August 15th, 2016

Area 4: The Recovery Support Community: 4 Principles To Know

One of the primary goals of addiction treatment is to facilitate entry into the recovery support community of those people who have not been able to accomplish this on their own. This, the final post in my series on Understanding Treatment for and Recovery from Addiction, will focus on four elements of this important aspect of recovery.

1. It started with Alcoholics Anonymous. The modern area of recovery from addiction began in 1935 with the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Many books are available detailing this history, ranging from official AA literature to more unfiltered biographies of the co-founder, Bill Wilson Although initially restricted to alcoholism, related “12-Step fellowship organizations” have extended AA’s principles to other substances as well as to non-addiction problems. AA was founded and developed by non-professionals with some input from non-addicted professionals. AA is not treatment, but this approach has been of enormous benefit to addiction treatment professionals who have been willing to learn from it.

2. Now there are more choices. The 12-Step groups are highly accessible. Meetings have become ubiquitous in this country and available in many other places around the world. Some people, however, object to some aspect of them, particularly the spiritual one. Fortunately, other substantial options for other abstinence-based organizations have become available. In the Washington/Baltimore area, a good “secular” option is SMART Recovery, which uses principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing. Explicitly religious alternatives include the rapidly growing Celebrate Recovery and Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church. Although meetings are very few, Women for Sobriety offers yet another alternative for women in recovery. 

Online meetings for 12-Step and SMART groups have made meetings accessible to those who have difficulty getting to face-to-face meetings. Often referred to as “self-help” organizations, these groups are more accurately understood as a “mutual help” organizations in which helping relationships between recovering addicts allow them all to progress. The recovery of the more senior person is just as beneficial as that of the junior person.

3. Options exist for family and friends. Support groups, such as Al-Anon for friends and family of alcoholics, and the equivalent for drug addiction – Nar-Anon – as well as SMART Recovery Family & Friends, are important regardless of whether the addict is in recovery. These groups can be of enormous benefit to those feeling helpless in the face of their loved one’s addiction.

4. Bridges are helpful. Because many addicts are reluctant to begin attending recovery support meetings, finding ways to facilitate these connections is critical. One long-time tradition—“Institutional meetings”— involves members of 12-Step groups going into hospitals and prisons to provide an introduction to the fellowship. Residential addiction treatment programs often take busloads of their patients to meetings in the outside community.  At Kolmac we have supported the initiation of independent “beginners’ groups” within our facility to provide a familiar environment in which patients can begin to make the important transition into the recovery community.

While “loyalty” to one organization has been the norm, participating in more than one can be beneficial and will be the subject of the next blog post.

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