‘It’s a good thing’

What about AA and 12-step recovery programs?

HOUGHTON — Addiction recovery is a long-term process that continues after treatment is over, stated the American Addiction Centers Staff in a Sept. 12 publication, titled, Addiction, Aftercare Programs, Activities & Support Groups Near Me.

“Aftercare is any type of ongoing care you receive after you leave rehab,” the AACS states. “The most common forms are 12-step meetings, outpatient care, counseling and sober living.”

Twelve-step programs are powerful peer support groups that help people recover from substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, and sometimes other co-occurring mental health conditions, the AACS website states. Twelve-step programs also help people achieve and maintain abstinence from substances. The site states, however, that while the 12-Step movement can be a powerful and helpful force for many, some people struggle with what they interpret as a strong religious element of the program. Yet, the literature publicly available through Alcoholics Anonymous states:

“AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”

An Oct. 9, 2020, article published by the American Addiction Centers editorial staff titled Religion and AA stated that to non-believers it can appear that AA is a deeply religious organization. It does promote the idea of a higher power that has control over people’s lives. It also encourages members to adapt a code of behavior that has a definite religious feel to it. Alcoholics Anonymous is certainly not anti-religion, but the early members of the group were keen to promote themselves as a spiritual program.

Jeff Williams, director of Outpatient Services at Copper Country Mental Health Services, in Houghton, addressed the perceived religious element that many people point to.

“You may not have a higher power, as in attending church,” he said, “but I think that the 12-step program is very open to higher powers.”

While the popular myth that AA is a religious program persists, it cannot be denied that it is effective enough in assisting in long-term sobriety to have survived and grown exponentially since its founding in 1935. But are there real benefits to 12-step programs?

Williams said that there are absolutely benefits to 12-step programs like AA.

“I think if anyone goes to a 12-step, they’re going to get something out of it,” he said. “They’re great meetings just to go to.”

Williams said that people, however, are afraid to go to 12-step meetings, primarily because of the lingering religious perception.

The American Addiction Centers article, in addressing the religious/spiritual debate controversy, does not deny a spiritual element in the program, but it is also quick to differentiate what it states are the difference between the two:

“Spirituality usually refers to an inner path that people follow in search of some type of higher power,” the site states. “The path they take may be highly influenced by the world’s religious teachings, but it will be more of a personal journey. It is typical for spiritual seekers to borrow ideas from the different belief systems and mix these with their own ideas.

“Religion is less of a personal journey and more about following an established path. There will usually be the belief that this one path is the best one, and so other paths should be avoided. A religion will provide rules to follow and specific teachings that adherents need to follow.”

A 2006 report published on the Psychiatric Services website stated that there is a positive benefit in spirituality in 12-step programs:

“Physiological research suggests that spirituality may be relevant to the healing of psychiatric disorders.”

The report states that spirituality is a latent construct, one that is inferred from multiple component dimensions, such as social psychology, neurophysiology, and treatment outcome research.

Williams implied that there is more to consider than religion/spirituality debates regarding the effectiveness of AA. Those include support, understanding, compassion and unity of its members.

“There are peers who know what you’ve been through,” he said, “it may not be exactly what you’ve been through, but they know the program — they know the loss, the addiction. There’s great help in those meetings.”

Recovery, he said, is a very personal thing.

“People talk about ‘I’m in recovery,'” he said. “Your recovery might be totally different than another person who says they’re in recovery.”

At the same time, if somebody is going to an AA meeting, a 12-step meeting, any sort of self-help meeting, other recovery meetings — whatever they are –he said, “it’s just that they’re on the path; they’re thinking about it. It’s on their radar. So, it’s a good thing.”


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