Recovery groups can play an important role in helping people escape addiction. These groups not only offer emotional and physical support, but they can also provide a program that the individual can use build a new life away from substance abuse. In the early days of Alcoholics Anonymous, it was hoped that such fellowships would spell the end of addiction. This has clearly not happened, and alcohol and drug problems are on the rise in most countries. It is now obvious that recovery groups are not a good solution for everyone trying to escape addiction. In some cases, they have even turned out to be harmful. The worry is that bad experiences with such groups can mean that addicts fail to ever escape the misery of addiction.
There are a number of common reasons that people may have a bad experience with recovery groups including:
* Many of these groups include members with overbearing or bossy personalities. They may try to bully newcomers into behaving in a certain way or believing in certain things. Such pushy individuals may even believe that they are helping, but it can make visitors to the group run for the door.
* They expected that their privacy would be respected, but this did not turn out to be the case. Anonymity is a cornerstone of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is impossible to enforce such a policy. The meetings are open to anyone, and not everyone attending will be willing to respect the anonymity of other members. This means that things that were said in a meeting can come back to haunt the individual who said them.
* Those who have been sent to a recovery group by a court mandate may feel resentful about it. It does seem that such groups can only really be effective when the individual chooses them. An atheist took this issue to the Supreme Court by claiming that their rights had been violated when they were forced to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. The Supreme Court agreed that sending this individual to group that promoted a religious belief had been wrong.
* While the 12 Step program itself is not aligned with any particular religion, the groups that follow the program have a great deal of autonomy. Some of them promote religious affiliations and will put pressure on new members to accept these beliefs. This can make non-believers feel uncomfortable, and it may turn them completely off the 12 Step program.
* Some of the more experienced members of these recovery groups abuse their position. They may do this by taking sexual advantage of vulnerable newcomers. This is sometimes referred to as thirteen stepping.
* There are some recovery groups that have become highly dysfunctional. In some cases, the core membership could best be described as dry drunks. It can be difficult to disband such groups, and the unwary individual looking for help can find their way into these meetings.
* Some of these groups have been accused of promoting inaccurate information about addiction recovery. This is unhelpful because it disempowers the individual seeking help for their problem.
Sponsors can be a help for people in recovery. These individuals can offer free advice and guidance. They can also offer round-the-clock, one-to-one support. The relationship between a sponsor and their sponsee can become extremely close. There is often the sharing of highly personal information. It is not common for this type of relationship to end in disaster, but it can occasionally happen. The type of problems that are likely to develop between a sponsor and a sponsee include:
* The sponsor returns to alcohol or drug abuse. This can be a real trauma for the sponsee and they may even feel like their own sobriety is in jeopardy. It comes as a shock to find that somebody they depended on and looked up to has relapsed. It is particularly upsetting when the sponsee is in early recovery.
* Some sponsors can try to take over the sponsee’s life. Instead of offering advice, they become bossy and interfering.
* Sponsors will usually get to hear a great deal of personal information. They could later use such information inappropriately.
* If the sponsor is overcritical, it can have a negative impact on the sponsee’s self-esteem.
* Sponsors can give bad advice just like anybody else. It is crucial that the sponsee questions any advice that has been given, particularly medical advice.
* Some people will use sponsorship as a means of pampering their own ego. This means that they have nothing of real value to offer their sponsee.
* Occasionally, sponsors will sexually exploit the people they are meant to be helping.
Problems can occur with the sponsor-sponsee relationship, and this is why it is crucial that people choose their sponsor wisely.
There are many individuals who manage to build a good life away from addiction without the help of recovery groups. Such people may have received help during the early sobriety, but many of them didn’t even have this. They have found something that works for them, and this is all that matters. Solo recovery is not something new. As long as there has been addiction, there have those who manage to escape with minimal assistance. There are even those people who live in isolated communities and have no choice but to go it alone. Followers of Rational Recovery view long-term attendance at these groups as harmful, because it reinforces the addict identity.
While it is true that many people can build a recovery without help, there are definitely individuals who benefit greatly from membership of a recovery group. Humans are social animals and tend to do better in groups. Most 12 Step groups can provide members with a program that has a proven success record. This can help to make the transition into sobriety a much smoother ride.
It might be considered hasty for people to completely wash their hands of recovery groups just because of one bad experience. Some of the things worth considering are:
* It is probably unfair to judge a whole recovery program by just one group. This is particular true when it comes to 12 Step fellowships, where there can be a wide variety of approaches. In large towns there will usually be a meeting to suit almost every temperament.
* Those people who are put off by the religious undertones of the 12 Steps will be able to find more secular approaches. There are even 12 Step groups that are made up predominately of non-believers. It is possible for people to interpret higher power in a non-supernatural sense. For example, some people view it as the power of the group.
* If people had a bad experience at a recovery group because of one member, this is not a good reason to dismiss all such groups. It is important to remember that these meetings are open to everyone. This can have positive and negative consequences.
* If people are worried about their privacy, they can attend a non-local group and avoid using their real name. It is also better if people speak in a general way as this will make it less likely that they divulge personal information.
* Sometimes, the individual is just not ready for the type of help offered by recovery groups. This is not to say that they will not be able to benefit from such help in the future.
* People need to be cautious when choosing a sponsor. This should be an individual who has managed to establish themselves firmly in recovery. They do not just talk the talk.
* It is usually fine to attend these groups without the need of following their program.