Addiction is complex, yet simple. Addiction enables you to avoid uncomfortable feelings by escaping, not accepting, one’s reality. Addiction lives in the subconscious and mask’s one’s soul. It is fueled by denial.
The Atlantic’s “The Irrationality of AA” reveals seldom talked about treatment options for addiction, but it’s title is curious.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and all the 12-step programs are spiritual programs. Spirituality, faith, is the opposite of rationality. Faith is based on believing in that which cannot be proven or seen, whereas rationality is based on facts, the tangible.
The article quotes AA as having a success rate of seven to eight percent. Good luck applying conventional statistics to 12-step programs. Anyone who has spent any amount of time hanging around addicts knows that someone trying to get clean or sober or cease any type of compulsive behavior, such as overeating or gambling, can try and fail 365 times in one year alone. If each time counts as a failure, then the statistics would be royally skewed.
The Atlantic article tells the story of an attorney, J. G., who started drinking at 15:
He spent a month at a center where the treatment consisted of little more than attending AA meetings. J. G.’s rehab was a rip-off. The documentary The Business of Recovery documents the abundance of flawed rehab facilities throughout the U.S.
Offering only a spiritual remedy to a complex, insidious, and potentially terminal affliction would be akin to firing every medical doctor in every hospital and replacing them with shamans, ministers, and priests.
Addiction is complex, because it often masks many other issues such as mental illness, learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, poverty, toxic family and/or marital dynamics, consequences from a lack of nurturing or effective education during childhood, and disastrous career choices.
Except behind the walls of most rehabs, it is no secret that neurobiology often plays a role in addiction — some of us are wired to respond dramatically to various drugs such as stimulants, opiates, and sugar. The Atlantic article points out that countries such as Finland routinely assess neurobiological factors in their addiction treatment facilities. The New York Times “The Sober Truth: Seeing Bad Science in Rehab” discusses the relationship between neurobiology and addiction.
Whatever brain genetics make someone more likely to be an addict, substances such as opiates further disrupt brain function and create overpowering cravings. Effective rehabs would offer addicts a systematic approach for rewiring their brains so that they don’t crave their fix and would teach how to develop positive habits to counteract occasional cravings. This could involve personality tests and interest surveys, goal setting, and work with addiction specialists, life coaches, and vocational counselors. You have to want something more than getting high, and you have to build support systems and take inventory of every individual in your life and every aspect of yourself.
Change is tough.
Working a program
Attending 12-step meetings can be inspirational, boring, annoying, or a waste of time. However, those motivated to “work a 12-step program” can learn effective life skills for free such as goal setting, practicing gratitude, introspection, accountability, and building a supportive network. For example, practicing gratitude, functions somewhat like cognitive behavioral therapy.
12-step programs are free
Although addiction is often the result of a tangled web of adversities/challenges, our mental health system is its own tangled web. Although 12-step programs are often not enough to address every aspect that led one to addiction, they are free and accessible.
J.G. mastered the art of blame that is essential for every addict. He blamed AA for his relapses. J.G. says it was this message—that there were no small missteps, and one drink might as well be 100—that set him on a cycle of bingeing and abstinence.
The use of the word God also hung up J.G.— he must moonlight splitting hairs.
The concept of God baffles me too. However, I do understand the simple concept of higher power — there is something out there more important than myself. I do believe in the spiritual energy of the universe that is manifested in nature. The ocean. The sky.
Many others were taken aback by The Atlantic article. Here are a number of related links:
Psychology Today, Irrationality of AA? A critique of the article
Huffington Post, Spirituality vs. Science? A Rebuttal to The Atlantic Article, ‘The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous’
Addiction.com, The Irrationality of The Atlantic’s piece on AA (paste link
New York, Why Alcoholics Anonymous Works
If You Work It, It Works!: The Science Behind 12-Step Recovery, a book by Joseph Nowinski, PhD