can truly control their addiction. They use a form of Cognitive Behavioral therapy to help them take responsibility of their actions and allude to the fact that they are in charge of their recovery and have a choice if they choose to use or not.
As some have suggested, a combination of both may be the answer. On one hand, addiction has many aspects that are similar to a disease. For one, it can be generational, in the case of alcoholism generally skipping a generation. It is usually progressive and often leads to physical illness and even death. On the other hand unlike Cancer and other diseases, should the addict change his using behaviors he can arrest the degenerative process and potentially recover.
Personally, I don’t believe in self will alone. In order to begin the recovery process there are many steps to take. The first and probably hardest is the three principals of changing playmates, playgrounds and playthings. For singles, asking them to abandon their only support systems, those they still have left after years of using and friends moving on, growing up or even dying from their diseases feels like an impossible request. As for couples there are those who can’t imagine enjoying themselves together without a drink or a smoke. Asking them to reinvent their pastimes is a huge request. Sometimes it reveals issues that they have as a couple that they have been skirting for years. So here comes the reason I always suggest a support group. One cannot do it alone!! Whether it’s AA, NA, GA, SA, or SMART Recovery, a consistent gathering of like minded, like issued individuals each supporting each other, sharing their experience, strength and hope is irreplaceable. I could not in good conscience work with my addicted clients if I couldn’t refer them to someone In the program who would take them under their wing and introduce them to a room of struggling addicts who support each other. Yes, I do believe in a holistic approach. I recommend exercise, eating healthy, taking up enjoyable hobbies, reading inspiring books, watching helpful Ted Talks and the list goes on. But at the end of the day, addicts need structure and a support system as we all do. I just believe they need it that much more and no where will they find it as supportive as in an Anonymous meeting of any kind they choose.