Although I am personally not addicted to alcohol or narcotic drugs, I participated in the Alcoholics Anonymous program in my locality. The purpose is to glean important key insights through first hand observation and direct interaction. Although most of the participants in the 12 step program were adults, there were some who were adolescents as well. It is saddening to see teenagers fall into the vicious trap of alcohol addiction. However, it is also consoling to know that they can get cured through participation in the program. I must say that, though at the beginning I was uneasy with the whole idea, by the end of the exercise I found it enriching and rewarding.
Addiction to alcohol poses serious problems for both the addict as well as his/her family. In a culture that associates drinking with festive occasions and celebrations, over-indulgence in alcohol is to be expected. In the case of teenagers, alcohol addiction is often the result of a dysfunctional relationship with parents. Those who’ve had difficult early childhood experiences are most prone to substance addiction in later life. For some this is manifest as early as their adolescence. The ill effects of alcohol addiction reach beyond the individual who is addicted. The close family members of the addict usually suffer a lot. Psychologists have termed this relationship ‘co-dependency’, whereby the supportive family members adapt and adjust their attitudes and behaviours that complement that of the addict. Although this is counter-intuitive at first the idea sounds more plausible when we consider the root of addiction problems. Many people fall into the trap of alcoholism and substance abuse due to one or more dysfunctional relations with close family members. (Stakal, 1999)
Based upon my observation and assessment of the AA program I would strongly recommend it for those needing it. This includes adolescents as well. For those who are apprehensive about taking up the program, I would like to demystify a few things about AA. On the surface, AAs have an “overtly spiritual language, and its concepts, and its purported mechanism of behaviour change (a ‘spiritual awakening’) would seem to place it beyond the reach of science-based research efforts to understand how and why it works.” (Kelly & Yeterian, 2010) But when we place this perception against practical outcomes and empirical results, the merit of the program becomes clear. For, even today, “AA is the most commonly sought source of help for an alcohol problem and that there is growing empirical support for AA-related benefits, and how AA facilitates recovery”. (Kelly & Yeterian, 2010) Another nice thing about the AA program is the atmosphere of camaraderie and solidarity that it creates. The people whom I’ve observed first hand were not judgmental of others. To my surprise there was not even any blatant expression of racism, sexism or ageism within the group. That’s when I realized that a common cause can unite the most diverse group of people. Even empirical evidence points to the the efficacy of AA programs. For example, there are studies that have found that
“AA helps individuals achieve recovery by providing an abstinence-focused social network and new adaptive friendships that facilitate enduring change. There is also evidence that AA mobilizes changes in spiritual practices and beliefs, which may help individuals attribute new meaning to stressors inherent in the recovery process.” (Brandon, 2009)
A major strength of AA programs is its flexibility within a general organizational and program framework. It allows for many mechanisms of action and an individual can choose that which is most suited to his particular needs. The great strength of the AA meetings I attended lay in their ability to offer easy access and exposure to therapeutic factors. Through this the program is able to tap into, and generate the individual’s intrinsic recovery resources. The effect of this transformation is that the addict becomes his own best counsel in the future. First, the program makes addicts understand their own strength in confronting the issue. Second, it makes them reorient their attitudes and behaviours to be able to act in their own best interests. (Summers, 2007) For these multi-fold reasons, whose benefits reach areas over and beyond merely therapeutic, I would endorse AA program for adolescents.
While AA programs have done yeoman service to our society, those uninitiated to it may have teething problems. In the first of the three meetings that I attended, the idea of ‘sponsors’ can be awkward to negotiate. But an atmosphere of cordial amity is quickly established. Yet, for those who are not extroverted, the pressure to socialize can be stressful. I had even witnessed in the meetings how flirting and sexually suggestive signalling are freely allowed. I went to the meetings with the prior knowledge that AA permits (or, perhaps, promotes) sex as an antidote to alcohol addiction. But witnessing the dynamics of interpersonal exchanges made me question the logic behind it. After all, replacing one addiction with another is not going to get us very far. There is one girl in the group who particularly found it unacceptable. This added pressure only worsened her craving for a drink, thus worsening the problem. Disgusted, Ms. D (name shortened to protect privacy) tried to quit the group. She told me how her sponsor became furious as a consequence. Some of the pressures put on her made her distrust her own thoughts and judgments. Finally Ms. D got relief when a rehab counsellor brusquely asked her to leave the group. Another young man was bossed around so much that he simply could not continue the program, thereby ending up being an alcoholic once again. So while AA works brilliantly for most, for some it is a nightmare. Physicians and psychologists too acknowledge this facet to the AA program and sometimes show apprehension in making client referrals. Despite these drawbacks, I would still recommend adolescents struggling with alcoholism to attend the AA program. Not only is this recommendation based on my own personal observation and evaluation of the program, but is also based on a literature review of the subject. Recent studies of mechanisms of behaviour change have shown that