The Dangers of The Twelve Steps

The Dangers of The Twelve Steps

Since its conception in 1935 the approach of Alcoholics Anonymous has grown to become the most widely used organization for individuals seeking to recover from alcoholism (the reader must personalise and substitute Narcotics/Cocaine/Gamblers where applicable). Many facilities across the world have adopted the AA Philosophy and have been instrumental in assisting probably millions of suffering individuals, and their families in how to view themselves and their problem

Bethesda Addictions Treatment Centre is a strong proponent of client attendance at personally relevant 12 Step Recovery Groups during and after treatment at our facility – but we do not fully adhere to the underlying message that many people receive from the recovery community that; “once an addict always an addict” and anything else is “denial” and we would offer you the following observations: Beware Groupthink:


Groupthink is a mode of thinking that occurs within Therapeutic Communities when previously ‘voiceless and powerless’ addicts, come through detox, eat well for a couple of weeks, sleep better than they ever did and then slowly start becoming ‘vocal and powerful’. Memories of active addiction quickly subside as soon as they start to feel better and defences start to crumble. ‘Out of therapy time’, become bravado’s and ambitious and they start to sound quite moral. Because they feel a sense of sincerity about their intentions they start to see themselves as a cohesive group, interpreting ‘the ties that bind us together’ as ‘signs of change and improvement’ – This is where they are at their most vulnerable; not because they are having what might feel like ‘positive thoughts and feelings’, but because they have not yet learned what their emotional, psychological and spiritual blind-spots are, and they unknowingly step out of the Therapeutic Community and into corporate relapse.

Families, Communities, Societies, and Cultures evolve individual key roles of their own that promote a sense of stability and sustain cultural values, they perform certain activities crucial to continued existence; Police, Fire Department, Ambulance, Hospitals, Milk Delivery, Churches, Law Courts etc etc etc, all combine to create and sustain what we know to be our Culture.

The Addiction Culture is no different From any other culture when it comes to the need of various roles, duties, and activities of each of its members in order for it to sustain its existence.

William White wrote a Travel Guide for Addiction Specialists within which he argued that it could be said that The Addiction Culture is made up of the following Role-players:

  • Dealers: Central figures who supply a steady source of mind and mood altering chemicals for the members of the culture. Most dealers are also addicts; if not to a substance, they can very often be addicted to the life-style, the sense of importance and power and the flow of cash. Dealers have a very difficult time in treatment because they are usually entrepreneurial in nature and they struggle to humble themselves and to stand on level ground to their peers.
  • The High Priests: These guys like to be seen as champions of drug consumption, they actually promote various values of using the different types of drugs. The people frequently introduce new-comers to the culture and will see a new drug using member to the culture as being one of their ‘converts’. They offer philosophical reasoning behind drug use and distort their converts thinking about anyone who might try to dissuade them from culture membership. High Priests do not usually respond to treatment until their using savages their inner being.
  • The Storytellers: The Storytellers suffer from a weak grasp of reality but a strong skill of embellishment and exaggeration. These guys use stories as a means of socializing within the culture and to win everyone’s need of them for entertainment. Their storytelling skills ensure their membership of the culture and create a sense of social status stability. Storytellers often thrive in the treatment setting also, but unfortunately for the same reasons, they become like the ‘house mascot’ who keeps everyone entertained. They can thrive in treatment if they can transfer their natural ability towards our three key recovery principles of honesty, open-mindedness and willingness.
  • The Medicine Men and Midwives: Many members of the addiction culture can fall into this category, they have remedies for hangovers, they have special drug cocktails for raves, weddings, the work place, picking the kids up from school, how to sleep and what to wake up to … Many of these guys eventually progress to using their homes as speed, crack and/or heroin dens. Medicine Men and Midwives pose a threat to Addiction Professionals and to Therapeutic Communities because they believe themselves to be ‘pharmaceutically clued up’ and they find it really difficult to stop ‘treating’ those around them.
  • The None-addicted Hustlers: There are large numbers of alcohol and drug using but none-addicted hustlers who operate in and around the social world of addiction. The make up the panorama of the addicts world but are neither addicted nor enmeshed in the culture of addiction. They may have been involved in some other none-related criminal life style. Most frequently, addicts interact with these individuals as a means of servicing their own hustling needs. None-addicted Hustlers have been widely known to fabricate addictive disorders in order to avoid prison and enter treatment facilities. They grossly exaggerate their chemical consumption just as a means of legitimizing their treatment involvement, but then when they get to treatment they swing to the other extreme and minimize their problem. Inclusion on none-addicted hustlers in treatment facilities violates the integrity of the true treatment process.
  • The Working-Class Addict: Working-Class addicts make up the majority of the population of the Addiction Culture. These guys don’t perform specialized roles or hold any special status in the culture. They create relationships with each other and share special values and language – all reflective of the common bond of addiction. They struggle from day to day to get by and to try and make the best of life. The ‘best of life’ for these guys is, ‘getting and using and finding ways and means to get more’
  • The Weekend Players: These guys use and abuse various chemicals periodically, and the lack of serious consequences gives birth to and nurtures the belief that ‘I can get away with this’. They have a twisted sense of attraction within them to the darker side of life and they venture into dangerous areas periodically to feed the adrenaline need. Most of the Addiction Culture members feed on these guys.
  • The Pseudo-junkie: Pseudo-junkies are individuals who, for the most part, they get themselves deeply enmeshed in the culture, and take on all the trappings of an addict, but who are, in fact, not addicted. They present themselves for treatment during emotional crisis and report vivid and sometime horrific details of their ‘addiction’. For these guys, ‘addiction’ constitutes not a drug relationship but the performance of a role within the addiction culture with which they feel comfortable. Pseudo-junkies, for various reasons, have been unable to find any inspiration from life on planet earth and they do not seem to be able to find any ‘special niche’ for themselves. The find a role, an identity and acceptance within the addiction culture and they really feel as if they fit in with societies miss-fits. Often lacking basic social skills or personal direction, Pseudo-junkies seek out and latch on to powerful individuals within the culture of addiction.

Formulation of a Group Think atmosphere is the avoidance tactic of a small chore of dominant and manipulative clients within the therapeutic community, and more dangerously the 12-Step Group environment, who unwittingly deflect from personal inventories. They become overly concerned with creating and maintaining an in-house sense of harmony. Once the group think phenomenon starts to gather momentum and conscripts, they suddenly become unable to evaluate alternatives options than those being promoted by the groups ‘mind guards’. Group relapse starts to take place when weaker group members become isolated and fail to recognise that there is a pressure gradually bearing down on them to engage in groupthink and they start to believe that solidarity is needed. The covert and overt pressure to agree comes from significant figures of the community with an insidious seduction of naïve group members who are then coerced into agreeing with unethical conclusions and judgments. Among the key members of the groupthink there will be a key individual who is consciously and secretly acting out in some form of relapse behaviour and the groupthink serves as a smoke screen for the subversive behaviour.

Whilst the concept of powerlessness at the foundational steps of the 12 step programme are viewd as the first step to sobriety, they also contain the potential to teach chemically dependent individuals that they are ‘passive victims’ waiting for and at the mercy of another power greater than alcohol etc – creating the perfect climate for a groupthink survival programme.

If individuals suffering from Chemical Dependency are not urged to explore and assume personal responsibility thet will very quickly fail to do the things which will season and nurture their recovery and will ineveitably end up doing things which aggravate the problems they have.