Alcoholics Need More Options than AA

It's no surprise that faith-based programs are particularly ill-suited to atheists and agnostics

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Should atheists be forced to participate in faith-based recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)? The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently said no, unanimously siding with drug offender Barry A. Hazle Jr. after state officials mandated his participation in AA. Court documents state that Hazle’s requests for a secular alternative were repeatedly denied by both his parole officer and representatives from the state-contracted mental health service provider, West Care. For violating his parole, Hazle was arrested and incarcerated for over 100 additional days.

The appeals court ordered a Sacramento district judge to consider preventing state officials from requiring 12-step treatment as a part of the parole program. But it’s going to be difficult, because this one-size-fits-all prescription – 12-step meetings and 12-step-based group therapy for everyone – reigns supreme in treatment today. Nearly eight out of ten private programs use 12-step recovery, with two-thirds compelling patients to attend meetings, according to researchers working on the University of Georgia’s National Treatment Center Study and cited in Inside Rehab by Anne Fletcher. Public programs, frequently starved for funding, aren’t much better. In fact, West Care, California’s sole drug treatment provider, only contracts with religious-based treatment programs.

(MORE: Addiction Treatment in America: Not Based in Science, Not Truly Medical)

But even if they’re rarely acknowledged in today’s treatment community, there are many alternatives to 12-step fellowships such as SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and Specifically For Women. This is important because a national survey published in 2007 concluded that an addicted person was just as likely to stay sober whether they were involved in AA or another support group. In fact, it would behoove treatment providers to match people with a support system that’s suitable to their preferences, because group participation is associated with increased abstinence.

(MOREStudy: Men and Women Benefit in Different Ways From AA)

Of course, almost all rehab programs advertise a wide range of options, evidence-based services as well as mutual-support groups, but tradition dominates. As a young opiate addict, I went through two inpatient hospital facilities, an outpatient program, a sober house, and a sober coach before learning that an alternative to AA (or NA) existed. Even the methadone program I paid to enroll in, a public program designed for heroin addicts, was 12-step based. This is odd, considering traditional AA communities don’t acknowledge medication-assisted sobriety as genuine sobriety.

To be sure, faith-based, abstinence-only fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous can be a very helpful, affordable resource. But these mutual support groups were designed to be voluntary, certainly never to be confused with medical or court-mandated addiction treatment. Meanwhile, the alternatives remain widely unknown, an ignorance that presents a real barrier to those in desperate need. When asked what kinds of treatments are available for addiction, 60.1% of respondents to a 2012 national survey said groups like AA or NA.

(MOREQ&A With Author Gabrielle Glaser: Wine, Women and the Dangers of AA)

Addiction is our nation’s most costly and preventable health problem. And because individualized care is so frustratingly difficult to find, California’s state officials now have an opportunity to make some long overdue changes. By taking concrete steps to make alternatives to 12-step recovery more available, these state officials can encourage all addicted Californians, not just parolees, to invest in their future.

45 comments
Lovinglife52
Lovinglife52

Thought this was a good piece that reflected a lot of the things I found in the 12 step world. It gave me somewhere to go for a while, but I found the whole higher power concept ridiculous. AA is a religious solution and should admit that. I does not do this as it knows it would attract a lot less people in the modern world.

Msig1ct
Msig1ct

AA is hurting Millions?  That is probably the most ignorant comment I've ever read in my life.  There are more AA groups than ever, and if one doesn't suit you, there are plenty of meetings with great sobriety to choose from.  The program is not the problem, the people are, and yes, there are always going to be people with selfish agendas, just like in any organization.  It's helped millions around the world, and more people are being exposed to AA today than ever.  Naturally you're going to see different dynamics pop up that aren't or weren't present 20 years ago, that's the evolution of any organization or fellowship that has grown tremendously since 1935.   

MonicaRichardson
MonicaRichardson

Thank you for this intelligent article that is sorely needed. PLease keep them coming. Can you you do a story also about how AA is hurting millions, with court DUI coercion, the sentencing of violent and sex offenders to meetings unknown to the public and AA members and address the dogma and cult behavior currently going on. Old timers that are good folks are leaving in droves.  Want to know why. Watch on youtube The 13th Step the film the 14 min version. A film is being made to expose all of it. thank you again for this article.

RayB94
RayB94

AA has never claimed it is the only way to get sober. It isn't. AA has always said it is nothing more and nothing less than a fellowship of men and women whose only pupose is to help each other stay sober. Experience, strength, and hope is shared and each individual is free to take what makes sense and leave the rest. No one, in my opinion, should be mandated to AA. Also, AA is not, and doesn't claim to be, for people with a primary addiction to other substances. Unfortunately, judges, lawyers, counselors, etc. often mandate people to AA and tell people with other addictions to "just say you're an alcoholic" because there are few good alternatives in their area. The influx of non-alcoholic addicts into AA has diluted AA in some areas and caused other problems as well. As for alternatives, it's very simple. Start your own meeting, SOS, Smart Recovery, or whatever. A lot of AA meetings get started because someone doesn't like the meetings available to them and decides to start another one. There is a common saying, in fact, that all you need to start a meeting is a resentment and a coffee pot. I see a lot of resentments in the comments. And, coffee pots aren't that hard to find.

GeoKoz
GeoKoz

for those who understand no explanation is necessary but for those who don't none will suffice

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

Another AA Member Financially Scams an Elderly Man he Met at Alcoholics Anonymous

AA is a hot spot for Crooks Scamming Senior Citizens. Yet AA has voted to do nothing to protect the Elderly in AA Meetings.

Man stole from elderly, avoids prison sentence but must repay money

SANDUSKY REGISTER STAFF PORT CLINTON SEPTEMBER 22nd, 2013

A Norwalk man who stole $11,000 from an 78-year-old man he met at Alcoholics Anonymous received a suspended prison sentence, but was ordered to repay the money, according to Ottawa County court recordsTimothy Gilbert, 42, was charged after bank employees called police in December 2011 when they noticed the elderly man making unusual withdrawals from his bank account.

Gilbert had fed the man a story about needing $11,000 to get his father’s inheritance, and the victim agreed to lend him the money, according to police reports.

Gilbert was eventually charged with theft from the elderly. He was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in prison on the theft case and a 2011 theft case.

The prison time was suspended, and Gilbert was instead placed on three years probation and ordered to repay the $11,000, according to court records. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service. NA Daytona Beach Area Schedule.

http://www.sanduskyregister.com/article/4676646

- See more at: http://nadaytona.org/2013/09/22/another-aa-member-financially-scams-an-elderly-man-he-met-at-alcoholics-anonymous/#sthash.g6wnTtSY.dpuf

PeteSoderman
PeteSoderman

Nice article! Chelsea, I just published a book, Powerless No Longer, that addresses recovery from a secular, evidence-based perspective. I would love to send you a copy. I don't do twitter, but you can contact me through my website: http://powerlessnolonger.com  Keep up the good work.

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

And the wonderful thing about AA, is that it destroys families, by taking in the alcoholic and demonizing them as basically worthless and incapable of dealing with their addiction (NOT DISEASE BILL W.) and indoctrinating them into the religion of AA. They appeal to their "higher power" to guide them, giving up all "free will". Usually this "higher power" is their sponsor or the general "group think. And, as I have experienced, through in a little evangelical fervor and you have a raging fire. In many cases, this poor lemming, willingly gives up their real family relationships for the cult. There absolutely has to be an alternative to AA, it is a pariah on families.

SusanJones
SusanJones

I know many people that have been in AA and are happy they joined despite being atheists.  There are agnostic and atheist meetings available, and I have notifed judges of that fact.  But since I believe that AA is a program for those that ant it, not those that are forced into it, I am not supportive of mandating.         AA does in fact owe a debt to the medical community and the "policy" that is listed in our literature is that medically supervised protocols are fine.  Only people that don't read the material have a different viepoint.  I oten think that people that write these articles don't adequately research.  In fact, I think many people that claim "not to know" about the alternatives haven't bothered to do much of their own research, either.  15 minutes on the computer can garner great success with that!  I have heard the yarn about people aren't "told."  Well, do you have to be?  Don't you have a responsibility to do some personal research?  I've discovered people will do more research into buying a consumer product than they ill recovery, and they expect someone to "tell them." 

As for the alternatives, I support them wholeheartedly.  The problem is that many of these programs are over 20 years old but have failed to grow.   AA grew in part due to the feeling of passing it forward.  People created meetings where there were none.  The people that I talk to about the alternatives they promote aren't people that have actually gone to meetings or are interested in getting the handbooks and watching the training videos so that they can make the opportunity available to others.  That is why SMART has 190 meetings NATIONWIDE.  SOS has 20k members WORLDwide, yet both of these fellowships are decades old.  Yet these are the one that crow the loudest about how alternatives "should" be made available.  Just not by them, I suppose...  I agree with you, Carmen.  It is an investment in a person's future.  Research it and when you find something that worked for YOU, invest in it so that others might, too. 

JohnF.Nihen
JohnF.Nihen

Every group has its dogmatists but AA has never claimed it is the only path to abstinence and recovery.  As far as atheists attending AA, I know several atheists or agnostics who have been successful in the AA Program.  Perhaps there is some lingering resentment or prejudice in the person who attends and is so turned off by the mention of the word "God" that they don't or won't hear what comes after that - the part about choosing your own conception of a power greater than yourself.  In the end, it doesn't really matter what this author or a thousand therapists think.  AA will continue to be a successful program for people who are wiling to be honest about their problem and wiling to set aside their prejudices and approach recovery with an open mind.  For those who want to try a different approach, there are other options available.

ClaireSaenz
ClaireSaenz

It isn't just California state officials that must follow the law set forth in this case.  The case applies to every state in the 9th Circuit, which includes AK, AZ, CA, GU, HI, ID, MP, MT, NV, OR, WA.  It is also non-binding precedent for other courts.

mariedumas
mariedumas

There are treatment centers such as AToN Center in San Diego, CA approved by the Department of Probation in California that offer non-12 step options such as SMART Recovery.  Evidence based interventions are clearly necessary to treat substance use disorders, and consumers should spend time investigating treatment settings, making sure that they will have freedom of choice when it comes to recovery philosophy and meetings.  Like other fields of medicine, advances have been made in the addiction treatment profession, and it is up to consumers to be wise and choose their programs carefully.  In general, cognitive behavioral therapy, non-addictive pharmacotherapy, holistic therapies, mindfulness training, relapse prevention strategies, family therapy, group and individual sessions are deemed the necessary components of a modern treatment approach.

BoldChapeau
BoldChapeau

Thank you Ms. Carmona for addressing a long-overdue issue.  12-step programs are not the one-size-fits-all answer to alcohol addiction or any other type of addiction.  For our court system and rehab centers to insist it’s the only path to sobriety is a great disservice to addicts. 

Despite hard-core AA/NA acolytes bristling at any suggestion that the 12 steps aren’t the one true way to abstinence, the fact of it is, there is no evidence to support these programs’ successes.  It’s certainly just the ticket for some, but due to the porous and anonymous nature of AA and NA, there are no statistics to support widespread success.  For every AA/NA true believer, how many of those addicted to whatever substance have gone to meetings and have gotten nothing out of their one-size-fits-all religious approach?  The answer:  nobody knows.  I do know people who go and swear by it, but chronically relapse… 

It’s time the courts, rehabs, and the general public acknowledge that there are other treatment options – treatment options that tailor treatment plans to individuals and their uniqueness and use therapies based on scientific research and known to have successful outcomes. For those who can’t buy into the religion and cultish zeal of 12 step programs and can’t afford to spend months at expensive rehabilitation centers, Smart Recovery meetings might be worth a try.   Smart Recovery is NOT a 12-step program, not religious, and uses evidence-based therapeutic techniques to treat addiction.  

Cannabis4Autism
Cannabis4Autism

Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore style self practice method, can be very effective at safely stopping alcoholism. Very effective. Not to be dismissed. Please look into it, I'm sure you'll find it works in over 9 out of 10 instances.

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

@Msig1ct  Yes AA is hurting millions that have been emotionally abused, forced to worship a Higher Power and thrown in with sex offenders and violent criminals. AA is really ramping it's efforts up to go after our kids now and tell them they have a disease for life and labeling them. 

thearmbarkid
thearmbarkid

@RayB94 And I see a lot of baseless, unproven, regurgitated Billshlt claims.  AA would lose at least half of the people in those church basements if court-mandated attendance were abolished tomorrow.  And then who would buy those lie-packed Big Books that AA relies on to pay the huge salaries drawn by those trustees?

RayB94
RayB94

"Yet AA has voted to do nothing to protect the Elderly in AA Meetings."
Exactly how did "AA vote"? Each meeting is autonomous; did a specific meeting take a vote???? While this incident is horrible (and the guy should have gotten prison time), this is not an AA problem as a whole. My experience is that the problems seen in groups are often caused by people who are mandated - a violation of AA principles - or who are not alcoholics at all. they tend to be addicted to other things but come to AA because it is the only game in town.

RayB94
RayB94

This is such a distortion of AA, it would be impossible to do a point by point rebuttal. Suffice it to say: AA does not demonize the alcoholic or tell him/her they are worthless; in fact, quite the opposite, it tells people they can recover. AA in no way encourages people to give up their free will; in fact the literature talks specifically about the exercise of free will. AA says little about the family beyond the need to make amends for the wrong the alcoholic has done to them. I'm sorry if Jack3Ohio has experienced a bad meeting or lousy AA group. It happens. One way to exercise free will is to find another group more to your liking or not go at all. AA doesn't mandate you to go - or to follow the suggestions for that matter. The courts may mandare but that is not the fault of AA.

BoldChapeau
BoldChapeau

@SusanJones  Hmmm...Sounds like somebody has an agenda... In view of the fact that "God" is directly mentioned in 5 of the 12 steps and indirectly in at least 2 others, there's hardly a reasonable fit between AA and agnosticism/atheism. 

Additionally, I attended a Nar-Anon meeting awhile back.  One of the other attendees had just gotten back from some sort of Nar-Anon conference.  He said that the issue had come up, and it was the opinion of Nar-Anon that the organization was a faith-based group and anyone who didn't believe in God could just go elsewhere and start their own organization...  

Oh, and BTW, there are plenty more Smart Recovery meetings in Southern CA than there are agnostic/atheists AA groups...  Of course, you will reply that somehow it isn't so.  You do make it pretty obvious that you are pushing an AA promotional agenda.

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@SusanJones 

Absolutely correct, the psychological community is in the pocket of AA. Many are alums and have ingested the Kool aid. I could tell you a personal story that would curl your toes.

SusanJones
SusanJones

My apologies, Chelsea, for getting your name wrong.   

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@JohnF.Nihen 

The mention of "God" is not an issue, it is just that in many groups. like here in Georgia, god is synonymous with the teachings of Bill W. through the Big Book. I have observed this first hand, I watched an intelligent, caring woman become a cliché babbling robot, more than willing to dump her family for the cultists who made up her AA group.  Any therapist who would recommend them in lieu of any other program should be sued for malpractice.

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

@JohnF.Nihen Actually it really does matter what these people think. That is what will make a change in the current practice of mandating 12 step programs like AA that is a religious group. The more people that start getting sued the more we will see change. Only people who want to go to AA should go. No one should be forced.

SusanJones
SusanJones

@ClaireSaenz   I would certainly appreciate it if Courts would look into alternatives.  I have told judges about atheist/agnostic meetings, but I am not for mandating because I don't think it works.  But I am grateful for any diversity the Courts can implement as that will make AA rooms safer.  I don't like that people often get sent to AA for reasons that have nothing to do with alocolism and their presence there is just to get out of a fix.  You'll notice that many meetings take the same posture and put "no court papers" on the website so that those seeking signatures will have to go to meetings with a different group conscience. 

But the issue I have is that there is no real availability.  Look at the meetings lists for these alternatives and AA, and you will see that AA tops the list simply because of availabiltiy.  There is one SOS meeting in all of LA, a huge city.  SMART is about the same.  How are these real and genuine alternatives to ANYthing?

SusanJones
SusanJones

@BoldChapeau   But is important to note that SMART IS a one size fits all approach for every type of addiction out there.  If you read the materials and the facilitator's handbook, you will discover that there is no difference between addictions.  You could be there for booze, another for pils, the guy across from you for sex addiction.  No one knows, either, as no one is expected to identify.  While I like very much of what I read, I don't have the opportunity to actually go to a meeting as there are only 190 meetings in America.  As with SOS, most of SMARTs efforts concentrate on prison populations.   Perhaps the meetings number will grow as the SMART In/Out Program is more implemented.  Person participating in t e program on the inside are being trained to take the program into their communities as part of probation.parole.  Other meetings are closed to clients only.  And, of course, it is worth noting that while is uses "evidence based" techniques, even SMART has in its literature that they have nothing that says it works.

thearmbarkid
thearmbarkid

@Cannabis4Autism LOL...those claims are about as valid as financial/sexual predator Bill Wilson's "rarely have we seen a person fail" claims, as well as the "AA has saved millions of people" claims.  Absolutely no proof other than baseless statements from the author.

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@thearmbarkid @RayB94 Well stated, AA is a dangerous cult and court mandated attendance only perpetuates this sick and nasty group that has ruined many families.

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

@RayB94 Yes - you know how people vote. AA had a board meeting to address sex abuse in AA by AA members.  They VOTED to do nothing and let the sex abuse and financial abuse continue.

This is an AA problem because AA goes into our prisons and invites violent felons to AA meetings. They also work with Drug Courts. AA is part of the problem.

MonicaRichardson
MonicaRichardson

@RayB94 Ray. why are you quoting rhetoric that is not true about how AA works. Yes it is an AA problem as a whole. Its happening in meetings all over the WORLD!  There is also a huge problem of AA oldtimers sexual preying on new young woman.. aka 13 stepping ...going on for 60 years.  We addressed this in California and the push back was disgusting! over 75 meetings are using my literature for safety. We outed a rapist and got him arrested. AA in NY needs to have a paid employee that travels to the worst clubs to tell them to know it off and have a MAAS workshop there on the AA dine who has millions.  There needs to be a hotline for woman who are being grabbed, verbally harassed and hit on and for parents whose children have been molested. This was reported in a newspaper March 2013 in the Headlines. 

MonicaRichardson
MonicaRichardson

@RayB94it tells people they can recover...really..they tell you you need to come there forever and that you are broken and you are like a man who has lost his legs! Its an outdate 1935 crazy ass Christian made up religious dogma driven sicko club. AA lost its way in the early 1980's and has been going downhill ever since.

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@RayB94 What you say may be true, but the only reality I have is what I experienced in the destruction of my marriage. I have talked to relatives(who have been to AA in another state)  have told me that this particular group may be overly evangelical in nature because of where it is located. My spouse swallowed the whole scheme while none of her other mental issues were addressed. She can spout every cliché AA has and believes that Bill W. is like Jesus and the Big Book is her Bible, all the while saying that she has given in to the will of God to guide her. Unfortunately, it is pretty evident that the "will of god", is the baloney her sponsor and "support group" tell her.  I cannot see that AA is a wonderful answer for her, me, her kids or grandchildren. She is an isolated recluse, who only looks to her "support" group for direction.

KarlaAnne
KarlaAnne

@BoldChapeau @SusanJones 

there is absolutely a Christian agenda in AA. at the very least, a dogmatic one. why deny it? it's completely obvious. but it's not automatically a bad thing. some people need religion and that's fine. but for me, it was a problem. i was forced to participate in an out-patient recovery program per the terms of my dui diversion several years ago. this program forced me to attend AA meetings, which i was uncomfortable with from the beginning.

  i debated with the program director, who was also my individual counselor, incessantly about the higher power aspect of the program. i just could not reconcile my personal views with what i was being told to do in the 12 steps. for weeks, i tried to explain this disconnect and was simply told to just keep trying. to keep working on figuring it out. at no point did anyone suggest that this program was not right for me, which it clearly was not. they just kept trying to convince me that i did believe in god the way they defined it and that i just had to realize it in time. 

  there were other issues with this group and their affiliation with AA that i won't go into right now. suffice it to say that AA is not for everyone and people should stop pretending that it is. it works for some people and that's a good thing. but it's not for everyone and that ought to be more widely known. you shouldn't have to do your own research for something that is so common and has such a huge impact on our society. it's never a bad idea to get more of your own information but AA is commonly accepted as the solution to addiction and that's just not the truth.

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

Also SMART Recovery has online meetings that are very convenient and are accepted by some courts and probation officers too. It is also much safer than sitting in a room full of felons and sex predators in AA meetings. Mom's do not have feel they need to drag their kids to meetings to hear the horror stories.

thearmbarkid
thearmbarkid

@Jack3Ohio @JohnF.Nihen It's amazing how many people take the Big Book, written by a stock swindler and a proctologist who operated on patients under the influence, as some sort of gospel or absolute truth, even though the book is full of lies.

AntiDenial
AntiDenial

@Jack3Ohio @JohnF.Nihen  This seems to be a common occurrence Jack. I agree pressure should have pressure put on them to not send people to a dangerous religious cult.

GrahamWhite
GrahamWhite

@MonicaRichardson @RayB94 Do any of you have personal experience with alcoholism/addiction? (meaning your own) Do any of you have any personal experience working the 12 steps? (not just reading them) Have any of you been an active part of a 12 step group? (not just a few meetings to "observe") I do. And my experience over 18 plus years is that your fears in regards to "religious dogma", organized maleficence, and sexual predators are unfounded. Are there predators in AA/NA? Absolutely!  But consider the population. Alcoholics/addicts are not angels. We, for the most, are people who have engaged a variety of harmful (to self and others) behaviors over long period of time (some are sicker than others) such that there are some who see involvement in a 12 step group as little more then a new playground. But to condemn AA/NA as a whole is foolish

thearmbarkid
thearmbarkid

@RayB94 Oh please, AA members go to attorneys, judges and corrections officials and begs them to send people to AA all the time.  If AA was serious about not wanting the court-mandated members, they'd stop signing the cards, or sign them BEFORE the meetings begin.

Jack3Ohio
Jack3Ohio

@SusanJones @Jack3Ohio 

Thanks Susan...I have sent the story to several sites, including orange papers. It is pretty descriptive of the story from her start of alcohol abuse, to her other behaviors, to the ultimate breakup of our marriage. Her son, my stepson, was so incensed by her behavior, he told she was not welcome in his home to visit her grand kids until she straightened her life out. At the same time he asked me to visit them as I would always be grandpa and even suggested that I continue to consider moving to where they live. My wife's response toall of this was, she didn't want to go visit anyway, she needed to be near her AA support system.

To me this was frightening.