Are you contemplating going to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting? Perhaps someone has suggested it to you, or perhaps you know deep down you should stop drinking or using, but you don’t know how to take the first step. Many people are familiar with AA, NA, and other 12-step programs, but don’t know the facts. Below are some common myths one may have about 12-step programs, along with some data that counterargues those myths.
1. Myth #1: “It is a religious cult”. Yes, there is a strong emphasis on the concept of a “higher power”, but that does not necessarily mean a religion or God. You do not have to subscribe to a particular religion to join a 12-step program. If you read step three of AA, it clearly states “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”. The key words in that sentence are as we understood. Your higher power could certainly be God, but it could also be nature, science, a concept, the fellowship, etc. The whole point is to get the addict to realize that there is someone or something greater than them in this world. To think outside of themselves and acknowledge that they are not the end all, be all. Additionally, there are specific 12-step programs for Atheists and Agnostics.
2. Myth #2: “Everyone is going to find out I’m an addict”. The word “anonymous” is included in all 12-step programs for a reason. In fact, one of the 12 traditions clearly states, “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” When in a meeting you are never required to disclose your last name, where you live, where you work, or any other identifying information.
3. Myth #3: “I need to pay to go to a meeting”. While donations are encouraged and certainly always welcomed, there is no requirement to pay to attend a meeting. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking. So regardless of your socioeconomic status, if you want to stop drinking or stop using drugs, you will be welcomed at a meeting. Additionally, one of the 12 traditions states “Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”
4. Myth #4: “Those groups are only for drug addicts or alcoholics”. No matter what you have an addiction to, there is a group for you. The 12-step program expands far beyond drugs (NA) and alcohol (AA). (Although there are even specific 12-step groups within NA, such as Cocaine Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous). Other 12-step groups are established for eating addictions (such as Food Addicts Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous), sex and love addictions (such as Sex Addicts Anonymous), and gambling addiction (such as Gamblers Anonymous), to name a few.
5. Myth #5: “My friends and family won’t understand it”. There are a plethora of 12-step groups designed for family members and loved ones of addicts to receive support, guidance, and education as well. These include Al-Anon/Alateen, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Families Anonymous, Parents Anonymous, Co-Anon/ Cocaine Anonymous, and Co-Dependents Anonymous. Like AA and NA, these groups are free and of course, anonymous.
6. Myth #6: “I won’t fit in”. With the variety of 12-step programs that are offered, there is a meeting for everyone. When you look at a schedule of meetings, you can determine if it is a specific meeting for men only or women only, for young adults, for older adults, for members of the LGBTQIA community, etc.
7. Myth #7: “I have to commit to a membership”. There is no timetable for attending a 12-step program. You can attend one meeting or attend for life. It all depends on your commitment to recovery and how helpful you find meetings. There aren’t any forms you have to submit to become a member either (again, anonymity is key).
8. Myth #8: “I don’t have the time to go to a meeting”. Twelve step meetings are held day and night, rain or shine, world-wide. If you have time to call your drug dealer, or go to the liquor store, despite your busy daily schedule, you have time to get to a meeting. Most meetings are only 60 minutes.
9. Myth #9: “It’s going to be triggering”. While some may find meetings to be triggering at times, it is often the exception rather than the norm. Yes, people talk about their drinking or drug use, but the goal is to support each other and know that you are not alone in your struggles. You will often find people “in the rooms” talking about focusing on the solution, rather than the problem. AA encourages its members to share their stories of "experience, strength, and hope."
10. Myth #10: “I’ve been to a meeting before and didn’t like it, so all other meetings must be terrible, too”. Finding the right meeting for you is a lot like shopping. You often have to try different locations, different settings, and different times to find a meeting and members that you connect with. Don’t let one “bad” meeting discourage you from attending another one. With the diversity of meetings offered, you are bound to find one that “fits”.
11. Myth #11: “It’s not going to help me”. It won’t if you have that kind of attitude. You get from meetings what you put in. You never know how hearing someone’s experience, strength, and hope may resonate with you or inspire you to obtain a life in recovery. While 12-step programs are not therapy groups, members often find it helpful to be in a room with other people that “get” what they are going through.
12. Myth #12: “I’m going to be judged for what I share”. First, there is no requirement for anyone to share at a meeting. Nobody will ever force you to share if you do not want to. In fact, some members feel it is important to sit back and listen for your first several meetings (unless you have a burning desire). Second, there is a strong “no judgement” attitude at all 12-step meetings. One of the 12 traditions states “Each group has but one primary purpose–to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” People are there to spread hope to others, not judge you for your past.
This article was written by Steffanie Kelshaw, LPC, CSAC. Steffanie specializes in treating adolescents and adults with substance use disorders, as well as anxiety, depression, and relationship conflict. Steffanie has experience working at treatment centers at the residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and continuing care levels of care. She is currently seeing clients in private practice at Mount Vernon Counseling Center in Alexandria, VA. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact Steffanie at 571-800-9909 or [email protected] to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation to determine if she may be the right therapist for you.