You know what yanks my cord…

… twelve-step programs. A twelve-step program uses a set of “guiding spiritual principles” to assist members in recovering from addictions; the first and most notable of these being Alcoholics Anonymous. The problem with these programs occurs in the very first so-called guiding principle, which sets the tone for the entire recovery process: that the participants involved are incapable of controlling their addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous carries this principle forward to a second which proposes that positive change is impossible without the intervention of a “higher power.” These first principles are antithetical to achieving a full recovery from addiction.

Those who struggle with alcoholism feel as if they need to drink; almost universally this has some relation to other issues in the person’s life. Instead of facing such problems head-on, alcohol serves as a temporary anesthetic. If they are led to believe that their addiction rules them entirely, they can remain in a state of denial that falsely justifies their destructive behaviour. Twelve-step programs factor into this issue because they frame an addict’s situation in such a way as to set them up for failure.

The first step in this program undermines what should be the purpose of any recovery process: positive results that improve one’s physical and psychological health. Asserting the idea that addicts are ruled by their compulsions only reinforces a sense that they are powerless to change their situation. This is the exact opposite of what needs to be done. In order to be truly successful in overcoming addictions, these people need to be supported by others whilst maintaining an understanding that they are ultimately responsible for their actions. There is nothing wrong with seeking solidarity in others in a recovery process, but losing sight of the importance of independence and self-determination can render these efforts useless.

In appealing to a “higher power,” Alcoholics Anonymous substitutes an alcoholic’s dependency on drinking with ill-conceived metaphysics. Even those who stop drinking will find themselves unable to move on from a victimized mentality; they are not allowed to take ownership for their past mistakes or pride in their successes. If addicts are made to take responsibility for their actions, they similarly will come to realize that conquering their addiction is a question of their own individual strength of will and determination. Instead of substituting one crutch for another, personal responsibility can allow for lasting success when those who recover can recognize that they alone were ultimately and independently responsible for overcoming their addiction.

–James Formosa

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