In 1935, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in Akron Ohio. In the intervening decades the movement spread across the globe, and its ideas became the prevailing way to look at addiction.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with some of the ideas endorsed by Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups in the mainstream recovery movement.
I’m not here to bash these concepts, many of which have helped me and my clients get clean and enjoy healthier lives. Rather, I am here to say that the mainstream narrative presents an incomplete picture of addiction.
Recent findings in psychology, neuroscience, and behavior studies have challenged what was once “common knowledge” about addiction. In light of recent evidence, here are three things that AA and the mainstream recovery community gets wrong.
Once An Addict, Always An Addict
You’ve probably heard the idea that addiction is a life sentence. The recovery movement has done a good job of branding anyone with a history of drug or alcohol use as an “addict”. This idea is even endorsed in the first step of AA, where one must admit powerlessness over their addiction.
While there may be a grain of truth in this, I find it to be a dangerous way to look at addiction.
The “forever addict” philosophy, popular in recovery literature, elevates the idea of addiction. It turns it from an unfortunate part of our past, into a permanent part of our identity.
At some point this paradigm becomes a self fulfilling prophecy – a part of ourselves we can never escape no matter how much work we put in.
Yes, we may have used substances as a coping mechanism in the past, and we may still wear wounds from our addiction, but they do not define us.
We are also the people who have chosen to take action to confront our addiction. That alone is something worth celebrating.
Recovery ONLY means abstaining from drugs and alcohol
Why does someone become an addict?
This deeper question is at the core of a healthy recovery, but it’s one that people in the mainstream seldom ask.
For many, the word “recovery” simply means abstaining from drugs and alcohol. The assumption is that if you merely give up your substance of choice you are on your way to a healthy, happy life.
This view looks at addiction from the surface, and ignores the reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place.
No one grows up hoping to be an addict. For most people substances serve as coping mechanisms for underlying trauma they’ve experienced in their lives.
As physician Gabor Maté says:
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behavior.”
If trauma is at the root of addiction, then healing trauma should be the primary concern of those in recovery. Stopping harmful drug use is certainly a good step, but the work should not stop there.
A true, lasting recovery requires the deeper work of coming to terms with the trauma that caused us to turn to drugs and alcohol in the first place.
In addition to stopping substance use, the recovery community should encourage people to use methods like personal coaching, mindfulness meditation, and somatic experience to overcome the trauma at the core of our suffering.
On the deepest level, “healing” and “recovery” are not about sobriety, but realizing our own innate wholeness.
All Substances Are The Same
The term “drug” is used to classify a wide variety of substances with different effects and potentials for addiction.
For many in recovery, “a drug is a drug”. After all, if we’re “forever addicts” (see point 1) then use of any drug can push us into a downward spiral.
However, studies are beginning to show that not all substances categorized as “drugs” have the same effect.
Research coming from mainstream universities like John Hopkins has found therapeutic benefits for so-called “psychedelic drugs”.
Substances like LSD, Psilocybin, and MDMA may help treat depression, PTSD, and even alcohol addiction.
These once maligned compounds have the potential to treat the cause and effects of addiction, yet they are still shunned by people in the recovery community because they’re classified as drugs.
Now, don’t take this as a wholesale endorsement of the use of psychedelics or any other mood altering chemicals. There is still much research to be done, and people with a history of addiction should be cautious about trying any new substance.
However, there is enough evidence for the positive use of certain psychedelic drugs that people in the recovery community should at least remain open to the use of psychoactive substances for the purposes of health and healing.
The ideas of Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups have helped pave the way for many people to live happy, healthy, substance-free lives.
However, some ideas in the recovery community are beginning to clash with modern research and changing beliefs.
This tension is not a call to abandon everything that has worked in the past. Rather, it is a plea to embrace new ideas of what it means to treat addiction and trauma – and embrace a holistic approach to help patients heal beyond recovery.
Coaching With Mike
If you would like help in your recovery journey, I invite you to book a personal coaching session with me. As an Integrative Coach, I support my clients and provide a holistic approach to healing that tackles the root cause of trauma – rather than managing symptoms.
I offer all prospective patients a free discovery call. In this obligation free session you can learn more about my process, and what you can expect working with me. If you’re interested in learning more, I invite you to fill out a short questionnaire and schedule your discovery call today.