Are 12-step programs the only way to recover from drugs and alcohol (part 2)

I wanted to start Part 2 with a clarification.  Sometimes, readers assume that I am not a fan of 12-step programs. That is not true, I am actually huge fan of 12-step programs; however, I also believe that if someone is not a fan of 12-step programs or won’t go to them, that there needs to be support options for them too. Refusing 12-step attendance is not necessarily a one-way ticket to death, jail or institutions.

In fact, there is little data about addicts and alcoholics who have recovered by other means. Or about people who attended 12-step programs for a time then stopped but continued to maintain abstinence and a successful life. Certainly treatment centers aren’t going to pay for these kinds of studies. I suspect it would be a challenge to find the subjects to participate. The data available is soft anyhow, as it’s all self-report. They can be tested for actual abstinence via blood, urine, breath and hair, but how to we measure “recovery?”  Is it living a life abstinent from substances? Is the quality of that life and where does the criteria for quality of life come from?

Many family members find help at 12-step meetings also, such as Al-anon, Nar-anon and Families Anonymous. But some of them need more than they can get in a self-help model, or are just not comfortable in a group setting.

And it’s another and ongoing rant about the quality of the family component in conventional addiction treatment. That’s not to say there aren’t excellent programs for families of addicts offered. Besides the issue of money and will insurance cover it, families are treated as ancillary to the addict, not as a primary patient themselves. And friends are just not invited, and often feel uncomfortable in 12-step, since they aren’t the parent, child, spouse (or spouse equivalent, such as a live-in partner of the opposite or same sex).

Children are rarely included in the treatment, and if they are, they have to be over a certain age. So if the cut-off is 12, and there are kids older and younger than the cut-off, do just the older ones get to go? I am quite sure the younger children are affected by the addict’s behavior as well.

Melanie Beatty in Codependent No More shares how in the 1980’s that even though family support is important for the recovery process of the addict, and that the family themselves have stories to tell and damage to heal, most counselors didn’t want to work with the families. Basically, the short straw lost and had to work with the families. I’d like to say things have changed since that time and her groundbreaking work, but I’m not sure.

I am working on shifting the paradigm of treatment offered to families and friends of addicts and alcoholics, and I hope that there will be a paradigm shift of treatment for addicts and alcoholics too. In addition to 12-step, not instead of, so that folks have options.

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  1. Good post! Thanks for sharing.

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