This is part 1 of a series that we’ll be sharing about the beginning and growth of 12 step fellowships.
What to do about the Drug Addicts in AA?
Here we’re bringing up one of the oldest arguments in AA since its inception. Well, we’re going to attempt to bring it from a different perspective. By not only talking about the issues within current AA groups, but also about the importance past discussions have played in leading other 12 step fellowships to form. Some of those fellowships collapsed, some have merged with other fellowships, and still yet others are just beginning. The point is, it has now been proven that the 12 step program can be adapted to offer a solution to every problem that a person experiences.
Today’s Issues with drug addiction in AA:
The primary purpose of AA is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. Very simple. Stay sober and help other ALCOHOLICS! Well, what is an alcoholic? To quote directly from the AA Big Book, “We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking.” That loss of control is often characterized by an obsession of the mind and a physical allergy of the body. This insane obsession that somehow, someday an alcoholic will control and enjoy their drinking, often leads them to again take that first drink. The physical allergy, which manifests itself as a phenomenon of craving, ensures that having taken that first drink, they will be unable to stop on their own power. This cycle of craving is more powerful than an alcoholics will-power to not drink. They will continue to drink, escalating into a spree that often ends in a pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. Soon after this cycle is completed they will emerge with a firm resolution to never drink like that again. However, then begin drinking again as a result of the alcoholic obsession.
Very often drug addicts show up to AA meetings seeking help from their problems. But then can have difficulty identifying as sufficiently alcoholic, because often alcohol isn’t their first “drug of choice.” It’s true many drug addicts also drink alcohol and experience the shared hopelessness of alcoholism. Many have never been given the opportunity to identify as alcoholic, or given the time to take an honest look at their drinking history before being shunned away from their first AA meeting. Just because they’ve identified as an addict, they should at the very least, be given the opportunity to find out if they belong!
There are many occasions when an addict is given enough time to learn more about alcoholism and then identify as someone with a drinking problem. These folks often stay in AA and work the AA program. The pure alcoholics can sometimes get upset when these Alcoholic/Addicts share about drug use in an AA meeting. I would remind these members that part of recovery is sharing our pasts and the depths that our illnesses brought us, and if you don’t identify with someone’s story, look for the similarities!
Bill W. answered our question pretty clearly in an article written in 1958 that was later published in a pamphlet titled Problems Other Than Alcohol. Here are a few excerpts from that article:
“Perhaps there is no suffering more horrible than drug addiction, especially that kind which is produced by morphine, heroin, and other narcotics.”
“Therefore, I see no way of making nonalcoholic addicts into A.A. members. Experience says loudly that we can admit no exceptions, even though drug users and alcoholics happen to be first cousins of a sort. If we persist in trying this, I’m afraid it will be hard on the drug user himself, as well as on A.A. We must accept the fact that no nonalcoholic, whatever his affliction, can be converted into an alcoholic A.A. member.”
“Suppose, though, that we are approached by a drug addict who nevertheless has had a genuine alcoholic history. There was a time when such a person would have been rejected. Many early A.A.’s had the almost comical notion that they were pure alcoholics — guzzlers only, no other serious problems at all. When alcoholic ex-cons and drug users first turned up, there was much pious indignation. “What will people think?” chanted the pure alcoholics. Happily, this foolishness has long since evaporated.”
“One of the best A.A.s I know is a man who had been seven years on the needle before he joined up with us. But prior to that, he had been a terrific alcoholic, and his history proved it. Therefore, he could qualify for A.A., and this he certainly did. Since then, he has helped many A.A.’s and some non-A.A.’s with their pill and drug troubles. Of course, that is strictly his affair and in no way the business of the A.A. group to which he belongs. In his group, he is a member because, in actual fact, he is an alcoholic.”
“We cannot give A.A. membership to nonalcoholic narcotics addicts. But, like anyone else, they should be able to attend certain open A.A. meetings, provided, of course, that the groups themselves are willing.”
The above appears to be a very discursive way to say that if you’re a drug addict that also uses alcohol, then you are welcome here! If you have a problem with drugs and have never had a problem with alcohol, then we cannot accept your membership, but you are welcome to come to open AA meetings. We encourage you to start your own fellowship using the 12 steps!
So again…What to do about the Drug Addicts in AA?
If a person cannot identify with the above stated definition of an alcoholic, then they’re probably not an alcoholic and shouldn’t attend closed AA meetings. Fortunately, in most cities today, there are other 12 step fellowships that a drug addict is welcome to attend. But this wasn’t always the case. In Part 2 of this series we’ll dive into some other 12 step fellowships that are available and discuss the history and formation of Narcotics Anonymous.
In concluding Part 1 of our series we’ll leave you with a message from Bill W:
“A.A. members who are so inclined should be encouraged to band together in groups to deal with sedative and drug problems.”