In 2014, 16.3 million adults aged 18 and older reported the presence of an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. While only the person with the drinking problem can decide whether or not they have alcoholism, this massive amount of individuals who abuse alcohol reveals a dire need for programs that help struggling people find and maintain sobriety. Currently, two of the most popular offerings for initiating a life of recovery include alcohol rehab treatment centers and Alcoholics Anonymous.
There are more than 14,000 rehabs in the United States as of 2012. These rehabs include all levels of care: detox, residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, and sober living. So there are a variety of options for various severities of alcoholism. Top level rehabs like Wellness Counseling & Residential Detox use an evidence-based approach to therapy. A wide range of alternative therapies with unknowable success rates also exist. Most rehabs provide medication management and offer some form of psychotherapeutic approach. This kind of advanced counseling helps alcoholics develop coping skills and knowledge about their condition.
In rehab, alcoholics learn to live a productive, sober life. Alcohol rehab centers offer therapy in both individual and group formats. Psychotherapists and psychiatrists work with clients to help them learn about what causes them to drink and work through, manage, and/or avoid these causes in the future. Often, rehabs will focus on the family element as well as the individual, because an alcoholic’s family can be a large stressor in their life.
Many alcoholics also have co-occurring disorders – mental issues that stem from their drinking are causing their drinking. According to a study by the National Association of Mental Illness, 37% of those with alcoholism also struggle with a mental illness. It is extremely important to deal with these issues during rehab if recovery is to be successful. If you are not treating the root of the problem, you are not fixing anything.
It is estimated that there are around 2 million active members of Alcoholics Anonymous worldwide. However, entirely accurate data regarding AA is difficult to gather because of the anonymous nature of the program. It’s difficult to survey these groups as the entire model relies upon the concept of anonymity, its traditions insisting that no individual can speak for the group. Therefore, conflicting statistics are available regarding the effectiveness of the program.
A 2014 membership survey conducted by Alcoholics Anonymous received responses from more than 6,000 members in the United States and Canada. The study revealed the varying lengths of time members have been sober but didn’t address the effectiveness on individuals remaining sober. 27% reported less than a year of sobriety, 24% have been sober for 1-5 years, 13% between 5-10 years, 14% for 10-20 years, and 22% for 20 or more years.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a spiritually-based program, insisting members discover a “God of their own understanding” and realize they are “powerless” over their alcoholism. They work through the 12 steps of the program, which can be summed up in a single statement: “Trust God, clean house, help others.” One of the biggest principles of the program is that members must give away what was given to them, to help other alcoholics the way they were helped when they arrived. This ‘helping others’ can be practiced by attending meetings and reaching out to new alcoholics, taking another alcoholic through the 12 steps, or in everyday life by helping anyone who is in need of assistance.
AA is often considered a new way of life or a “design for living.” The principles learned in the program are to be practiced in every area of life, not just in meetings or with other alcoholics. Alcoholics Anonymous provides a path to long-term sobriety first through getting sober and then by helping other alcoholics stay sober.
AA does have some public criticisms. Some people are turned off by the religious elements in AA. Others are bothered by the constant mantra that you are ‘powerless,’ you are an ‘alcoholic/addict,’ and that this will never change. This powerlessness can be seen as both a crucial reminder that relapse is always around the corner, or to some, an unnecessarily negative mindset.
The Synergy: Rehab + AA
Often, 12-step programs or (step-based alternatives) such as Alcoholics Anonymous are used along with the therapist of some alcohol rehabs and treatment centers. Certain centers prefer a strictly medical and psychotherapeutic approach, but others involve AA or step work within their treatment. Some treatment centers incorporate the principles straight into their methodology while others just bring clients to meetings. Whichever approach is taken, it’s interesting to consider how Alcoholics Anonymous has been integrated with recovery.
While 20 years ago most social scientists shied away from AA, many now realize that for at least a portion of the population, AA works. Primarily AA seems to work because it provides a support network and a set of rules living that are lacking in many alcoholics.
While there are differences between the rehab and AA, using them together can be a great approach to recovery. Rehab and treatment centers help to address the physical (detox) and mental aspects of alcoholism while AA provides a social support system and ‘path’ for those that need one. Rehab often encourages the use of social support groups like AA and AA suggests seeking outside help from doctors and therapists when it will be useful. Many alcoholics use both approaches together and find it to be an effective solution to their drinking problem.
Finding Your Path
Statistically, you are better off going to rehab if you want long term recovery. But after rehab, the step work and social support of groups like AA can enhance your ability to stay sober.
Some people may be able to manage their alcoholism with AA alone, but why risk it when rehab offers so much more?