There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, even within the groups themselves. Especially for those court-ordered to AA or NA, there may be confusion surrounding the exact intentions of the program and those who attend. Some people who come to a 12 step program for the first time come to find out how they can stop “drinking or using so much” or learn to “control their drinking or using.”
If you have spent any time within most of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, you will quickly learn that this is not the case. Those who attend these 12 step programs come to find that there is no such thing as “drinking like a gentleman”; if you are truly an alcoholic or an addict, the best solution for you is to quit drinking and using entirely.
However, at the same time, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous require nothing of their members. The programs themselves are contained within the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous and merely provide the 12 Steps which have helped millions before you get sober. The program today is a group of imperfect individuals trying on a daily basis to remain clean and sober, some of whom don’t always practice the principles of the 12 Traditions as they are intended.
Misconceptions Surrounding AA and NA
1. 12 Step programs are a religious program.
Many people believe 12 Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are religious programs due to the use of the word “God”. However, it is explicitly stated within the text that you do not need to follow the Christian God of the Bible who is worshipped in churches nationwide. This belief that AA and NA and other Anonymous programs are just another religion used to bring you to capital-G God turns many people off to attend.
This is disheartening as it is simply not true.
Instead, when you are working the 12 Steps of an Anonymous program, you are encouraged to develop a connection with a God of your own understanding. There are no requirements for this God other than it needing to be a power greater than yourself which will help you stay clean and sober on a daily basis. If the other members in the meeting are staying within the suggestions of the 12 Traditions, they will not tell you how you must understand your God. Rather, they will celebrate your connection with a Higher Power as you understand it and embrace your conception of God.
The use of the term God within the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous is more so used for ease of communication. Rather than saying “Higher Power” or “God of my own understanding,” it is easier for individuals to simply say “God” and leave it at that.
2. I can still drink a little, just not as much.
Though no one in a 12 step program can tell you how you should get sober as it is something only you can decide for yourself, the Anonymous programs encourage complete abstinence from all drugs and alcohol. Most within the rooms believe that the first drink should be avoided at all costs. There is a saying within the rooms that, “One drink or drug is too many and a thousand is never enough.” Those who are addicts and alcoholics can understand this dark statement.
If you first attended AA or NA to learn to drink or use in a controlled manner, it may not be the program for you.
3. Marijuana doesn’t count as a drug.
This depends on the individual that you talk to within the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Most would consider marijuana to be a mind-altering substance, even when used for medical purposes. Sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Marijuana Maintenance Program,” these individuals who disagree with smoking pot and calling yourself sober are insistent. A drug is a drug is a drug, they say.
However, others see the medical use of marijuana as acceptable when used as “prescribed”.
Ultimately, no one can tell you how you should or shouldn’t work your program. It is up to you to decide what is best for you and your recovery, what will help keep you clean and sober in the long term.
4. I don’t have to get a sponsor.
A sponsor is a person with more clean or sober time than you who will help take you through the 12 Steps of whichever program you attend. Whether or not you have to get a sponsor depends on the person you talk to. Most members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other 12 Step programs will encourage you to get a sponsor within your first 30 days of sobriety or clean time as they have more experience than you and will be able to help guide you in your most vulnerable times.
There are general practices followed by most members in AA and NA. Getting a sponsor is one of these practices. Receiving direction from someone who has walked the path of sobriety for longer than you can help encourage you during early sobriety as you make decisions in your day to day life.
Others choose to never get a sponsor and instead just attend meetings. Again, there is no one who can tell you how you must work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Some will say that there is no step that says you have to get a sponsor. However, after running on your own for so long, wouldn’t it be helpful to have the guidance of someone who has some clean or sober time?
5. I don’t have to do the 12 Steps.
This again comes down to no one being able to tell you how you must work the program of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Some people choose just to attend meetings in order to get sober and decide never to work the 12 Steps. This works for some people but for others who need direction and guidance, who are severe alcoholics and addicts, this will not help them stay sober.
The program of AA and NA exists within the steps. The 12 Steps ARE the program! If you do not work the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, can you truly say that you are “working the program”? The 12 Steps are intended to help you learn to live sober on a daily basis and to make amends for and let go of the past mistakes you may have made while drinking and using.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous sums up the 12 Steps in a simple to understand, difficult to deny way: “Trust God, clean house, help others.” It’s as easy as that.
Is AA or NA For You?
Only you can decide whether you need the assistance of a 12 Step program like AA or NA. They have helped many millions of people get sober since 1935 and 1953 respectively, and they may help you too.
Additionally, drug and alcohol treatment may also be helpful for you to begin getting sober. Take this addiction quiz to see if you may have a problem with drugs or alcohol, or substance abuse in general.
Sometimes AA and NA work best when combined with a medical or therapeutic treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Others will say all you need to get sober is the 12 Steps, a sponsor, and meetings. In the end, it is up to you to decide what is best for you and your sobriety. Whatever helps you not take a drink or use a drug is the best program for you.