Battling with addiction and winning the struggle against substance abuse is no small feat, especially in the case of alcohol, where the substance of choice is not only completely legal but also popular and plentiful. Easy access to alcohol and regular temptation in social situations can make it especially difficult to identify an existing alcohol problem, as well as maintain long-term sobriety. Despite the obstacles, there is a famously successful support program that continues to be lauded for its ability to help alcoholics rise above their addiction: Alcoholics Anonymous.
Alcoholics Anonymous: A Brief History
Alcoholics Anonymous—commonly referred to simply as “AA”—started with a small meeting in 1935 between a New York stockbroker and an Akron area surgeon known only as Bill W. and Bob S., respectively. The two had long been in the grips of alcoholism and had previously attempted to recover with the help of a spiritual recovery organization known as the Oxford Groups. Unfortunately, each of their experiences with the Oxford Groups had been insufficient to keep them sober, and the two sought to find a better way.¹
Viewing alcoholism as a disease that affects the mind, body, and emotions, Bill W. and Bob S. were soon able to develop unique methods that they believed would help alcoholics achieve full, lasting sobriety. Within a short period of time, the two were able to create several small, successful support groups in Akron, New York, and Cleveland—all of which would serve as the basis for AA as a fellowship.¹
In 1939 the group published “Alcoholics Anonymous,” often called the “Big Book” by members. Since then, this book has served as the central text to guide AA chapters and their members toward sobriety.¹
12 Steps Toward a Brilliant Future
Alcoholics Anonymous is known for its thorough 12-step structure. The steps, as defined in the AA “Big Book” can be paraphrased as follows:
- Admit that you are powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable.
- Come to believe that a greater power than yourself can restore you (whatever “higher power” works for you).
- Make a decision to turn your life over to that higher power as you understand it.
- Make a “searching and fearless” inventory of yourself.
- Admit to your higher power, yourself, and to another person the nature of your past wrongs.
- Be entirely ready to have your higher power remove those wrongs (“defects of character”).
- Humbly ask your higher power to remove your shortcomings.
- Make a list of everyone you’ve harmed in the past and be willing to make amends.
- Make amends with everyone from that list that you can (unless it will in some way harm the person).
- Continue to take a personal inventory and admit when you are wrong.
- Improve your connection with your higher power through prayer, meditation, etc.
- Use your spiritual awakening to carry the message to other alcoholics and continue to behave in line with AA principles.
By working through each step with the support of the group and the mentorship of a designated “sponsor,” thousands of alcoholics have been successful in regaining control of their lives and maintaining lifelong sobriety.
The Psychology of Why AA Works
A 2011 study by Massachusetts General Hospital examined the functions and methods of AA, as well as participants’ ability to maintain sobriety over time. As a result, researchers found two primary elements of the AA program to be key to lasting behavioral change: time spent with individuals supportive of one’s efforts to quit drinking and an increased confidence in the ability to remain abstinent in social situations.²
When it comes to human psychology, successful changes in behavior rely strongly on practicing the new desired behavior and avoiding the undesired behavior. By remaining in supportive social groups where temptations are not present, one can practice sober habits and coping techniques in a safe place before being reintroduced to more difficult situations. As an addict continues to make healthy habits of more positive behaviors, he or she grows the confidence required to withstand temptations in “normal” social situations later on.
Of course, these key aspects of behavioral change and recovery are not exclusive to AA; for those who would prefer a slightly different or more secular program that does not rely so heavily on spirituality and the presence of a higher power, there are numerous non-spiritual programs that can achieve the same effects through sobriety-oriented social support and teaching of addiction management and coping techniques. AA does, however, welcome non-religious members.
The Value of Structured Programs at Addiction Treatment Centers
Because humans are social animals, the power of having a support network composed of individuals going through the same recovery process and experiencing the same effects of addiction as you are can’t be understated. While AA can be an extremely valuable tool to help addicts achieve sobriety, it still requires that the alcoholic have the strength of mind to make sure they physically attend meetings.
For some, the structured setting of an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program with various medical and psychological resources provides just the right amount of guidance and pressure to keep them on track.
While the decision to attend AA meetings during treatment will still ultimately be left to the patient, it’s often much easier to attend when you’re already on-site and surrounded by peers who are dealing with the same issues. Plus, most rehabs will be able to provide you with inpatient or outpatient detox services, as well as aftercare resources once you’ve completed the program.
Rediscover the Real You at BlueCrest Recovery Center
Even if you haven’t yet said the words “I have a problem” aloud, you already know whether or not you’re still in control of your life. Wherever you’re at in your journey, there’s no shame in seeking help to get you back where you deserve to be. At BlueCrest Recovery Center, our passionate, experienced rehabilitation experts are dedicated to ending the painful cycle of addiction and lifting our patients up and out of the darkness.
Our flexible rehabilitation program options are tailored to meet the needs of a variety of individuals without interfering with their autonomy. For those who need to continue working normally during addiction treatment, our comprehensive outpatient program provides the freedom to attend treatment on an accommodating schedule.
For those with co-occurring medical issues who may require more intense care, our partial hospitalization program provides monitoring and care for medical and mental health issues with multiple weekly visits.
Don’t let alcohol continue telling you what to do; take back the reins today by calling us at (973) 298-5776.