Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, has led the substance abuse recovery movement since its introduction in 1935. And, with a main focus on spirituality, abstinence, and a suggested set of required guidelines, including refraining from many mind and mood-altering substances and in some cases Medication-Assisted Treatment, AA is arguably not for everyone. If you’re having second thoughts about AA, it’s important to consider your reasons, your options, and the pros and cons before you decide.
Alcoholics Anonymous is currently in 180 nations and has been translated into 67 different languages so it’s obviously quite effective and very well might be the best decision for you and your recovery, however there are other options for you to consider. In this article, we’ll cover the basic points of the discussion to help you make a decision that’s right for you.
DOES AA WORK?
If your concerns about going to AA stem from whether or not the program works, the answer is “AA has undoubtedly helped millions of people with alcohol and drug problems”. Unfortunately, AA isn’t a cure for alcoholism or drug addiction, and it can’t force you to stay sober. However, it is one of the most popular complementary treatment options in the United States, with more than 75% of treatment facilities in the United States offering some form of 12-step-based program. Does that popularity have merit?
Doing studies on AA is difficult, but most studies imply that AA has a success rate of anywhere between 10-75% depending on treatment group, whether they’ve taken behavioral therapy, and their environment. So, AA will definitely help many people, but for some of us it may not.
Alcoholics Anonymous mostly functions to provide an environment in which people have more tools to get and stay sober:
Accountability – Accountability is a powerful, driving factor for most people. AA groups work to help people remain accountable in a supportive, non-judgmental way. Your peers, who know exactly what you are going through, are also staying sober and they understand the need for accountability, especially in the beginning stages of recovery. This type of social accountability in addiction recovery functions in a similar way to peer obligation and mentorship and is shown to be one of the most powerful elements of AA-based sobriety.
Support – AA offers group and individual support through group meetings and sponsors. Here, you can share experiences and advice with people who have gone through similar things, who wrestle similar demons, and who understand your cravings. You can share stories, listen to others, and learn about how alcoholism affects others. This can help you better understand your own problems, better prepare for cravings and triggers, and approach your own issues more compassionately.
You’ll also likely take part in AA’s sponsorship suggestion, although this is completely voluntary. A sponsor is kind of like a mentor or coach who can help guide you through the 12 steps on your way to sobriety. This might include help with advice and information, it might include talking you through cravings, it might include functioning as a sober buddy, but it will mean that someone will be there for you when you need it. Eventually, you will be asked to sponsor someone else, although this may be well into your sober journey.
So, if your question is, does AA work, the answer is yes but not for everyone. Just as certain medicines and medical practices do not work for every patient. AA offers support designed to help you stay sober. It isn’t a treatment in and of itself. You also still have to get involved, self-motivate, and take part in activities to benefit.
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CHOOSING AN ALTERNATIVE TO AA
AA has a long history in the United States but it’s not the only self-help recovery group. AA groups are mostly based upon spirituality and contrary action, which isn’t necessarily for everyone, nor should it be. As a result, there are several AA alternatives, many of which offer similar formats on different themes.
If your goal is to look for self-help that isn’t AA, SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery are two of your best options. You can also look at Secular Organizations for Sobriety, LifeRing Secular Recovery, and Moderation Management. These groups are less common and might not all be available in your area.
Refuge Recovery – Refuge Recovery is a substance use recovery group offering non-12-step, non-theistic self-help. With group meetings, lifestyle guidelines, and free assistance, Refuge Recovery offers many of the same benefits of 12-Step groups like AA. However, Refuge Recovery bases its model on mindfulness and mindful living, with both the scientific approach and Buddhist teachings rolled into one. Refuge Recovery attempts to change lifestyle and mindset, to help individuals live more peacefully.
SMART – Self-Management and Recovery Training or SMART is one of the largest AA alternatives in the United States. The method focuses on self-improvement with a focus on science and behavioral therapies including CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy), and similar approaches. Individuals can attend group, seek out counselors, and take part in a range of learning and self-improvement initiatives. The strong focus on therapy is very popular, especially for individuals moving out of a behavioral-therapy based recovery program.
Most programs/groups will give you the same general type of support and the same general benefits, but with a different focus. If you’re unsure, you can normally attend several meetings at any group to decide what group is best for you.
Seeking Private Therapy
You might decide that you simply don’t want to attend group therapy, you’re not ready for self-help, or you need professional treatment first. In this case, you might want to either attend a professional rehabilitation program or seek out a private therapist. Your choice here should heavily depend on whether you’ve already been to rehabilitation, what types of therapy you received there, and your current state of recovery.
In most cases, group therapy or counseling is seen as an essential step in recovery. While most people prefer to seek help on their own, the aspect of interacting with others, sharing their experiences, and learning about how others feel in and around addiction can be immensely helpful in your own struggle. Substance abuse tends to push people towards self-isolation and feeling like they are alone, so group therapy is one tool that can help to push you out of the mindsets that lead to addiction and continued substance abuse. Therefore, most recovery programs include some element of group therapy and counseling and will likely heavily lean on it as a strategy.
Whether you’re about to begin your sober journey or have already been through a recovery program (or anywhere in between), moving into a self-help group is generally a good idea. Self-help groups give you a place to share your thoughts, cravings, and experiences in a non-judgmental space, get help, and learn about what it means to be addicted and in recovery. They can motivate you, inspire you, and hold you accountable.
For that reason, it’s a good idea for most of us to go to some form of self-help group after recovery. Whether that group is 12-step AA or one of its many alternatives is up to you.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center in Huntington Beach helps clients by providing them with addiction intervention services, detox, and residential addiction treatment.
If you or your loved-one is seeking help for substance addiction, call us at (714) 443-8218 and look into our recovery programs. Our programs and recovery center helps clients by providing them with detox, family intervention, and long-term Outpatient or residential treatment if necessary.
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