You’re Not Alone: Finding Peer Support Through Alcoholics Anonymous
“You never think about how your drinking is affecting the rest of us.”
That was the email Kyle received from his brother, that marked a turning point in his alcoholism. In just one year he had ruined nearly all his personal relationships, was terminated from a high-paying job, crashed two cars, and spent a night in prison. He was spiraling out of control. His brother’s frank confession provided the spark for Kyle to attend his first AA meeting.
And today, ten years have passed since Kyle’s last drink. He credits AA for his decade of continuous sobriety–hearing from other members proved to him that recovery was truly possible. Alcoholics Anonymous benefitted Kyle more than he thought possible–just as it helps so many others.
An Inclusive Community of Support
Over two million people throughout the world are members of Alcoholics Anonymous, the most widely-known and widely available self-help group for recovering alcoholics.[1. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33049093] The only thing that unites members of Alcoholics Anonymous is a desire to stop drinking. AA doesn’t ask for dues or fees; the entire organization is supported through members’ own contributions. The group’s creeds do make reference to “a higher power,” but AA is not affiliated with any religious body. Nor is AA associated with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution. It welcomes people of all religions and backgrounds. All AA asks of its members is to work towards abstinence from alcohol.
Despite its name recognition, Alcoholics Anonymous is an entirely informal organization. Members are not asked to sign up or pay a membership fee. There is no central authority figure and members do not have to achieve anything to participate. The relaxed, nonjudgmental atmosphere of AA meetings make it a safe and supportive haven for addicts from all different walks of life–men and women, old and young, successful and struggling.
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What the Meetings Look Like
Today there are over 115,300 AA groups in at least 175 different countries. Meetings take place on a regular basis at various times, and members are free to attend any of the meetings held each week at any location. There is no governing body that determines how AA groups operate—rather, it is up to members to decide what the group will do. All meetings are facilitated by other AA members–all recovering alcoholics. No one is “in charge” of a group, and no members can tell you what you should or should not do. Members work together through the offer of advice and suggestion only. Meetings are very free-form; they usually run an hour to an hour and a half and consist of members recounting stories of what they used to be like as an alcoholic, what happened, and how their lives are different now. The informal storytelling nature of AA is no accident. Social networks are huge drivers of behavior, and those who regularly attend meetings end up having more people in their lives that are actively supportive of their recovery.
The Twelve Steps
AA does not mandate a set of rules of beliefs, but the group offers a set of guided principles, the 12 steps, to assist members in achieving and maintaining lifelong sobriety. The steps were drawn from the earliest experiences of the group’s founders, and they may not be representative of all members. The 12-step process as provided by AA involves admitting to being powerless in controlling the addiction, and recognizing a “higher power” that can give you strength. These steps ask members to review the mistakes they made in the past and to make amends. AA suggests that members learn a new way of living, free from unhealthy habits and behavior. The last step asks for members to share their wisdom and experience by helping other addicts.
A key part of the 12-step program is selecting a sponsor, a former alcoholic who can assist in your recovery process. A good sponsor will help the sponsee practice the steps to sobriety and will offer support when he or she is overcome with the urge to drink. Some experts recommend choosing a sponsor that has successfully completed at least five years of sobriety.[2. http://www.recovery.org/topics/recovery-programs-and-support-groups/]
There’s no one right way to work the steps. But when applied with real, concentrated effort, the steps should help advance you further down the road to sobriety. The 12 steps start with self-examination and slowly progress to adopting healthy habits and letting go of previous wrongdoings. Accepting and letting go of the past gives addicts room to start over and build a solid foundation for long-term recovery.
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.[3. http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-121_en.pdf]
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AA in Conjunction With Other Treatments
A growing body of research indicates that AA is successful at helping people transition to sobriety, especially when it supplements other treatments and therapies. According to a study presented in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, self-help groups can play an integral role in positive outcomes when it comes to alcohol abuse or addiction. Those who attended Alcoholics Anonymous during the first year following acute treatment were more likely found to still be in remission at lengths up to one, two, and five years.[4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2220012/]
AA and similar support groups can be a vital component of recovery, but different people sometimes require different solutions. Recovery is about finding balance, so a mixture of treatment plans, tailored to your needs, if what will work best. The most effective type of treatment is one that is holistic and accounts for each person’s unique lifestyle and personal needs.
At Alta Mira, addicts have the opportunity to participate in AA meetings in conjunction with individual therapy, holistic therapies like yoga and massage, and various group therapies. After leaving residential treatment, clients still have access to the most advanced and comprehensive treatment available, making sobriety more manageable than ever before. By participating in Alta Mira’s treatment program and ongoing AA meetings, you can begin to paint a future founded on long-lasting recovery.
Alta Mira provides comprehensive treatment for people suffering from alcohol addiction using evidence-based therapies and compassionate support. Contact us for more information about how we can help you or your loved one on the road to recovery.