Facts and Alternatives to 12 Step Programs in Vancouver, BC

If you or someone you know has an alcohol or drug use disorder or lives with alcoholism, you’ve at least heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics (NA). It’s the first thing most people think of when hearing someone has a drinking problem: Go to AA.

When people join 12 step programs in Vancouver, British Columbia they’ll receive support and suggestions from other members of the fellowship. It’s what is encouraged. New members are told to be open and honest in all aspects of their life. This can be discouraging, even reckless and dangerous for some. This is why Drug and Alcohol Interventionist Andy Bhatti, believes anyone participating in a 12 step program needs to be cautious with what they are sharing with other 12 step members.

The membership of fellow alcoholics is just that, fellow alcoholics and/or addicts. They are just people perhaps like yourself who are getting well and/or trying to stay sober and healthy. Members are not professionals and are not qualified to offer solutions to every problem that you may be dealing with. Some members’ motives are not always clear and selfless. Advice can be clouded by personal experiences, backgrounds, values and outside opinions.

Many newcomers are reluctant to discuss their pasts, especially if they’re still struggling with trauma, legal problems and other consequences of their addictions. Members are told to share their experience, strength and hope when speaking at meetings. This can be confusing and intimidating for many new members. What are you supposed to say? How much should be shared? How is this helpful? The fellowship suggests you get a sponsor to explain the program to you and to guide you through it. It’s not a program you are to do alone or with a professional counsellor. It is to be done with a fellow recovered alcohol or recovered drug addict who has also gone through the steps. However 98% of 12 step members are not professionals trained to deal with substance abuse disorder or mental health issues which can easily come up in recovery and lead to relapse or worse. You may encounter some 12 step fellowship members who act like counsellors or even run recovery houses but they are not trained professionals.

What Exactly Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

12 Step Program

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship with the stated purpose of enabling its members to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. AA is nonprofessional, self-supporting, and apolitical. It’s only membership requirement is a desire to stop drinking but that is not enforced.

The underlying notion behind Alcoholics Anonymous is the 12 steps which is a series of actions intended to get and keep members sober. The 12 steps were originally inspired by the Oxford Group (Four Absolutes, Four Practices, Five Cs, and Five Procedures). AA’s 12 steps were first enumerated in 1938.

Over the last 50 years, the substance of A.A., the core literature, outlining it’s program of recovery has changed very little. In the early 1950s A.A. members were almost exclusively male, white, middle-class and middle-aged. In terms of the numbers and diversity of its members, A.A. today would be unrecognizable to its pioneers as of 2020.

The A.A. of 2020 is huge, increasingly international, multiethnic, multiracial, cutting across social classes, less rigidly religious than it was in the beginning, more accepting of LGTBQ people, and of women. In fact women now form one-third of the total North American memberships and about half of the A.A. memberships in big cities like Vancouver, Canada.

What are the 12 Steps?

The 12 steps are the suggested program of action for those who have decided to attend AA or NA in Vancouver, BC and want to recover from a drug or alcohol addictions.

When progressing through the 12 steps, members acknowledge their addiction to alcohol, stop drinking or using, attempt to make amends for the damage their drinking or using has caused them and those around them, and then help others with their addictions by taking them through the 12 steps. The steps should be worked in sequence, completing one step before advancing to the next.

Although doing the steps is not mandatory to attend meetings and build a sober fellowship there are some members who try too hard to push the 12 steps onto newcomers almost like a religious bible. This can be a big turn off for those who are looking to strengthen their recovery with peer support or for those who are looking at all forms of recovery before deciding what works for them. The thing is just because the 12 steps worked for one person, doesn’t mean it works for everybody. There are many ways one can find recovery from alcohol or drug addiction in Vancouver, BC. The 12 steps can compliment some with recovery and for others it’s just not what they feel comfortable doing or going through.

Are the 12 Steps Religious?

There’s no denying a 12-step modality works for many. However it is said that it will only work if you find a higher power. A Higher Power described in the literature is the same as God. While supposedly being a non-religious program, the founding members of AA were Christians and God (and related words) are mentioned 400 times in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The point of having a God in the 12 steps program is to find a power greater than yourself and turn your will and your life over to that power. Participants are urged to put their recovery in the hands of whatever higher power or God they choose to believe in.

Some say that this approach creates powerlessness instead of promoting positive self esteem and self control. It can also discourage those from seeking science-backed treatment protocols that can treat mental health issues and trauma in those that truly need it believing that God will solve all their problems.

People who are survivors of sexual abuse can turn to drugs and alcohol for relief and addiction can follow. When seeking recovery many individuals may be reluctant to attend any fellowship that speaks of having to believe in a God who they may feel wasn’t there for them when needed one so trust can be an issue. Also some of these individuals have been abused while in the care of a church or religious group and want nothing to do with any concept of God or religion. Freedom of choice should always be a priority.

Not everyone has the experience of a loving transcendent being at work in their lives. An estimated 488 million people, for example, practice Buddhism, a religion that does not include the idea of a God.

There are many reasons personal and scientific for those who do not want to believe in a God or Higher Power.

Different Paths for Different People

Does AA Work?

Everybody’s addiction took them on a different path, says Interventionist Andy Bhatti. This is the same for recovery. Everybody’s recovery path is going to look different too. Andy works with the individual suffering from substance or alcohol abuse in Vancouver to help them choose their own path. He believes no one should be forced to believe in something they don’t want to believe in.

AA is Not Therapy

AA is not therapy by itself. It bills itself as a mutual aid fellowship, a group of peers with something in common, in this case, alcoholism. Members meet to share problems, experiences, and solutions. They offer basic peer support and that’s all they should be offering.

What is the Fellowship?

The meetings are where you find the fellowship of AA and NA. People credit AA and NA with helping them find a path to sobriety and providing peer support. Many people who attend meetings in the rooms of AA or NA didn’t have a social support system before they got to recovery so having people in their lives who dont judge them and they can relate to can be most helpful in recovery. Many members finally feel like they belong somewhere now. Of course this isn’t the case for everyone and different meetings at different times and even in different towns are going to provide a wide array of people. Not everyone will feel a sense of belonging at every meeting.

Many professionals believe 12 step meetings are just a fellowship of peer support and that’s all they should be treated as. However you are always going to find people in the rooms that believe there is no other way to get clean and stay clean without AA or NA and they are very vocal about this.

What is the Success Rate of AA or NA in Vancouver, BC?

It’s difficult to determine the success rate of programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous largely because they’re anonymous. Some addiction specialists have claimed that AA has a 5 to 10 percent success rate. In addition, estimates say that 40-60% of people relapse within a year of going to treatment. Many professionals believe it’s because most treatment centres in Vancouver, British Columbia aren’t trauma or scientifically based. They rely on taking their clients to meetings and taking them through the 12 step program. There is very little if any individualized treatment. Therefore some clients never learn to deal with the underlying issues of why those choose to start escaping with drugs and alcohol in the first place.

90% of the addiction treatment programs in British Columbia are just higher end recovery houses and not actual treatment centres with doctors and counsellors specialized in treating trauma and drug or alcohol abuse issues.

How Effective Are the 12 Steps?

It all depends on who you ask when determining how effective the 12 steps really are in helping alcoholics and addicts achieve long term recovery. In some meetings they do ask for those with a year or more sobriety to raise their hand but even that is not a true marker of sobriety. Not everyone will raise their hand nor tell the truth. Some meetings will have members with more sobriety than other meetings. It also depends on what you consider to be true recovery as well.

Some drug and alcohol professionals estimate that if there are 200 addicts in a regular NA meeting then only about 20 addicts would have 10-15 years of clean time. Maybe this is because many stop going to meetings after a few years and many may just relapse and never make it back to rooms. Regardless the reasons it is very hard to tell the long term effectiveness of these peer based recovery programs.

Again true studies are rare and difficult because AA is anonymous. 12 step fellowships keep no records, no membership rolls, no dues, no chapter presidents and perform no evaluations. Members’ progress or clean time is not tracked accurately or scientifically.

What is known is that 40% of members drop out before the first year is up. At different times, AA claims a 36% sobriety rate after 10 years or a 67% sobriety rate after 16 years, but that likely doesn’t include the 40% who left early. If the true rate is about 40%, then it has a relapse rate the same or worse than other treatments.

Other observers say AA only has a 5-10% success rate. By contrast, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a variation on psychotherapy or talk therapy and one of the most common science or evidence-based treatments boasts that 60% of participants are still clean one year later. After 16 years, 56% who saw a therapist remained sober.

How the 12 Steps became the Go-To Treatment for Addiction

Many judges and politicians believe AA is the only game in town for individuals convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) who want to avoid jail time. Many rehabs for people with SUD (Substance Use Disorder) also incorporate or offer 12 step practices along with their science-based or evidence-based treatments.

The 12 steps in general and AA, in particular, became the go-to solution to addiction for a few reasons…

* It has a good story. Bill Wilson (Bill W.) and Robert H. Smith (Dr. Bob) came up with the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, taking inspiration from the Oxford Group, a nondenominational Christian organization that was not primarily interested in helping alcoholics. While it helped Bill W. stay off alcohol, it didn’t seem to help others with AUD. So, he made changes and started a new, dedicated, independent group in 1939. It spread worldwide.

* It’s free. There is no charge for attending AA meetings or joining AA though a collection may be taken to pay expenses (food, coffee, use of the room) and there are a lot of meetings. In larger cities, there may be several a day at different locations.

* It’s social. While AA meetings bear some similarities to group therapy and support groups, there is no professional in charge. It’s a meeting of peers telling their stories of success and failure. Some members are newly sober. Some have been sober for years but wish to help newbies by their example and/or feel the need to keep attending to prevent a relapse.

What are some Alternatives to 12 Step Programs?

There are many paths to long term recovery in Vancouver or anywhere for that matter. The important thing to remember is if someone has not found success with the 12 step programs or doesn’t want to use them, there are still a number of alternatives to choose from. Individuals who want the fellowship and support of a sobriety group may want to join SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Refuge Recovery, Women for Sobriety, or SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety). All of these programs will offer that kind of support.

Increasing numbers of researchers are finding that medical and mental health approaches may be more effective in treating addiction than peer support or spiritual groups. These approaches include medications, different forms of therapy, and holistic approaches that address the physical and mental complexities of addiction.

Many rehabs for people with SUD (Substance Use Disorder) incorporate 12-step practices along with science-based or evidence-based treatments. Not everyone understands why AA or other 12 step programs may not be a good idea for everyone.

Getting the Help you Need

Regardless of what organization an individual with a substance/alcohol use disorder ultimately chooses, it is most important that they find a program that provides them with the foundation, guidance, motivation, and support to continue their work toward recovery.

Consider the type of program you would like to involve yourself with. Make sure the centres and people you choose to help you in your recovery journey are accredited and a good fit with your personal preferences and values. Don’t underestimate how important it is to tailor your recovery program to suit your particular needs.

Vancouver Alcohol and/or Drug Rehab and Treatment Centres

At a proper accredited treatment facility (the only type we work with) the focus will be on finding and treating the cause of the alcoholism and/or addiction. Learning to live without the drug of choice is extremely difficult for most suffering from addiction or alcoholism. During rehab many people experience the desire to relapse. Our trained staff know how to help alcoholics and addicts through these feelings and to help them stick with the program they are doing. The techniques that are taught during treatment will help to prevent relapse from occurring. In our private treatment programs our recovery specialists or interventionists in Vancouver work to create an individualized sustainable program of recovery that will include but not be limited to the following:

Learning how to cope with triggers – triggers are people, places, and things that enabled you to use drugs. They can be psychological or physical and often combine elements of both. Learning how to deal with triggers is extremely important in preventing relapse when going back home to Vancouver.
Participating in self-esteem building activities – lack of self-esteem is a major cause of drug use or alcohol abuse.
Learning how to deal with the cause of alcoholism or addiction – whether this is stress, anxiety, social issues, confidence, or another issue, counsellors and other treatment staff will help you learn better ways of coping with life on life’s terms.

Learning how to live without drugs or alcohol – Many people forget how to live without the alcohol or drugs to rely on when they return home to Vancouver or the surrounding areas.

How to repair damaged relationships – Learning to deal with this damage and how to correct it is an important part of any long term recovery program.
Self-care is an important part of dealing with alcoholism and addiction. Eating healthy and exercise will help you feel better and may help with the withdrawal symptoms.

For more information on science-based drug or alcohol rehab and how to choose the best treatment option for yourself or someone you love, call us 1-888-988-5346. We can explain this process and help you on your way to recovery.

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