The Trick is Knowing Where the Power Is


by Candice Shelby, Ph.D.. Associate Professor of Philosophy, Univ. of Colorado, Denver.

Much literature regarding addiction appeals to the assumption, established nearly 100 years ago, that alcoholics are powerless over alcohol.  In fact, admitting this “fact” is the first step in the ubiquitous 12-step approach to treating addictions.  Like all “facts”, though, it is true only in a sense, and that sense is usually left undefined, with the result that addicts are left feeling that they can do nothing about their condition but put themselves in the hands of others, real or imagined.  This has resulted in a not-better-than-chance rate of success in treatment on most professional counts.

It is true that while one is actively high, or drunk, if addicted, one cannot refrain from having another drink, or dose.  But while high, one has very little control over one’s mind at all—over speech (either the content or the mechanics, or both, depending on the drug in question), or over movement, or judgment. One’s brain is malfunctioning in the same way that one’s other systems do when infused with arsenic.  That’s no surprise. It is also true that one stays under the influence of the physiological craving for different substances for various lengths of time; we all know that heroin and meth users, for instance, and drinkers of certain varieties, undergo serious physical withdrawal symptoms for some time immediately after ceasing use.  No one has control over this, once the body has become dependent.

But addiction is not defined by the professionals in terms of this kind of powerlessness; many people who have suffered serious injuries become dependent upon narcotics to stop their pain, but when the drug is withdrawn, although they may experience discomfort initially, they never again use, or obsess about using the drug.  What is more, it is well known that significant numbers of Vietnam veterans who used heroin and other drugs regularly while in battlefield conditions, and became dependent in this sense on them, but then upon returning home, never again used these drugs.  So, in general, people are not powerless to stop use of even strongly addictive drugs—physical dependence does not in itself constitute addiction.  What makes an addict an addict is the inability to stop thinking about the substance (let’s just stick with substances for this discussion) in a certain way, which in most cases inevitably results in the addict’s reversion to use.  It is in this sense that the famous 1st step of Alcoholics Anonymous means that addicts are powerless:  no matter what her intentions, or how hard she thinks about the good things that accompany remaining abstinent, the yearning for the addict’s preferred substance will prevail, if someone or something doesn’t intervene.  The addict has no control.

This characterization, of having "no control," is said to be true regardless of how rational the addict may be, or how convinced she may be that to revert to use is to welcome certain self-destruction of some kind.  Thinking about continued abstinence, seeing the irrationality of reverting to use…in fact, understanding anything and absolutely everything about one’s addiction does not provide power over the substance.  Why is this?  It is because of the unrecognized fact that everything we think about, every thought whatsoever, is as much emotional as it is intellectual, but our emotions operate largely unconsciously.  The very way we learn the meanings of things -- what things are, what makes up the world --is already emotional:  for example, the first “object” of our knowledge, the mommy or caregiver, does not arise in the child as a purely intellectual concept.  Babies develop the concept of this “object” by interacting with someone who soothes, comforts, and makes him feel safe and warm--GOOD--in addition to everything else that enables him to distinguish this person from all the other colors, shapes, movements, etc., entering and exiting his field of experience.   In other words, people don’t start by distinguishing objective things in the world, and only later decide on what kind of emotional “tags’ they will have.  Rather, the initial distinctions that we make among the entities that come to constitute our world are already full of meaning; things are comprehended in terms of their value or disvalue to us (GOOD or BAD; YAY!  or YUCK!), and we perceive those values as attending their objects, whether consciously or not. (Keep in mind that we perceive all kinds of things every day, all day long, that we don’t consciously recognize, such as the pressure of the floor under our feet, the air against our skin, and the thousands of details about objects in our range of vision that we don’t pay attention to.). When we say that something doesn’t mean anything to us (suppose that the police bring to you the tie of a missing neighbor whom you never knew), we are saying that it bears no connection to other meaningful things in our lives. That is, it rings no bells—it has no particular value or disvalue, nor any connection to any other thing with special value or disvalue for us.  Emotion, on this analysis, is the perception of the value that things have for us (even if that value is very low-level) and this  perception may be totally unconscious—which is what often happens, since the world is far too rich for us to devote our full attention to, or even care about, everything.

Now, our emotional connection to some things is very high indeed, and for addicts this is perhaps especially true. We should remember, and I argue this in other places, that addiction is our condition as humans—it’s inherent in the way that we are built.  The basic structures underlying addiction are the same structures that keep us seeking food, sex, and other things essential to life and the reproduction of our species. My point, then, is that addicts are not different from other human beings, except in some small but important details.   Insofar as we are all potential addicts in this more general sense, the very shape of our world is affected by the emotional value (or meaning) inherent in those substances which, at least in the beginning, make us feel so very GOOD.  Places, people, and things are seen as opportunities or obstacles to satisfaction, even if we refuse to acknowledge them in that light.  Arguments and reasons have no power over emotion, which operates at a deeper level in our brains than does the higher reason of which we are so proud.  That’s why people can know more about recovery programs than anybody they’ve ever met, and yet be more susceptible to relapse than the simplest just entering into recovery.  Once we understand the mostly unconscious operation of the emotional values connected with things in our lives, we understand how people’s actions often move in precisely the opposite direction of what they know is good for them.  Often, addicts know what is good for them, plan in good faith to do it, and then do exactly the opposite.  Recognizing the unconscious influence that emotion has in shaping their world, as well as in planning and executing their actions, can help addicts make sense out of ways of acting which would otherwise seem crazy, senseless, and/or uncontrollable.

All this may seem to argue for the opposite of my stated point:  it may seem to show, that is, that addicts are, in fact, powerless over their addictions, and that they should run as fast as they can to some higher power, to prevent them from doing further self-harm.  But that is not the case.  While it is true that addicts are unlikely to succeed in overcoming their addictions with no additional support, it remains true that the addict alone is the one who actually has power over his or her addiction.  But to exercise this power, what must happen is that there be a shift in the meanings the addictive substance (and its uses) has; this shift of meaning takes place not in the rational mind but in the heart–in the emotional response—that the substance elicits.  How and when does this happen?  Admittedly, it happens slowly, and with much practice and reflection.  But it can happen—the brain is very plastic, as it is all the rage to say today—and so addicts can re-organize the meanings of things in their world.  Indeed, people do it all the time: when they fall in love, find out that a spouse has cheated, or unexpectedly become unemployed.  It is striking, but acceptance of just one fact, profoundly emotional in nature, can cause major changes in the meanings of things in a person’s world.  This fact suggests that once past the immediate stage of physical dependence, it is possible for addicts to change our emotional attitudes toward substances and activities that we know have nothing good to offer, and to change our lives altogether.

How can we do this?  One way is by making use of some of the good recommendations that 12-step programs have to offer:  for instance, (a) making lists of people that we have harmed through our addiction, people whom we honestly may care about but whom we have nevertheless caused pain as a result of this substance that seemed so good due to the feeling of satisfaction it provided at some point.  It also helps to (b) make amends (where possible) to these people; at the very least, making amends feels good because being “clean”—honest and open, and fixing things that we have broken, or at least apologizing—feels good.  Such feelings start to rewrite our emotional experiences and associations, which in turn has subtle effects on the way that we see the world.  Another method is (c), stating over and over out loud (the actual physical action of stating the truth)  the bad things associated with the (formerly alluring) substance helps us to feel that badness as associated with the substance; in this way, the substance is invested with a meaning different than what it formerly had for us.  Making these statements aloud also helps to project that negativity into the world, to remove it from our own characters, and make it something objective, something no longer part of our identities.  And it is perhaps particularly helpful (d) to have friends around to remind us of what we have done under the influence of the substance, so that if  our brains start (out of habit or discomfort) to perform the subtle Gestalt –type of switch familiar to so many addicts, reverting to the old way of seeing the world—feeling the old feelings, experiencing the old meanings of the substance of addiction and its associations—they can play an important role in helping us maintain this all-important shift in meaning.

It is worth adding that activities like (e) meditating or performing yoga (or some other activity requiring integration of mind and body) can, when done on a regular basis, helps us to separate ourselves from those emotions that, when we give ourselves over to them, drive our actions before we even think--or, what is worse, while we are consciously thinking of something else!  Slips, real slips, do happen—and they are explicable in terms of our emotional grasp of objects and events in the world, and the connections of those emotional parts with the planning and acting parts of our brains.  Slips are possible, that is, because our attention is finite and our brains are very busy little bees, doing millions of actions per second. So, while we might “officially” think that we have a certain view toward a substance, our emotions may be operating in the background quite contrarily, moving us in a direction quite different from the one of which our conscious thought and judgment would approve. Being tired, stressed, hungry, or having had an interaction with someone that has left us hurt, disappointed, or angry, can distract us from our real good, and can bring “online” emotional effects that drag us away from our true and helpful perception of the world, and back toward the one that did us such harm.  For these reasons, mindfulness practice has great potential as a primary tool of sobriety whether undertaken as part of one’s meditation, or as a separate practice—and note that none of these practices implies any religious connection.  Indeed, any number of simple, secular, practices can be employed to separate the conscious self from emotional frenzies, and to increase our ability to pay attention to what is going on with us.  Learning to pay attention to our feelings and inclinations without engaging them is probably the most powerful tool currently available in treating addiction.  These claims are supported by several studies done over the past dozen years, which show that the brain actually undergoes changes, both temporary (during the time of meditation) and permanent.[i] Additionally, one recent study showed that the amygdalas, (areas deep in each hemisphere of the brain, which are associated with stress, strong emotional responses and memory) of participants shrunk significantly, over just 8 weeks, as they engaged regularly in a set of three meditative and mindful exercises.  Although these people were chosen for the studies based on stress levels, rather than anything associated with addiction, the fact that they were able to physically change their brains through conscious practice should offer great hope to addicts.[ii]

In conclusion, it is not the case that addicts first have to admit powerlessness in order to become and remain sober.  The unfortunate fact is that the power does not arise where or how we wish it would--immediately, and simply by thinking or deciding.  We have the power to overcome addiction, but the route is demanding, and requires time and effort.  We cannot just decide on a different set of meanings; they must, as one philosopher famously said about beliefs, be imposed upon us by nature.  That is, they must happen to us, because the changes in the way that we experience the world must come from a deeper and older part of what is  responsible for making us, us. They must happen at the deeper emotional level, operating beneath our conscious perceptions and judgments about the world, a level which actually makes those perceptions and judgments possible.  Still, we needn't just wait for change to happen to us, for setting up those changes is within our power.  If the addict can’t change herself, no one can.  The power is ours.

[i] Andrew Newberg, Michael Pourdehnad, Abass Alavi, and Eugene G. D’Aquili.  Cerebral Blood Flow During Meditative Prayer:  Preliminary Findings and Methodological Issues.  Perceptual and Motor Skills (2003) 97, 625-630 addresses the short-term changes. See  Andrew Newberg, nancy Wintering, Mark R. Waldman, Daniel Amen, Dharma S. Khalsa, and Abass Alavi.  Cerebral Blood Flow Differences Between Long-term Meditators and Non-meditators, Consciousness and Cognition (2010), 19, 4, 899-905.

[ii] Britta K. Holzel, james Carmody, Karleyton C. Evans, Elizabeth A. Hoge, Jeffery A. Dusek, Lucas Morgan, Roger K. Pitman, and Sara W. Lazar, “Stress Reductioni Correlates with Structural Changes in the Amygdala.  Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience (2010) 5, 11-17.  Follow-up studies have supported the conclusions of this first one.


  1. Chris on April 23, 2018 at 5:38 am

    Outstanding. Nothing has had my actual attention like this just did in a very long time. My anxiety lowered and I felt a sense of caln wash over me, in spite of my current situation. Time to move forward and stop living in the past….the hurtful past that I can’t control but can learn to accept.

  2. Bob on November 23, 2017 at 5:52 am

    As a former AA member of 8 years, and convert to Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (3 years), I no longer believe I’m powerless over alcohol, even if it were in my system. The old AA adage, ‘One drink is much too much, and a thousand is never enough,’ I think, is often subject to cognitive bias: those people who drink maladaptively, rarely consciously choose to have just one drink. Additionally, given that the law in most countries deems it safe to legally drive after one drink, a small amount of alcohol obviously doesn’t have enough of an effect on our cognitive abilities to warrant a complete ban.

    Yes, if somebody were to drink enough, then they would loose the ability to make rational decisions, but they were the one who chose to drink that much whether they believe it or not. A thought is just a thought, and an urge, an urge – we’re not powerless over whether we act on them or not. I’m not suggesting it’s easy to quit doing something we have essentially trained ourselves to do. Whilst neuroplasticity (coupled with poor decision making), has programmed us how to respond to certain triggers, neuroplasticity can also be used to untrain us.

    I thinks its also worth noting that what AA members refer to as a disease, and what professionals refer to as a disease are quite different. Interestingly, AA’s founders, and Big Book authors never called alcoholism a disease, but an illness or a malady (which are non-pathological, unlike a disease); and they only ever refer to it as such when talking of active alcoholism, and never just the so-called ‘ism.’

    AA’s disease model is of an unabating, chronic biopsychospiritual malady, from which one can recover, but never be cured; hence the ‘need’ for a progressive spiritual condition to ensure sobriety. It’s a combination of 1930’s medical hypothesis (an allergy of the body, and an obsession of the mind), and a nebulous spiritual malady, that was posited by AA’s lay founders. I’m sorry, but it’s sheer nonsense.

    For anybody who’s interested, I’ve penned a whole article on the subject on my blog, https://aa-apostate.com

    AA Apstoate.

    • David Sanchez on May 14, 2018 at 6:24 am

      That was very well said , I have been searching for weeks now about how I don’t agree with there being “no cure” and that AA is the only way to stop living the lifestyle from before. This was an amazing read it helps me understand that I am making the right decisions. Everyone is attacking me for not doing a 12 step program when I just honestly believe there is a different way for me. I thank you both for your time and if you would ever like to discuss anything please feel free to contact me . Davidmichaeljns@gmail.com

  3. rob on October 1, 2017 at 10:18 am

    Most of you seem to be missing the point. Powerless means you have no control over that substance, drink or gambling in my case…….it means if an addict has a drink again he will be powerless again……he will always be powerless over drink…….BUT of course he has power in his recovery, power to beat the addiction, power to take the right steps to recover ……..BUT always powerless if he has another drink

  4. jay on May 18, 2017 at 1:47 am

    Your tile, addict are not powerless.My personal experience when I was recently in active addiction. I was not able to make a healthy decision for myself. I was incapable. People do not understand that addiction is called a disease.for a reason. I stayed sober for some 20 years and a licensed A&D counselor. That is when I became irresponsible. I let go of what keep me sober. My sobriety faded away into denial.I stayed in a blackout for nine. years. When I did awake, I realized my mother, wife, and sisters had major resentments towards me. I was dropped out of the will! No one tried to help.me the nine years! I was isolated. These can be very common issues. Let’s say it just comes with the territory. It was only through the GRACE of GOD, help from others, and my past knowledge getting sober and staying sober happen. I have seen so many miracles, People who have nothing, get clean and sober. Sadly I have seen many died! I truly do not know why some addicts live, recover or die. I really do not think anybody knows. Except for arrogant people.. j.

  5. Jesse Bartunek on April 22, 2017 at 12:30 pm

    Most of the people who commented on here, regardless of their opinions, need to proof-read their comments before submitting them. Poor spelling and grammar do not help their cause and tend to discourage intelligent individuals from reading any further. That being said, I agree with everyone who said that we, as addicts, are NOT powerless. I chose to use drugs, and then chose to discontinue the use of the addictive ones because I, quite simply, have the power of choice. I did need the help of methadone, but again, it was my choice to employ methadone therapy and counseling to help me succeed. I made those choices because I had the power to do so. AA/NA may work for many people and if they choose to identify as powerless, that is their own choice. I, however, am not powerless over drugs.

  6. John H on January 11, 2017 at 10:02 am

    I understand that my approach is not for everyone. Calling alcoholism a disease makes no sense to me. I think it’s one of the great lies – it has no scientific basis and just creates more stigma “You’re not bad but you’re sick” – Oh, ok great…. Nor do I see it as a moral failing. What if the person has very good reason to be getting out of it? What if the most sensible thing for a person to be doing is getting loaded, because that state of being is more pleasant than sobriety? I struggled with booze for years, quit, got plenty of psychotherapy to look at myself and my emotional issues, largely related to my relationship with my primary caregiver. Once I had done enough of this work, along with meditation, I was able to drink again without the same issues. I no longer wanted so desperately to escape my reality because I had worked things through. The drinking is a symptom of some kind of disconnection, and not the core problem in itself. In my way of looking at it, the addict often highlights the dysfunction in the family system, and is very often scapegoated and blamed for the neurosis in that system, which results in taking on a big burden. Really stepping into my power is the way forward for me, and that includes the spiritual but also the personal. And it involves sticking to one’s own integrity and belief in oneself, rather than buying into the ‘disease’ label, which reinforces old negative introjects that there is something wrong with the person, which is a disempowering identity to buy into.

    • Riley on February 2, 2017 at 4:40 am

      The primary function of 12-steps is to help humans feel whole again. These are selfish, narcissistic, abused/abusive individuals that have established “powerful” neuron pathways in their subconscious.

      Abstinence is absolutely a choice within control of the Addict, however they often lack the skills/tools to recover from previous trauma. Trauma would include controlled chemical substance abuse, in tandem with circumstance, lifestyle, and behavior. Without support, the statistics show that long-term behavior change is unlikely. The neuro pathways are severely embedded in the subconscious.

      Dependence on a higher power…sure–I call it good reason. Someone else might call it God. To disassociate the Addict from their behavior is therapeutic. It allows them to confront the issue by compartimentalizing their behavior.

      Example: the Addict refers to the subconscious neuro pathways as “my Addict” personality. They then-refer to new behaviors as the product of a “higher power”.

      It is simply therapeutic association so that they can compartimentalize, strategize, and operate new neuro pathways.

      The brain is plastic, yes…however the trauma from ingrained decision making and subconscious coping skills has a truly physical and irreparable affect on the brain. It’s like having a scar where the scar tissue will never return to its original state.

      Step one says that they are powerless–that their lives are unmanageable. The unmanageability is subjective. Powerlessness is contrived.

      I do believe the Addict is a mentally and physically sick individual–so much so, that life becomes unmanageable for them. As long as chemicals are used to cope with circumstance and trauma, neuro pathways are reinforced.

      So again, the association of an Addict personality and a higher power gives our man the ability to compartimentalize, consolidate resources, and move forward with new behaviors.

      Lifestyle changes would not be enough for our man if he continues to medicate. The reward system in the brain places chemicals above all other devices. The subconscious mind will never ever forget how perfectly a chemical might treat trauma or circumstance. This is why abstinence is necessary for the Addict.

      Cross-addiction is the brain feeding the exact same ingrained neuro pathways and rewards system with different behaviors. Sometimes it helps and sometimes it hurts the Addict more so.

      So there it is. An addict does do irreparable damage to their brain, hence, the “disease” language. They certainly have the power of choice at almost any time. If they want to recover, there is much work to do in their conscious and subconscious mind.

      AA and basically all religious belief systems are exercises in association and disassociation. “The enemy”, “my Addict”, in contrast to “God” or, “higher power”.

      When I hear an Addict say they were sober today by the grace of God, and that they are not personally responsible for the behavior change, I believe this is an association made that allows them to navigate the emotional and physical brain damage caused by their decision making.

      With that said, the brain’s reward system is certainly biologically influenced, hence, the genealogy argument is true. Families with addiction is a undeniable fact.

      We are dealing with genealogically affected biology that has been successfully curbed through therapeutic dis/association.

      But don’t tell a religious person or AA member there is no God. There is a God if they say there is. God is a mere concept/reflection/ideology of what it means to be human. If you want to make God visible, then be all that which makes you human and alive.

      • harrison danley on May 11, 2017 at 4:10 pm

        Before I acquired over 31 years of recovery from my addiction. I use to believe that the way that I did that would be beneficial to all recovering individuals regardless of their issue or drug of no choice, liquids, solids of gases. I have learned after 28 years of working in the field of addiction as both a soldier on the front lines of addiction (formerly referred to as a direct service provider or counselor). As the years have gone by I have worked in nearly every administrative role possible. My question is that if something works for people, as we are all different, why not simply get into the acceptance for That person that what they are doing works well for them rather than to “put them or the program that is working for them down? We who have been addicted to the madness of addiction for many years, don’t question from where our hope comes from. We know what has happened to make that deadly return to addiction but can it work for me is the unkindly but realistic reality

    • Tammy Brook on May 2, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      I have just this day, been debating w/my daughter, the addiction vs Disease issue.
      I didn’t drink until I was 28 yrs old; after having some serious occurances in my young life. I began drinking socially. I was shy but not w/alcohol in my system.
      I was in approx.18 treatment ctrs. It was there, that I learned it was a “Disease”; I never bought it, still don’t. I think it is an Excuse, a way to escape responsibility for one’s bad choices.
      Further, as to meetings (AA),when I went, you repeatedly had to say your name and say you ARE an alcoholic each and every time you had something to interject.
      God Bless AA, they have helped millions, but it was not for me. I didn’t believe in their introduction of self. Words are powerful and to me, I felt I was “calling” alcoholism to me. It was negative.
      Throughout the time I was actively drinking, and it truly got bad, I oftentimes cried and asked God to deliver me from said. I didn’t want to drink and I sought help in every way I knew how; thus the endless treatment facilities. Nothing worked or lasted very long. I would get so sick when I stopped. Every nerve in my body screaming out for relief. I continued to pray.
      After almost 20 yrs. Of trying, failing & trying again. God in his mercy answered my prayers.
      I woke up one morning and started my day. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon, I realized I didn’t get up with the “shakes” & have to drink! More importantly, I had no desire to do so AT that realization!
      I haven’t drank in approximately 13 yrs. and still have no desire to do so. It is if I NEVER drank alcohol at all. When I have a problem, alcohol is no longer a thought but how to deal with the issue at hand is.
      Conclusion: substance abuse is NOT a disease, it is an addiction. You can’t STOP a DISEASE by making a CHOICE, but you CAN stop an addiction by changing your thought process or through the Power of Prayer with a sincere heart.
      It is the lies you are fed while using that will make you feel hopeless, helpless & stuck where you are. It is a mindgame.
      It’s about keeping the addict sick for the almighty $$.
      There IS hope. You don’t fail until you give up. It IS NOT a disease and you are not going to die; UNLESS you refuse take responsibility, quit believing the lies, stop putting the blame on everyone or thing but yourself! It IS, WAS & Always will be your CHOICE!
      Life is tough! Nobody likes change, especially when it involves DESIRE/Cravings. Prepare yourself through knowledge. Understand you may have setbacks. Believe you can do it and no matter what, NEVER STOP TRYING.GET BACK UP!! YOU ARE SO, SO WORTH IT!
      Who knows you may wake up one day like I did and God; if you ask, WILL have finished your battle even as you slept.
      Dare to BELIEVE in Miracles. I did!

  7. David R on September 19, 2016 at 10:24 am

    I totally agree. AA/NA? any A is more a cult than anything else. After 6years of being in them, constantly trying to prove my instinct that 1) addiction is not a disease 2)I am NOT powerless, through many relapses and AA/NA saying “we told you so. You are powerless without ‘us’, Keep Coming Back, It works if you work it, Stick with the ‘Winners’, We have never seen an alcoholic/addict who thoroughly gave himself/herself to ‘the program’ (more like ‘to be programmed’) relapse (this is obviously an outright lie)…and several other mantras that are designed to scare you into submission, Honestly, i don’t think ANYBODY would willingly go to a ‘meeting’ for the rest of their lives, if they had a choice. The majority are either cross-addicted, judgemental,smug,can’t ‘belong’ in any other group or brain-washed (though they’ll say they are the opposite of all those). I’m not bashing these 12-step groups but just relating my experiences so that those uninitiated will realise that YOU are responsible for your life,nobody or nothing else can or will take responsibility for your life. And you are NOT powerless over your addictions.

    • Scott on January 2, 2017 at 6:58 pm

      I would imaging, Based on your response here, that while for 6 yrs of going to aa or na that you have not actually DONE aa. Meaning obtained a sponsor, followed by doing and taking the steps outlined in aa, and then filling that up with working with newcomers and taking them through the 12 steps. That is aa. Not the meetingsame, not the sayingsame, but the work. What I had done for 10 yrs is not do that work. I would say I was in aa, but never did it. I always relapsed, couldn’t stay sober for long and was miserable. I finally just said to myself okay, I’ll do the work. Every bit of it. It was more a thought or intent to prove them all wrong thinking the results would be the same. 6 years later here I am, sober, relieved of the thoughts, obsessions, and happy. Interesting. I too for too long said I wasn’t sick, not diseased, sat in meetings but always found some excuse to not do the work. Thinking that one should be able to just not use and stay away. Time and time again, just like it sounds like has been ur experience, I’d relapse. Pissed at the people who said “told ya do” I would dog in even harder next time, still refusing to do the work. Same cycle.
      Here is a suggestion. Try and prove them/us all wrong by doing the actual work. Get a sponsor and do everything he says to even though you won’t want to. Take all the steps and then do the most powerful part, take another addict through the 12 steps. If then you still can’t stay sober, then you can pointment to actual experience that aa doesn’t work. Cause byou then you can actually say you have done as.

      • Stephen on January 21, 2017 at 2:14 am

        You just proved their point by being judgemental. I bet he did do the work. Practice what you preach and speak for yourself

  8. bonnie on August 13, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    I cannot call alcohol dependency a “disease” nor are we powerless over it, nor do I want to look to a “higher power” Cancer is a disease. Heck my oldest son has diabetes that is a “disease” but I refuse to call it a disease, its a condition, its a challenge. If AA is so great, why do they have the lowest percentage success rate as compared to Celebrate Recovery or Smart Recovery? These programs are biblically based. ]There is no higher power, there is GOD. It is not a disease, its an addiction. We are not powerless, that is a stage set for negative outcomes. You need the power, the will power, the emotional power and strength to beat any addiction. Just because AA has been around longer than Celebrate Recovery or Smart Recovery, does not mean it is superior. But the general public believes AA is it. Well if cant buy into their philosophy, then thank goodness for the other programs out there that have proven higher success rates. Anyone defensive of this position, should defend theirs, not knock the alternate.

    • Elizabeth Olsen on October 17, 2016 at 1:06 pm

      Wow, that is pretty harsh. I’m unsure where you received the stats that AA has the lowest % rates. I would agree that not every person will be helped at any specific organization. As far as higher power goes who is to say some may change up and replace the word god to something else that’s more meaningful to them. The steps are merely a guide so that person can now move forward after they have accepted their disease. Yes, it’s a disease, and yes diabetes is a disease, yes CHF is a heart disease. You see there is a difference but, people choose to use the less dirty word to make their disease more acceptable, there for creating the start of stigma. Difference between condition and disease is very useful to know as, in the field of medicine, the term condition is used invariably for disease, which confuses the other people. Strictly speaking, there is some difference between the two words in terms of their meanings and connotations. The word condition is used in the sense of ‘state’ or ‘an illness or a medical problem’. On the other hand, the word disease is used in the sense of ‘sickness’. Now, the word disease always carries a negative connotation as we are speaking of a sickness. However, the word condition, when used in the sense of ‘state,’ has both negative and positive connotations. The connotation depends on the context you use the word in. This is the main difference between the two words, condition and disease.
      Finally I wish nothing but to educate as many people as I can that addiction is a disease. Some people think addiction cannot be a disease because it is caused by the individual’s choice to use drugs or alcohol. While the first use (or early stage use) may be by choice, once the brain has been changed by addiction, most experts believe that the person loses control of their behavior.

      Choice does not determine whether something is a disease. Heart disease, and specific diabetes types and some forms of cancer involve personal choices like diet, exercise, sun exposure, etc. A disease is what happens in the body as a result of those choices.
      Has anyone ever thought that the drug or the alcohol is the symptom of a mental illnessential or mental behavior not treated. We all should start to think outside the box a little better.
      Not one person I know that has an addiction has not had some sort of mental traumatic incident or incidents in their life at one time or another. That’s decades of meeting people with this chronic disease. None of can decide or devalue that individuals perception of their traumatic incidents whether it was 1 or 100s of incidents. Who is anyone to say will power, will power is all you need.
      Every single one of us have addictive tendencies.
      Lastly, let’s not get stuck.powerful myths and misconceptions about the nature of addiction. When scientists began to study addictive behavior in the 1930s, people addicted to drugs were thought to be morally flawed and lacking in willpower. Those views shaped society’s responses to drug abuse, treating it as a moral failing rather than a health problem, which led to an emphasis on punishment rather than prevention and treatment.
      research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both the brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease. Scientists use this knowledge to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches that reduce the toll drug abuse takes on individuals, families, and communities.

    • Scott on January 2, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      Intereting. Places like celebrate recovery use the exact same 12 steps that aa prescribed.
      I agree that to overcome one must have power, will poweretc, but addicts and alcoholic on their own don’t have it and need to tap into it somewhere. For aa, the term higher power is a “god” that we learn of our own understanding. For too many of us have been taught about a God that we were afraid of, shunned us, told us we were going to he’ll. So the term higher power is a term used to start the process for if you actually read the 12 steps, step 3 says “god” and every step afterwards refers to GOD too.
      It doesn’t sound like you have any personal experience actually doing aa. Doing it meaning, the work.
      And the reason it’s so called success rate is low, it actually isn’t and is the highest–for those that do the work and do aa. Most people dont. They go to a meeting, pick thin gstrell apart, just like ur post did, but don’t do the work outlined and actually take the steps. For those that do the success rate is north of 75 percent. That is a statistical fact.
      Too many go to aa cause a rehab or court, wife, family tells them to end up just going to a meeting. A meeting isn’t the work or the answer the 12 steps are. Just like celebrate recoveries is.
      To turn ones will and life over to god.

      It gets tiring to habe someone knock aa when they haven’t actually done the hard work needed for it to work. It is apparent, based on your assumption that GOD isn’t a part of aa, that you haven’t done any work in aa. If you had you would have read the 12 steps, done the 12 steps and would be thanking God for the 2 men who started aa back in 1935, of which millions and millions have recovered from addiction as a result of them doing the work outlined. I went to aa for 10 years with the same attitude and mentality that you posted. When I actually did the work my life changed because of aa, because of God being the central source of aa.

      Go do it. Then form an educated opinion bawdy on actual experience vs opinion.
      Oh, why would the American Medical association and every educated person in addiction call it a disease if it wasnt. That doesn’t make it worse than it would be if it wasn’t. It just gives one an understanding that it is a physical and mental illness and disease that requires a spiritual connection to eleviate.

      • Lcp on May 21, 2017 at 1:52 pm

        Try curing diabetes with the 12 steps then.

  9. John M. on August 11, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Wow the people in the comment section have such animosity when it comes to either being for or against AA. For those who bring up the poor recovery numbers don’t forget that NA, other twelve step programs, and the treatment center industry also have some pretty abysmal numbers. First of all I love AA it saved my life and stopped me from killing myself. Most of you seem to have experienced bad AA or maybe never worked the 12 steps. *Flame shield up*. I must say it is stated that AA has no monopoly on recovery or treatment of alcoholism in the Big Book. . Also, it is not a religious program. AA is a spiritual program with a lot of values shared across many different religions and faiths.
    Don’t slam AA as a whole because it didn’t work for you or label it negative because of a bad AA group. Yes there are close minded groups but there are many open minded groups and individuals such as myself. I hope your path to recovery keeps you sober and I don’t care if it is AA, NA, LifeRing, SMART Recovery, religion, or something I’ve never heard of, as long as it works for you. I love everyone who leads a happy life in sobriety. Maybe if someone of you spent more time helping people and less time arguing over AA semantics the recovery world would be a better place.

    • Elizabeth Olsen on October 17, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Thank you

  10. ovidio on July 30, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    Was Carl Jung conclusions with his “experiences with men of kinds”- of the “hopeless varieties”, wrong ?

    • Sandra Knickerbocker on December 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      Hi Ovidio,
      I don’t think so. I am in recovery and also have masters in psychology and I believe the psychic change is required in both my own recovery and in the field of psychology. Whether I take the AA spiritual approach, the smart recovery scientific approach, or both, the psychic change is required. Science has now proven, with brain scans, that there is a fundamental difference in how our brains operate as addicts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLKj1puoWCg

      Abstinence is the only way to recover our brain (psychic change) to make our developed brain overcome our lizard brain (amygdala, nucleus accumbens) because our brain stores the high differently in addicts, the dopamine surges cause damage to our brain function and there are genetic and environmental factors that facilitate the addiction process. The term psychic change can simply mean changing your mind. It doesn’t have to get all spiritual and esoteric in meaning, but it is definitely required.

      • Big Sexy on December 10, 2016 at 11:01 pm

        I agree with you. Any recovery group is better than not seeking help.

  11. lo on June 2, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    I figured the comments section would be full of aa fanatics holding onto Bill’s dogma. Nobody is powerless over addictions..it is a compulsion…but nobody is powerless. I would love to hear what terminally ill AIDS infected kids in Africa think of all these Western individualistic adults calling themselves powerless because they desperately want to feel good. I would love to hear a quadriplegic’s thoughts on what powerlessness means to them in comparison…actual powerlessness…not obsession and compulsion. If youve ever known true powerlessness and addiction both you know that they are far from synonymous.

    • Dawn on August 4, 2016 at 7:57 am

      Loved this article. Conscious and sub-conscious mind are so different. What I find incredulous about AA and it’s members is that they dismiss the fact that both Dr. Bob and Bill W. were nicotine addicts and chose to do nothing about it. We all know that Bill W. was the first 13 stepper and NEVER dealt with his sex addiction. His addiction to caffeine and sugar was also never addressed. I guess as long as his didn’t drink alcohol that made everything else ok? AA is a religious group that works for those who believe it will work for them. When I came out of treatment in 1989 AA was the only option. It was already being treated like it was the savior of us addicts. I stayed sober from alcohol, for 11 years. not actually dealing with my nicotine, caffeine or sugar addiction, which of course eventually rose it’s ugly head. I stayed in those addictions for another 10 years and periodically would have a glass of champagne at a wedding or christening. Then one day, ON MY OWN, I decided that cigarettes, pot, sugar and caffeine were not working for my body anymore. So I quit all of them on my own without an Anonymous program. I have stayed off everything including alcohol (after having a daily pot addiction for 10 years) for over 5 years now. Now I can look back and see what AA was really for me. It was a place to meet people who were going through similar desires to stay away from alcohol or drugs (well the one’s that AA recognizes as a drug). It was a way for me to feel connected and when I moved to a new city it was the place to go to meet like minded people. 5 years ago when I decided to get rid of all addictions I briefly went to AA but it felt different. Controlling, very male dominated belief systems, only one way of doing something. So I decided to do it on my own (with the help of a trained professional addictions counselor who also DOES NOT BELIEVE IN THE DISEASE BELIEF OF AA). I realized and my sub conscious mind came to realize, through yoga and meditation, when I could see a life without these substances the cravings for them went away. I don’t believe in the disease concept for addictions and especially now that I’ve done more research and talked to others who have moved away from their addictions NOT using an Anonymous program. Of course I expect to read something from those who have a need to have a belief in the cult of AA to say “you weren’t a real addict” or “you’ll be back” or “you’ll wall off the wagon at some point without AA”. You have to say that so that you can continue to attend weekly Christian religious meetings with your friends. You have to say that or you’ll have to question how you have invested so much time in a group that was started by privileged white men who NEVER deal with any of their other addictions. Both Dr. Bob and Bill W died from their nicotine addiction and yet they held up as some kind of saints in AA. Get real people!! These privileged white men discovered that if you put groups of people together who eventually become friends and talk and share with each other their deepest secrets and their shameful moments in life, then all of you not drinking is the best thing to keep those friendships going! I am not powerless I am empowered to take control of my life and use tools and resources that don’t chain me to a religious cult and allow me to get to the underlying issues in my life. After all, alcohol is just a symptom of a problem. It’s not really the problem. Dealing with the underlying problems will also allow the majority of us to quit ANY addiction. Once we understand and address the underlying problems of why we use a substance or behavior NOT to live in the “real” world the need for that substance or behavior goes away.

      • Janie on April 17, 2017 at 11:10 am

        Your comment makes very good sense. First diagnosed with low blood sugar in 9th grade- I was told to drink orange juice & eat a candy bar if I got shake your. That was bad advice. Doctors never told me to stay away from sugar altogether. They never told me caffeine and nicotine would disrupt brain function. They never told me I was suffering from vitamins deficiencies and that consuming all of the above would have catistropic results. Alcohol is liquid sugar with a kick! It was the only thing that made me feel normal. Sugar is everywhere. Coffee wakes me up. Cigarettes go great with drinking. And around and around it goes! It is not my fault I love to drink. I cannot pray it away. I am not powerless over it. I did my research. Sugar is the root of all evil in my body (& 100% of all people that swallow it in high amounts) AA had a chance to acknowledge nutrition as a major key to recovery back in the 1960’same but declined to do so. (Bill W. And Dr. Abram Hoffer addressed the AA council, they approved it, but it was shot down by a psychologist) Google Dr. Abram Hoffer there is a video interview regarding THIS STORY. I am going to AA, but feel I will get kicked Out! I found ” Seven Weeks to Sobriety” by Dr. Joan M. Larson and follow it, including Dr. Hoffer’s recommdations. I have never felt better. I do need to add I have major issues watching the folks stuffing sugar down their throats, praying a book that only containshows medical endorsements from psychologists from the dark Era when labotomy was the big thing. Personally, I want to put a wreath of garlic around my neck whenever I go in. I am going less and less. Going does not affect my Sobriety. My vitamins and diet are my life line. I pray. I exercise. Most of all, I obtain from sugar.

      • Harrison Danley 31 years of recovery from liquids, solids and gases after 20 years of using, Masters Certificate in Addictions, Masters Degree in Conflict Resolution and used for 16 years prior to the changes on May 11, 2017 at 4:40 pm

        So Tammy, where was your choice for 20 years and your 18 treatment centers? Although you claim to have 13 years now and that you virtually did all of this on your own, have you ever thought that maybe others can’t? Have you ever thought that it is so unnecessary to talk ab out something that did not work for you, that maybe, just maybe, it works for some? Maybe your “free choice” belief which took you 20 years to stop choosing to kill yourself was something greater than your choice to use and hurt yourself for 20 years? I applaud your efforts and the results that have allowed you to get to where you are today. My difficulty with folks like yourself is that you can be proud of yourself and be successful in the way that you have been able to achieve success without sharing something that has helped literally millions of people find a way out of active addiction! Good for you that you have 13 years of being clean but you must admit that if it was simply a matter of choice, would you have chosen to hurt all those people you hurt, including yourself and loved ones, if getting clean was simply a matter of choice? If you can say yes, then more power to you and to all those people you must now admit to that you have been making their lives miserable all those years on purpose because you chose to cause them all of that pain because you were simply a self-centered, selfish bitch? Of course not!! During your active addiction to substances, your actions, not your words and your beliefs, but your actions demonstrated that at some point you simply lost the power of choice and just when you were ready to surrender in silence to the power of God, it was God who put it into your heart, mind and soul, that it was time! Whether you think it is a disease or not, try not to impose your current belief onto those who you would help of the power that you now possess which no matter what you call it, it was and is greater than yourself

  12. Mike on January 15, 2016 at 7:41 am

    I have, written this morning. “” So, I am NOT as powerless as I have ‘thought” Courage gives Power, Action gives Power, Results give Power, And Power it-self gives Power,
    I, too, have been a Member of NA & AA, My ”last” drink was 5:31 PM Feb !, 1991.
    & I will get MY XXV,,,,,Feb 2, 2016,,,

  13. William on December 14, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    I am powerless over my craving and my want. I want to use but I am not going to. I am powerless over what I have been through in my past and how they make me feel, and by admitting that I am powerless through the first step I recognize that I can never again deal with things through my use. That’s a fact.

  14. dan on October 15, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    I’m going to be honest here, I’ve had alcohol problems in the past and I know that I can’t drink. I go to Aa for peer support and to sit and chill out for a bit. I also pick up identification here and there. I don’t take drugs in the U.K because I understand that I would be hooked again and go seeking daily. However I like to go to India once a year and get high, it’s safe and I’ve been doing it for more years than I can remember. I understand what addiction is to me and it isn’t just about the drug. it’s about my associations I have with the drug. I never drink because that will kill me and I go to Aa for that. I never share my story at meetings but I will sometimes contribute something small, if I identify with what I’ve heard. I’m not killing people by sharing my own settlement with addiction I don’t recommend taking drugs but I like to go somewhere safe and escape for a while. I know my tolerance is very low and i respect this.

    • harrison danley on May 15, 2017 at 8:44 am

      Dan, if you actually share your story in meetings that shared here, you give those on the fence the vote to jump off

  15. randy m. on September 8, 2015 at 10:49 pm

    Regardless of what any book says- Whether it be the A.A. Big Book or any other- I am “POWERLESS” over alcohol . Books did not teach me this. Experience taught me this. When I hear someone say- ” I have a choice whether I will drink or drug today- ” My thoughts are then that person is not an alcoholic or an addict. Not in the sense the original persons were that recovered from alcoholism or myself. Now they may truly be an alcoholic or an addict but the key word is “POWERLESS ” . Until this hits them in the face one day it is useless to try and convince anyone of anything. “THERE IS NO CHOICE FOR ME WHETHER I WILL DRINK OR NOT ! This is what is so very hard about trying to do something about which you are not ready to do and the only thing I can tell someone is they have to get ready ! By that I mean you have to destroy a few more lives,your own life,and then -even then you may not be convinced ! It has nothing to do with A.A. meetings,a sponsor,a 12 step plan,a treatment program, or anything else ! For the ” REAL ” alcoholic or addict it has to do with “GOD ” taking away the desire to drink or use. It is so simple but yet so hard to come to this knowledge. But once this is a fact for someone who was hopeless it now becomes very easy to be sober. Then you know you didn’t do it and God is doing it and the battle is over for you. The using part. Not the living part. That will always go on until death. I didn’t know. I could not know. I had been so badly beaten up from all of it and wanting to get more or die. I did die a few times too. So the meetings,the right person to talk with,helping others,these are all good things but they are the icing on the cake.The victory comes when you know what you know what you know. That a power greater than yourself for whatever reason has removed from you the compulsion to drink or use. I had nothing to do with it other than prayers I had uttered . Even then I did know what was coming my way. So to the person who has a choice whether they will drink or use then you have a choice. I do not. Neither do the rest of us who have discovered what it means to live on spiritual terms. Not religious terms.That is man made and man cannot help me in this matter although many good people tried.Religion is for afterward if you choose that path. A lot of educated,well meaning persons do not understand nor can they the scope of what has to happen.This is why it is said when one real alcoholic talks to another real alcoholic the other can understand if they be powerless.There is nothing another can do to bring this about. It has to come from experience and the way we get experience is we go through the cycle of life killing ourselves and others,etc.. So sad. But so true. I hope everyone recovers but I know it will not happen. Why I was spared is only by the “Grace of God’. If you have another way then try that way. I hope it works out for you. Randy M.

    • Angela Tooker Stone on May 30, 2016 at 1:13 am

      Randy, that was so well-said! I agree with you 200%!! If I HAD A CHOICE whether I was going to drink or not, I would choose NO, DON’T, and not drink! I would have done that back in 1991 when I crossed that line into alcoholism.
      Pg. 24 of the BB… To anyone having a problem with this….
      The Drs. Opinion — explains the loss of choice and loss of control BEAUTIFULLY.

      And the reason my life is unmanageable is because I CANNOT MANAGE THE DECISION TO NOT PICK UP THAT DRINK!!
      Oh, I soooooo appreciate what you said, Randy. That is worth printing out. I hope these posts help someone instead of cause a lot of controversy.


    • Joe on August 28, 2016 at 2:01 pm

      Randy, I did not have a choice for a long time, or so I thought, but then it occurred to me: Who was it that asked for help in the first place? In a moment of clarity while drinking – without the aid of a supernatural higher power – I decided that if I was to have one more drink or drug I would never get another chance to get clean and sober, and I would surely die. So I put my drink down after a 3 day bender, went home, through myself on the floor and begged my wife to help me get some help. I then went to rehab and did several years of AA and NA (worked the steps with a sponsor, sponsored others, went to meetings regularly, prayed and mediated, etc.). I told myself that I would throw myself into AA, since I wanted to stay sober more than anything else in my life, and was unaware of other options at the time. AA was great and helped me turn my life around, but the years of AA socialization could never fully convince me that I am powerless in the “I need a higher power to gain power” sort of way. I remained agnostic, sometimes bordering on atheistic when I had the courage to follow my own heart, most of the time I spent in AA.

      Your condescending use of the “real alcoholic” distinction from the Big Book, is unconvincing. A real alcoholic, according to the big book, has lost the choice to stop once they have started drinking, and also cannot come up with enough will power or reason to stop themselves from the first drink. However, it is a tremendous religious, spiritual, baseless, and/or supernatural leap to then claim that only God or a higher power can provide the power to lose the desire to drink. One could just as easily – and with far more empirical support – argue that one finally hits bottom and realizes that “they” want to stop drinking more than they want to continue drinking. This realization is the tiny sliver of hope (no one that is truly 100% hopeless would ever willingly step foot in any recovery meeting) that gets people in the door of recovery. Sometimes this sliver of hope happens while people are drunk, sometimes it happens after a forced detox or jail stay. Regardless, God doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with it, unless by G-O-D you mean the Gift Of Desperation. This gift of desperation is the grace you refer to, in my opinion, and has nothing to do with God and everything to do with circumstance and chance.

      Then after this, I believe it comes down to how badly one wants sobriety, much of which rests on how convinced you are that you are a “real” alcoholic and can’t drink like non-alcoholic people. If you put sobriety first in your life then you will find the help you need, whether that be religion, friends, AA, secular recovery programs, therapy, philanthropy, or straight up white knuckling it until your brain and habits change.

      Finally, “experience” cannot teach all of the things you refer to in your comment (powerlessness, the need for God’s help to stay sober, etc.). Those things were taught to you by AA, yet your post suggest they were either epiphanies or realizations based on experience. The fact that you believe them is fine, and I commend you for staying sober through AA, but to act like you came to the realization of those things without the AA framework organizing said experience, is disingenuous. AA gives you the concepts and theories to make sense of your experience, not the other way around.

  16. Fonts on July 28, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Their reasons include not wanting to accept the labels addict or alcoholic, not wanting to attend groups of any kind, not wanting to consider oneself powerless, not thinking of oneself as having a disease, or not wanting an approach that encourages lifelong attendance.

  17. Samuel on July 21, 2015 at 6:24 am

    Very interesting stuff,
    I’ve dealt with a friend who died of issues surrounding his addiction, and have joined a voluntary group in Wiltshire England involved in helping families make sense of their addicted relatives. It’s been inspirational, but the current language on addiction is still so stunted (in my opinion) .. And I can get very frustrated with current reading referring to 12steps that in some part I agree with, but in others surround identity and religion I abhor. Identity is key in regards to self perception and perception of others of ones self when achieving true and lasting changes, it’s all relative to our origins of identity and what that means in reality. Using the building analogy, “the house is as strong as its foundations” one can’t look at complete distraction and rebuilding of the identity, replacing fact with hollow fantasy is often destined to fail.
    Thank you so much for your dialog Candice. You have encouraged me to continue studying the subject further and not bow to the many opinions, but approach them for the value they truly hold.

  18. Tom on July 20, 2015 at 5:05 am

    Hi, Great article, and hopefully will encourage ex-drinkers or drug abusers to regain full control of their life and lead content and happy lives. The A.A model and 12 programme is good, it’s just that depressive members in AA usually stay stuck in all the negative aspects of the programme. ‘disease’ ‘powerless’ alcoholic’ ‘day at a time’ ‘keep coming back’ become the mantra of the members.
    These negative words keep the members trapped in a veil of defeatism, and encourages new members to accept these slogans as being true in real life. The words ‘recovered’ ‘power to carry out’ ‘life beyond wildest dreams’ ‘restored to sanity’ are sneered at by the unrecovered in these doom and gloom filled rooms.
    If I had a son or daughter with a drink problem I would advise them that on no account were they to go to AA. I would recommend counselling or some alternative method to fully recover from their predicament. I have great experience of AA, I recovered from my dependency on drink many years ago, and have lived a happy, joyous life ever since, and have great belief that this will continue. I never speak bad about myself, and as I do not take away the goodness from myself, I will not allow anyone else to do so. In AA many unrecovered members tried to take away my happiness and peace of mind. I stopped going to escape the controlling unrecovered members. I will say one good thing about them, they do say at the meetings that they ‘Are alcoholic’ and that is true, they still are.

    • Scott on January 2, 2017 at 7:52 pm

      Curious. Those “unrecovered” folks at meetings, you ran from meetings because of them after professing you found a life where you are joyous happy and freel and yet you ran from the new peoole. The sick. The ones who are just like you were at one point. Why not stick around and show them what you did to obtain This freedom.
      What would have happened when you showed up, sick, not recovered, if they’re weren’t still people who had recovered, who had become hapo y and free, what would have happened to you if they weren’t there still, if they didn’t show up for themselves and in turn for yous.
      The selfishish ones are truly the sickest ones and don’t realize it. Forgetting where they came frim, how they got a new way of life and turning their backs on those still suffering from something in which you have found a way out of is by all accounts selfish in the truest form. They are dying inside and out like you were, you have the answers, and they can’t find you. Damn, what a way to live. To keep what was do freely given to you, not he help those who desperately need it–again like you and I once werr–is far and away a true selfish act in which people die because of it.
      My life is truly a free life. Not from drugs and alcohol, but the selfish Desires, selfishness ways, and I have found the solutions to that is helping another sick alcoholic who needs recovery and I can offer my experience strength and hope to them. Just like someone did for me which literally saved my life. Good for your. Run from the sick and needy. Save yourself and run.

  19. Sarah on July 5, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Addictions are all about not being able to cope with pain in life – so we run to something else to use to alleviate the pain. (or so we think – temporary relief at best).
    The pain in life comes from relationships – usually bad ones.
    I believe all of life is about relationships. If not relationships, what else???
    Relationships with our fathers is probably the most important one first in our lives and determines a lot of how we grow up. Since most people are not perfect, most fathers are not perfect; and therefore, most people use something to feel better about themselves. (to differing degrees, thus making an addict).
    My Father is perfect – and he is the only one. He loves in a way no human can love, so most people misunderstand or don’t understand his kind of love. He loves me exactly where I am, whether I do wrong or not – whether I’m addicted or not – whether I even kill someone or not. (would you still love your child?)
    He’s all about forgiveness.
    In your article, you say “making amends is helpful because it feels good because being “clean” – honest and open and fixing things we have broken feels good.”
    I concur, wholeheartedly! This is what forgiveness is all about and I cannot feel good enough, or feel clean enough, without being forgiven by God for ALL my wrongs (or dare I use the 3 letter word sin?)
    Everybody does it – why avoid it?
    My point is when I am right with my Father, (via through Jesus, his only Son’s sacrifice) and (1 John 1:9 which says “if I confess my sin, He cleanses me”), THAT makes me right – I feel right – I feel clean, and I have less propensity to use anything to make me feel better. I’m certainly not perfect with this – but this is absolutely the right track in life for me — AND I will be perfected in the next world because God will make me that way – because he said so in his word. I believe; help my unbelief!

    • Jeffrey Scheffler on August 14, 2017 at 7:50 am

      You go girl!! Well said. As far as an individual hitting rock bottom and coming to HIS own realization, who is to say that maybe GOD had his hand in this individual hitting rock bottom in order to steer him to recovery and/or himself ( Jesus Christ)?

  20. Eli on June 19, 2015 at 4:14 am

    All of us have the power to choose. However, the alcoholic will choose unwisely if s/he has not made the decision to stop. Additionally, the drinker will have to make that decision over and over, at least until a new hanit of not dringing takes hold.

    Alcoholics are powerless once that first drink is ingested. This writing is a lot of intellectualuzing over a simple concept. The attacks on AA are misinformed, completely, as noted in the idea that a higher power is God. Keep it simple. This article feels like clever chatter that in actuality is a defensive clutter of fancy excuses and obfuscations.

  21. Kari on June 17, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Right on, Joe! God is greatly concerned for our well-being and wants us to come to Him, but Satan is doing everything he can to destroy us.

  22. Joe on April 14, 2015 at 7:40 am

    I checked into a rehab center in 1990 to save my job, but soon realized I needed to be in there to save my life and made a decision to stop using cocaine and alcohol.

    I continued to smoke cigarettes until 2001 when I was diagnosed with throat cancer, and I made a decision to quit those the day I got my diagnoses.

    While I was in rehab, I was told 3 things about my addictions I do not agree with. It’s hereditary, its a disease, and once an addict always an addict.

    Lets look at heredity. If I had never made a decision to take a snort, or a drink would I have become an addict? The answer is no. There was a point in my life where I had made a bad choice and started using. It was a choice.

    Second, its a disease. I sure wish when the doctor called me on 2/14/01 and told me I had throat cancer that I could have thanked him for calling me then quit cancer like I did drinking and drugging back in 1990. I had to go through a surgical procedure and radiation to eliminate it.

    Every one of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and both parents have had fatal heart attacks and died. Heart disease runs in the family, and I have already had 2 heart attacks and its only a matter of time before the fatal one comes. Why, because its a disease and I cant quit heart disease like I did drinking and drugging in 1990. I have 2 stents in my arteries, and will be on medication and special diet the rest of my life in order to keep it in check.

    Third, once an addict always an addict. My Higher power is non other than Jesus Christ the Lord. Now lets take a look at what the Word of God says.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11 King James Version (KJV) 10: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” 11: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”

    In this portion of scripture the apostle Paul lists 10 sinful addictive behaviors.

    In vs 10 we see the word drunkard, which is your Old English word for your modern day alcoholic.

    Now, read the first 6 words of vs 11. And such were some of you!! That’s past tense, so what the Bible is saying is that your not anymore.

    Drugs and alcohol have no power over me unless I chose to give it that power.

    Romans 6:12-22 “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” 13: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” 14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” 15 “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”16: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”17: “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”18: “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” 19: “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”20: “For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” 21: “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.” 22: “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”

    Choosing to call myself an addict or alcoholic the rest of my life would only be admitting a defeated life. It would be no different than someone being released from prison and continuing to wear handcuffs.

    Your free, yet still bound.

    I have seen AA and NA do wonderful things for people, and everyone has a choice to believe what they want.

    I made a choice for freedom over bondage, and owned the fact that my poor decision making is what caused my addictions years ago.

    Was it easy? It sure wasn’t. Once I understood the truths of God’s Word I felt the boulder come off my shoulders.

  23. Jay on March 18, 2015 at 5:22 am

    I was addicted. I was directed into 12 steps through my rehab. The two things were integrated that way. To start you on the course to continue when you got out of rehab. No other options were presented to me and this was my first expereince of going to a rehab. 12 steps was a good thing at first, but I agree you have to grow beyond that if you want to become more than just “in recovery.” I will always be thankful for AA and NA. They were there for me. I am not religious so I had to make up what my higher power would be. My new and improved version of myself I guess. But as one old timer said, “hey if your higher power is a door knob, well, goodluck with that.”

  24. Gabriel on February 11, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Nobody is powerless over their addictions. You always have control over your own actions, including when you’re going on a binge and find it hard to stop. You are exercising your control over your body by abusing drugs!

    I never understood how people can say “I lost control and started using again!” They didn’t lose control, they exercised control by choosing to use drugs!

    And on top of all of this, there have been dozens of studies done in recent years that proves that addiction is NOT a brain disease, nor is it hereditary. It is a behavioral habit that is reinforced everytime you use a substance. Just like any other habit, it does not stem from a mental defect, disease, genetic code, etc. It stems from escapism. That’s why people use drugs, to escape from

  25. Michael Connell on October 23, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    This is a great article. I wish I had seen this 20-30 years ago in my recovery. As an atheist the 12 step program left me out in the cold because I do not believe in a higher power. It’s true that the power comes from the person in question. I hope others like me can realize this fact. The credit is yours and no one Else’s.

  26. Mr. Chuckles on September 25, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Really good article and the bottom line is that it requires effort and self reflection usually always with outside help. The arguing for and against AA or other treatment models seems to be a waste of time. The important thing for someone trying to get help is to understand there are different options available. I think a lot of the animosity towards the twelve step model is the prevailing belief among the addiction community is that it is the only way, and is the most successful treatment model available, when both of those statements just aren’t correct. Another reason being the general refusal of AA to recognize outside options as being successful to individuals, or that a person’s failure in the AA program is the person themselves fault, and not the “program.” They like to say “you’re not unique.” Well addiction recovery isn’t a one size fits all program and sorry to tell ya, yeah we’re all individuals, we are unique.

    I attended over 400 AA meetings, probably more, in an effort to recover, but ultimately realized it wasn’t for me and wasn’t effective in treating my addiction to alcohol. In fact it may have been more damaging in that I’ve had to deprogram from a lot of the misinformation and anecdotes passed around the rooms. Ugh, there I go down an anti-AA path… not helpful!

    AA may be a good place to go for some who have no options left at all but still want help, at least in the short term. It’s important however, to begin to learn about addiction from a multitude of sources so when you do get your feet under you, you can evaluate what options fit you, if you grow out of AA.

  27. Debra on July 30, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    I have been clean through the 12 step model for over 25 years. The 12 step model has proven successful since it first started in 1935. While I have tried to maintain an open mind that there are other methods that may be successful, I know only one person that has maintained abstinence for over 25 years without any outside help, and he is one of the most unhappy negative people I’ve met outside of a newcomer. I hope that this Life Ring, will be just as free and successful to those that are predisposed to contempt of the 12 steps, as the 12 step model has been to those for whom nothing else worked. However, I have to question the professionalism in tearing down and dismissing ideas other than ones own. And the experience of anyone who doesn’t suffer from the disease of addiction’s even having the massive ego required to judge millions around the world…there are 93,000 meetings world wide in only ONE 12 step fellowship. And yet this author has no personal experience with recovery and visited what is a comparatively minuscule number of meetings, which couldn’t even be considered a sampling. The hubris involved could only be matched by the addict that hasn’t yet found the gift of humility.

    • Dawn on August 4, 2016 at 8:11 am

      I sure you have good intentions with your writing Debra. The research on the 12 step model shows at best 30% recovery and at worst 3%. It’s not the most effective and if you really look at the number of people who continue to smoke cigarettes or pot, each sugar and drink caffeine, have sex addictions and gambling and exercise addictions, then how well does the 12 step model work? Really all people do is switch addictions. Most people in AA won’t, will not and cannot look at that. The number of meetings I went to in my early days of recovery with women or men over 350lbs, smoking cigarettes (you could do that back in 1989 in meetings), having affairs, whilst still married and obsessing about other areas of their life, was immense (no pun intended. If people in AA dealt with all of their addictions instead of just moving more into the ones that were not alcohol related then I might see the 30% recovery rate as possible. However, it’s more like 3% and even that is being generous. In my 11 years in AA i NEVER met anyone who wasn’t cross addicted. I would love to meet someone who has NO OTHER addiction than alcohol or didn’t take up another addiction. Even my sponsor got into an affair with my husband’s sponsor! You have to deal with the underlying issues that cause all of us to chose a substance or a behavior to save us from having to deal with the underlying issues.

  28. Cynthia J. on July 30, 2014 at 8:05 am

    This article and the following comments are full of assumptions and misconceptions. I am an addict. I will always be an addict. However, I am a RECOVERING addict. I don’t go to AA. I never found the help I needed in an AA meeting. I am a member of NA. Someone who has never experienced the complete hopelessness and helplessness, and YES, powerlessness, concerning the disease of addiction, can never quite comprehend it’s manifestation. I just want to say this one thing. NA’s first step reads “We admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.” Please note that it says “we WERE” powerless. That implies that at some point we do gain power. It is a great paradox that by admitting complete defeat, that is, admitting we cannot control our use, or manage our own lives no matter how much effort we put forth, how diligently, how earnestly or sincerely, we try. It is ONLY by admitting we are powerless over our addiction that we at last begin to exert our own power. That power comes to us from a Power greater than ourselves. And, no, it does not have to be “God.” The only defining characteristics of this Power is that it be loving, caring, and greater than ourselves. NA is a spiritual, NOT religious program. That is one of the misconceptions I saw stated earlier that is quite dangerous. It is the kind of misinformation that can kill an addict seeking help. We freely acknowledge that our way is not the only way. All we know is that this way works for US. “We believe that our approach to addiction is completely realistic for the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. We feel that our way is practical, for one addict can best understand and help another addict.” (Basic Text of Narcotics Anonymous, 6th Edition, How It Works, pg.18) NOTHING I tried worked until I found help from other recovering addicts in Narcotics Anonymous. By our shared experience, strength and hope, we help each other stay clean and to grow spiritually.

    • Dawn on August 4, 2016 at 8:15 am

      Addiction is not a disease. Leukemia is a disease. Addiction is a choice when you choose not to deal with underlying issues such as being abused sexually, emotionally, physically, psychologically, financially and mentally in your childhood, when you have no power. I wonder how long AA would survive if once the members realized that alcohol was just a symptom of not dealing with an underlying issue, they reached out for professional help. And don’t give me the bull shit about it being free and therapy costs money. Because the answer to that is you sure found the money to indulge in your “addiction” you can find the money, tools and resources to get professional psychological help!

  29. Steve S on February 26, 2013 at 9:21 am

    Sorry, Char, but, even if it’s not a cult to you, to many people it is. That would be exemplified by your statement that all an alcoholic needs to do is “work the steps and get a sponsor.” As for things like getting support and ending isolation, we offer plenty of that right here at Lifering.

    • Dawn on August 4, 2016 at 8:16 am

      Very well said Steve S.

  30. Char on February 20, 2013 at 3:15 am

    AA is not a cult. AA provides something for alcoholics that others either can’t or don’t wish to because they don’t trust the alcoholics ; because of in some cases the damage they caused while caught up in their addiction. Many people who are alcoholics of the hopeless variety need AA to recover because nothing else was working for them. The need the support of people who have traveled the same path. The need the underlying support to beat what is to them a very highly addictive substance. As someone phrased is after that first drink they are powerless. People while attending AA if they actually participate in the program learn to live life differently and obtain new ways of cooping with life’s stress. They come out of isolation by finding new friends and winning back the old friends they lost through their addictions; but not always. You hear the experience, strength and hope for another alcoholic and from this we learn. What is was like? So you can see if you relate, What Happened? When did the substance of choice (for some) stop working to lessen the pains of life, What they are like now? (How they changed by coming into the program). Every single time I attend a closed, open AA meeting or any other type of 12 step meeting I learn something. Type 2 diabetes is classified as a disease. If a change in the body chemistry in response the certain foods. When the person eats differently the body’s chemistry response it removed. The brain when toxified by alcohol is in a diseased state. Once the alcohol is removed the brain will being to repair it’s self; however we need to be careful because some changes can caused permanent damage to certain areas of the brain. The sooner regardless of how someone stops drinking to place their body in harms ways the better opportunity for greater long term health. What ever works. Just like life take what you like and leave the rest unless you an alcoholic of the hopeless kind. If you are get a sponsor, attend AA meetings and work the steps.

  31. James on February 11, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Once and addict NOT always an addict. I WAS an addict, not now. We can grow out of an addiction. Yes healed completely! To view yourself eternally as an addict is counter productive and not accurate.


    I attended a disease model 12 step treatment program a couple of years ago. One day the Medical Director gave his “Brain Lecture”. It described the current medical or disease model. This model states that there is a genetically inherited type of “switch”, for lack of a better word, that is activated in the Limbic system and that once activated by an addictive substance your an addict and stay an addict for life. It attributes great “control” and “power” to the primitive drive of the Limbic system and power to at least initially override our will(mind). This doctor went on to talk about his addiction to the opiate Dilaudid which is very similar to Heroin. This addiction started at age 41. However, he mentioned that his dad , grandfather and great grandfather were all alcoholics. He himself started to drink at age 16. He never had a control issue with alcohol. So right there is proof that the disease model is false. The switch he supposedly has in his brain was not set off by alcohol. It should have been after his very first drink , as the disease model says. Loss of control should have started at least by age 20. However, he drank for 26 years socially with no issues. It took the powerful opiate Diluadid to get him addicted to a substance ….why…because it’s perceived “rewards” are far stronger than those of alcohol. In other words it’s more addictive!

  32. Eric on February 11, 2013 at 7:26 am

    Fantastic article ! Someone asked if addiction is a disease. The current medical “belief” is that it is. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    Just believing that it is a disease and that you are powerless and that you must attend 12 step meetings forever almost guarantees you that you will relapse. It can be and usually is a self fulfilling prophecy. Addiction is emotional and it involves choices, perceived benefits, self medicating etc etc. There is NO genetic switch that is turned on in the Limbic brain that somehow forces you to use! I highly recommend the works of Dr Marc Lewis Neuro Scientist and his book “Memiors of an addicted Brain”. There are changes in the brain ONCE addiction starts( not before) that reenforced the reward system of use, but addiction is not a disease. Also the brain is plastic
    and thus changes and heals.

  33. Jeanette C. on December 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I can really relate to this article, thank you so much for all your research on the subject. I was one of those people forced by the system to go to 12 step meetings. The idea of being powerless over my addiction made me feel so sad and helpless. It kept me in a victim mode. I relapsed many times before finally putting together 6 years. It was not until I stopped going to 12 step meetings and took responsibility for my own recovery that I was able to do this. With each relapse, I now believe that whether consciously or unconsciously I was challenging the 12 step fundamentals. Finally I realized I am the only one that can keep me clean and sober. Slowly I changed and made new associations. Thanks again for this empowering article !

  34. Mark on February 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Pretty good article, however, as with 99% of most everything written about addiction, a tremendous amount is missing. First off, is addiction a disease? I seriously doubt it as the evidence suggests that chronic addictive behavior (drugs, alcohol, sex, food, etc) will bring about profound physiological changes that will slowly revert to normal given enough time. For example, when a person “lights up” their brains pleasure center with an orgasm, or a drug, or a highly pleasurable activity, they simultaneously “cool down” the regions of the brain responsible for critical and protective thinking. This can be done without actually engaging in the activity, and by only thinking about it! What this means is that in the heat of thinking about getting high or having sex with your best friends wife, rational thought processes are severely muted making resisting “temptation” more difficult. Studies done in the Netherlands on people during orgasm have demonstrated just this physiological phenomenon. So we are not actually “powerless” we are just much more vulnerable, especially so with chronic use. Is addiction a genetically inherited “disease?” Once again, I don’t think so. I assert that many of the psychological predispositions to addiciton are themselves inheritable but not addiction itself. In support of this is the recent discovery of the DRD4 gene which when inherited predisposes one to more risky behavior, and not surprisingly, increased rates of drug abuse. And finally, one doesn’t just decide not to have a disease anymore and quit having it. This last observation has been repeated too many times to count in people with serious addictions to everything from cigarettes, to sex, and yes to drugs. Again I make note of the powerful physiological changes that occur with prolonged, intense, involvement in any highly pleasurable activity. I caution against those who would think that our brains would revert back to normal quickly, but addiction is not a disease over which one is powerless (unless you truly believe it to be so!)

  35. Gary on February 13, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Hey GOOD artical above, man all this whining about AA good AA bad, blah, blah, blah. I’ve seen AA from the best to the VERY WORST!! I used to LOVE AA and would still be there, trying to help anyone I could, and volunteering for EVERYTHING that came down the pike. Set up chairs wash dishes, chair my home-group. In my situation the old- timers di not appretiate some-one who actually tried. They seemed to feel that it somehow took THEIR power away. Aren’t these guys suppose to be power-less??? Guess not. Good thing my sobriety is solid or I guess I’d be dead now so a bunch of NARCISSISTIC FREAKS could all have a big laugh over it at the coffee shop. On May first of this year 2011 I have 24 years of sobriety and maybe some of the “true believers ” out there NEED to hear this. As long winded as this comment might be, People need to be warned. I’d still be there if I could, but now I use a bunch of other stuff to stay sober. And I also found out who where real friends and who where not (most of them)!!!!!
    Thanks Gary B

  36. rob on February 12, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Didnt mean to offend anyone. No one commented on the actual findings from studies showing AA to be ineffective and at times harmful in what it teaches alcohol dependent (or other substances) people. I do love the above article though, even though AA people may not like what it says.

  37. Wade on February 11, 2011 at 7:26 am

    This is something I say over and over, addicts are not powerless. In fact they are generally afraid of the power they have.

    Alcohol or drugs are an inanimate object, it will sit on the table until hell freezes over if a person doesn’t pick it up and put it into their system. It has NO power over anyone, the choices we make define our lives, if we choose to be an alcoholic or drug addict we are. As soon as we choose not to be we can start moving froward in our life and become “recovered” not eternally “recovering”.

    For more information check out our site for a program in Thailand for English speaking clients that does not use the 12 steps.

    Alcohol Rehab Thailand

  38. Christopher on February 10, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    “If this works for you more power to you. For me, I personally…”, Mark, I could not ask for more. You tried the secular route and found AA is working for you. AA is an option just like Lifering is an option. Lifering is sure working for me. Anything so stunning about a world with multiple solutions/pathways/choices/non-choices?

  39. rob on February 9, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    Yes, are you referring to the first 3 steps at which most of the early binges occur in AA. Admit youre powerless, accept a god, devote your life and will. 1, 2, 3, drink. The rest of the 95% of the world drops out by the 12th month. Source: AA world services info, and supported by studies everywhere. Don’t blame us, Dr. Vaillant who supports AA found the same thing, more people recover without AA than with. And 16 states now ruled it is Illegal to require someone to attend AA because of its religious nature. Of course in the rooms, you’ll never hear that. It would be embarrassing.

  40. Egghead on February 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I am constantly amazed by the level of animosity I see towards the 12 steps. If you don’t like them, don’t use them. I’m sober through AA for 22 years and have never heard some of the stuff I hear about AA at AA. I must be going to different meetings. I do appreciate this article though. It’s one of the best explanations of the first three steps I’ve ever seen.

  41. rob on February 8, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Thank You! I have been told too many times to count that only a spiritual experience will conquer my addiction to alcohol. I am powerless. Well, even after many years of drinking, i have put down a drink half way through. I have been abstinent for over a year now. If i “lapse” I can surely regroup after one sip or drink and not turn into a raving alcoholic zombie that AA tells me i would be. I can still stop and go back to recovery and abstain. However, AAs will tell you you will be that mad zombie after just one sip, so when AA people “go out” they go out with a total vengeance because they believe they are totally helpless after that first sip.

    This is apparently why even studies by George Vaillant, member of AAs board of directors found that AAs have the highest binge rates of any other treatment and even more than people who get NO treatment at all. Ive seen it many times.

    Fortunately, AA is no longer the only option in town. SOS, SMART, LifeRing, MFS, WFS, RR, have come to help the vast majority of society that saw no sense in the faith based AA. How many recoveries has AA blown with its difficult to accept faith healing, powerlessness, and meetings for life disease ideas? I believe this is why the AA fellowship is having trouble growing now. AA world services even acknowleges this. I know why. More has now been revealed.

  42. From a heavy drinker on February 7, 2011 at 2:51 am

    There seems to be a false contradiction here. If people can function without a 12 step program they do not need one. The AA-book defines those people as heavy drinkers, give good enough cause they may stop drinking or start to drink in moderation. This is not the case for alcoholics.

    Too many people are today sent to AA to deal with being a heavy drinker where as it was constructed as a last stop for hopeless alcoholics who had tried everything else. This is problematic as it has a tendency to waters down the solution of the program, as well as it has a tendency to keep people in a false selfidentification as alcoholics.

    This however does not contradict the fact that powerless alcoholism exists and there needs to be a clear solution for the alcoholics, which is substancially different from the solutions for the heavy drinkers. Like the solution for anorexic people need to be different from those of people with malnourishment, and a different approuch is needed for those who are overweight to those who are clinical over eaters.

  43. Mark on January 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    If this works for you more power to you. For me, I personally don’t see how addicts can stop completely without a belief in a higher power. Even your article refers to a study on “Cerebral Blood Flow During Meditative Prayer” as a positive method for relieving addiciton but you left the Prayer part out. I tried the secular route you propose but it was ineffective for me. I wish all who try your method the best. If it doesn’t work for them, maybe they are truly powerless over the drink (substance). The 12 step program worked for me and is an option for people who fail on your method. I personally know people with over 20 years of complete absitinence using the 12 step method. Best of luck.

  44. David C on January 27, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Great article! Although a member of AA since 1985, I was not ‘de-programmed’ until a couple of years ago. In my practice as a clinical social worker, about 8 or 9 of every 10 persons who presents with a substance use disorder (SUD) & is motivated to change, has already begun the reversal of valence necessary to stop addiction in its tracks. Most of these people need only brief interventions – certainly no lifetime of powerlessness – to either reduce substance use to harmless levels or achieve total abstinence.

    Now we need more empowerment for addicts in the form of groups like LifeRing, SOS & SMART Recovery. Professionals can refer persons with dependent personality disorder, or even simply an external locus of control, to AA. All the rest of us can leave the cult, maintain our recovery through healthy habits & enjoy our personal power!

  45. Rosaleen on January 27, 2011 at 3:20 am

    I am an alcoholic and I have to agree I am totally powerless over alcohol only if and AFTER I take that first drink. I am NOT powerless over my choice wether or not to take up the first drink. People try to complicate what is a simple statement by trying to analise it and to analise is to paralise where addiction is concerned!!
    As the originators of the tgwelve step program said == Keep it simple!!

  46. Patrick Dieter on January 25, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Thank you so much for this article — I am an addictions treatment provider and all too often I feel like the lone voice crying in the wilderness. The subconscious mind can understand powerlessness, if we tell it to. It cannot understand powerlessness over alcohol, no matter how many times it is chanted, it merely becomes an affirmation for one to go limp and become feeble to a presumed all-controlling God over whom we have no influence or choice. What a lousy way to run a recovery! Warm regards, Patrick Dieter.

  47. Elisabeth Davies, MC on January 25, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Thank you for posting this article Dr. Shelby.
    I appreciated how you identified the significance of our emotional associations we attach to our addiction.
    I also liked that you gave some strategic ways to change our emotional mind set.
    I posted your article on my Good Things Addiction Facebook page

  48. Mark H on January 22, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Thanks for posting this article. I wish I could have attended the conference in Denver. Her poignant idea of the emotional part of addiction really resonated with me.

    • Harrison Danley on May 11, 2017 at 5:11 pm

      There are so many people who somehow believe that it is necessary to talk about all the shit that is wrong with the different programs but often fail to say what is right. In addition, for those of you who think that the twelve steps say that you “are” powerless, need to read the steps over because nothing in the first step says that you “are” powerless! The person who wrote this article fails to even realize that that her statements about how 12 step programs say that you “are” powerless is non existence. If she were to look closer at what the step actually says, she and others would be able to self-correct themselves and realize that Step One specifically states that “we admitted that we ‘were’ powerless.” Nothing in the 12 steps says that addicts “are” powerless and when it does mention the word “powerless” it reads, “we admitted that we ‘were’ powerless OVER our addiction” not simply that we were “powerless” in any regard. Those of you who have managed to believe that they have control over their active addiction generally don’t live long enough to prove it because in a very real sense their sense of powerlessness shows up when it is described how they died in their obits! Why the need to argue about what works and what does not is wasting time better spent corroborating rather than separating! It doesn’t really matter what program is used, addiction generally has the last word unless we quite fighting against this thing that we call “addiction.” Using terminology like “powerlessness” and sayings like, “we admitted we were powerless over our addiction” is not about blaming and not taking responsibility but rather it is about my belief that I have a condition that is much more powerful than I am. Addiction is like an 800lb Borilla, you ain’t done until the addiction says your done. Addiction basically and for lack of a better description, when active, GOES UP IN YOU WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION AND UNTIL IT DECIDES TO STOP YOU BECOME ITS BITCH WHETHER YOU ARE MAN OR WOMAN!! ADDICTION DOES NOT GIVE A SHIT WHAT YOU CALL IT BECAUSE IT IS THE ONE DOING ALL THE CALLING!! WHEN ADDICTION SAYS GET ON YOUR NEEDS AND BACK THAT ASS UP, ADDICTS OF MY TYPE, WOULD FOLLOW THE RULES LIKE NO OTHER. SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO GET FUCKED ONE MORE TIME BYU THAT GIANT 800LB GORILLA, STAY OUT OF THE LANE!!!!