September 26, 2008, Newsletter Issue #202: Alcoholics Anonymous

Tip of the Week

By now most people are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step model of recovery through self-help and peer support. When AA first began, though, its illness-based philosophy was a revelation to alcoholics who had up till then been told their drinking was a moral failure.

The 12 steps encourage the alcoholic to admit a problem, to seek spiritual help with that problem (including a "fearless and searching moral inventory" of themselves), making amends for past wrongs, and supporting one another in establishing and maintaining abstinence.

A key concept in AA is "one day at a time." Rather than plan a life of abstinence, which can seem overwhelming, alcoholics commit to abstaining just for today -- over and over. Because of this, alcoholics are not considered "cured," even after years of sobriety -- they refer to themselves as "in recovery."

One of the criticisms of AA is its religious component. While members are not required to belong to any particular religion, the 12 Steps refer to a "higher power" or "God as we understand Him" which can be off-putting to those who are atheist, agnostic, or belong to less conventional religious groups. Because of this, some groups have adapted the 12 Steps to meet different sets of needs. One of the most active of these is Rational Recovery, which lobbies against court-mandated AA participation.

The AA answer to these critics is that it is common for alcoholics to claim they are somehow different from other people ("terminally unique"), and that the patterns of disease and recovery are the same no matter what your beliefs.

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