Many of my clients who have drink problems refuse to go to the obvious place for help: Alcoholics Anonymous . Over the years I have been given numerous different reasons and I thought I would do my best to debunk a few of the myths about AA.
A common objection to AA is to say – I am not an alcoholic. AA itself acknowledges that there is no definition of ‘alcoholic’ but they suggest it may mean something like ‘a physical compulsion coupled with a mental obsession’. But no one in AA will tell you that you are an alcoholic – only you can decide that for yourselves.
Net doctor equates alcohol dependence with alcoholism and says
“In alcohol dependence a number of features come together in the behaviour of the person affected.
* Drinking begins to take priority over other activities. It becomes a compulsion.
* Tolerance develops, so it takes more alcohol to produce drunkenness.
* Withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety and tremor develop after a short period without a drink, and are reduced by taking more alcohol.
Many addiction specialists, however, draw a distinction between alcoholism and alcohol dependence.
“Alcohol dependence, as described in the DSM-IV, is a psychiatric diagnosis describing a physical dependence on alcohol. For a person to meet criteria for Alcohol Dependence (303.90) within the criteria listed in the DSM-IV, they must meet 3 of a total 7 possible criteria within a 12 month period. The first 2 criteria are related to physiological dependence: tolerance and withdrawal. The 3rd and 4th criteria establish a pattern of losing control of drinking by breaking drinking rules or failing at attempts to quit or cut back. The 5th and 6th criteria are indicative of a progression of addiction as more and more time is spent on drinking and lifestyle changes result. The seventh criteria for Alcohol Dependence is met when a person continues to drink despite being aware that their drinking is causing or excacerbating some psychological or physiological problem(s). It is important to note that because only 3 criteria of 7 are required in order to be diagnosed with Alcohol Dependence, not all meet the same criteria and therefore not all have the same symptoms and problems related to drinking. Not everyone with Alcohol Dependence, therefore, experiences physiological dependence. Alcohol Dependence is differentiated from alcohol abuse by the presence of symptoms such as tolerance and withdrawal. Both alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse are sometimes referred to by the less specific term alcoholism. However, many definitions of alcoholism exist, and only some are compatible with alcohol abuse.” (from Wikipedia).
This explains why an addiction specialist may say that it is not necessary or essential for a person with an alcohol problem which does not meet the criteria for alcohol dependence to have a goal of abstinence.
Only you can decide whether your lack of control over drinking is one which means that you could be described as an aloholic and ought to have abstinence as a goal short-term or long-term. The only thing AA requires is that have a desire to stop drinking one day at a time.
To help you decide on the level of your own problem there are two particularly good leaflets on the AA website.
* Who Me?
I have posted before about some of the reasons why people resist accepting the description alcoholic – I don’t drink on my own, I don’t drink spirits, I don’t drink every day, I don’t drink as much as X, I hold down a job, I don’t suffer from the DTs, I don’t live on a park bench. All these can be true and you might still be an alcoholic. People often think of AA as full of people for whom all those things are true and as an unglamorous place to hang out. Actually many meetings are full of people who have spent years telling themselves all those things but have finally come to realise that they cannot win the battle with alcohol. I recommend that anyone interested in AA calls the helpline, gets some individual support from a current attender, goes to several different meetings (each meeting group runs its own show and has a different feel and type of membership – lunchtime and weekend meetings are likely to be full of high functioning job-holding people) until you find one you are comfortable with. Clients often also say that they are put off by the idea of a group meeting. Well, I say, suck it and see. You don’t have to say a word until you are ready. Just listen if you want. Stay for tea and an informal chat afterwards and see if you find people you click with.
I don’t say just do it for this reason but if you are in care proceedings and you want to show people you are serious, AA is the quickest way to do it. Although there is a limit to their willingness to be involved in court cases (it is an anonymous organisation after all) they will often write letters confirming that someone has been attending regularly and offer to come to court with you to offer support. AA attenders will also be there to offer support long after the local Drug & Alcohol service has shut for the night and over the weekends when social workers are not available.
The leaflets that I have linked to and other materials on the website also deal with a number of the other issues people say they have with AA eg the God thing (it’s not allied to any religion and you can interpret your higher power as whatever works for you), the lack of time to attend meetings (funny how there was always time to drink) etc. Examine each of your objections critically and make sure they are not just excuses.
That said, AA is not the only way and I will be posting about other ideas in later posts.