Almost none of the people who may read this know it, but I am a former drug addict. I've been off controlled substances for many years now.

This post isn't really about me, however. Its about NA and AA, and the so-called twelve step program. But since what I'm about to write is based partly on my own experiences, I'm almost forced to talk a bit about myself to begin with.

I started using controlled substances (i.e. street drugs and illegally obtained prescription drugs) rather by coincidence. I wasn't really curious about things like that at all -- in fact I was very sceptical toward illegal drugs, and I found people who were obviously 'junkies' disgusting. But in my early twenties, I found myself in the worst funk I've ever been in. It was serious love trouble. To be honest, I just felt like quitting life. I wasn't suicidal or anything, but I just didn't know what to do with myself.

Then one day I met an old friend of mine. He introduced me to speed, which I wouldn't have done in case I had really given a shit about anything right then. I had always thought illegal drugs were some heinous crap: toothless, twitchy speed freaks outside the alcohol store; half-comatose junkies slipping rusty AIDS-needles into their veins, and so on. But when I got into speed it was quite a revelation.

"F*ck me! This is amazing! Now I get why people do this!"

I had a lot of fun with drugs for many years. I tried almost everything there is, but I had just a couple of favourites. Then after quite a while it all became routine. I just felt unable to have fun and relax without drugs. Then, things started to get bad. After that it became a slow motion disaster. I realized I had to quit the drugs or stay a deadbeat burnout for ever.

Then I made an even worse mistake than starting with drugs. I walked into a 12-step meeting, which marked the beginning of the worst years of my life.

Now before I start in earnest I have mention a misconception about NA/NA and all the other programs. I say this even though I've come to despise the twelve step movement.

Twelve step programs are not sinister brainwashing cults. Everything is completely voluntary, and nobody will bother you really if you choose not to do it anymore. NA groups rely on voluntary donations from the members to survive, but seldom is anyone pushed or goaded into making contributions.

It does happen, but rarely from what I've seen, that people steal money from NA groups.  But that is about the only form of 'financial' corruption I've witnessed. (Once the cashier of my group stole all the group's money and went on a bender, for example. I wasn't shocked or surprised by this event. I was more baffled by the fact that it didn't happen a lot more often).

Members of NA aren't really controlled or monitored in any way. Its called Narcotics Anonymous, after all. In fact the lack of control and monitoring is key to the survival and success of NA and all 12-step programs. Druggies will not walk into an organization that is about control and monitoring, for obvious reasons. The fact that NA does not keep track of anything really is also very important because it conceals what I strongly believe to be the truth: NA doesn't work very well at all. You can't disprove that it works, but neither can you proove it, because there are no reliable records. It is a matter of faith, basically. A person who hasn't touched a drink or a drug in his entire life can walk into a NA meeting and say 'My name is Bob, and I'm an addict'. Then he can say 'I've been clean for five years today' and he'll get a nice looking medal -- everyone claps and sheds a little tear for the 'power of the program' and so on. There are in fact a lot of disturbed people who do things like this -- I've seen it happen several times.

But more about that later...

First, I have to write about two very important questions, which are closely linked to the 12-step movement:

What is addiction?

Is addiction a disease?

All right, let's start with the second question, since addicts never can do anything correctly.

Despite the fact that a lot of very important people think addiction is a disease, I personally have serious doubts about that.

NAs problem concerning this question is that they claim that addiction is a disease without having any real evidence to back this up -- at least not when it comes to NA's own defenition of the term. AA, which is where everything in NA was borrowed/stolen from, made up their own defenition of alcoholism that didn't have much to do with medical science. They sometimes like to 'retcon' this by using modern scientific data about alcoholism to back up their story, which is a very cheap trick. This would work if they actually changed their own defenition. But they don't.

Anyway, NA took AAs defenition of alcoholism and said that addiction is a physical, mental and spiritual disease. 

Let's start with the physical part. I almost have to give NA this one -- some drugs are physically addictive. Opiates, for instance. I was mildly addicted to Subutex, which is a synthetic opiate drug that is used as a surrogate to 'treat' heroin addicts. A terrible idea, I think. I almost laugh when I think about the fact that I became addicted to Subutex without even having tried heroin. In my opinion, Subutex is even a 'better' drug than heroin. Druggies 1 - Society 0.

But there are also many, many, controlled substances that are not physically addictive at all. THC, LSD, Amphetamine, etc. A lot of people in NA have used those drugs almost exclusively, or they didn't have time to get addicted to the hard stuff before they came to NA. So for them, we can scratch that part.

Now for the mental part. NA often describes this as an obsession.

An example of this would be the former speed freak who gets a few lines in front of him when carelessly going to a party where there are drugs present. He starts to experience 'symptoms' and can't stop himself from doing the lines. Hey -- he's sick. He needs help.

Of course he does the lines. He's like Pavlov's famous dogs. When he sees the lines, he automatically relates them to having awesome fun, which he may very possibly have if he does them. (of course he may also lapse into that good old speed psychosis again, but... Its hard to remember the rough times).

What our speed freak is experiencing, I believe is called an involuntary reflex.

Every time Pavlov's dogs get food, a bell rings.

After this repeats itself enough times, the dogs start to salivate every time the bell rings. Even if there is no food.

Are the dogs obsessed with food?

Are they addicted to food?

Hardly. The difference between the speed freak and Pavlov's dogs is, that the speed freak has a much greater capacity of making his own decisions and drawing his own conclusions. This leads us to a huge problem with the NA model of addiction as a disease. NA teaches the 'addict' that he is powerless over his disease. According to NA, the 'addict' is incapable of making his own decisions when it comes to drugs. What a drag, since the only way to stay clean, is to not take drugs.

What it all boils down to in the end is that the addict can only stay clean by the grace of a mysterious 'higher power', but I will write more about that later.

The irony of this is that NA-people often use this 'powerlessness' as a justification (another fave NA word, I seem to remember) for their continued drug use*.

Hey man, I suffer from the disease of addiction. I'm powerless of over my disease. It's my disease popping these pills into my mouth and putting these lines in my nose. Not me. God must hate me since he is so cruel, making me suffer so awfully... Damned this is some good shit.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons there are studies that show going to NA leads to a higher relapse rate than doing nothing at all about your problem -- except trying not to use, of course. That's right. Nothing at all.

If you don't believe me, google around a bit about twelve step stuff, and you'll see.

(I can't vouch for the veracity of all internet sources, but I've seen material that I must believe to be based on unbiased scientific research. The absolute truth? Well, there are lies, and there are damned lies... and then there's... you know what.)

Next time I will probably talk about the real magic show – the spiritual component of the NA 'disease'.

Until then:


*: It is important to remember that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using drugs. This means you can be using, and still be in NA.

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Comment by Luara on April 7, 2014 at 5:28pm

For the most part, I do not believe in legalizing controlled substances.

Really? How addicts are treated is part of the reason I believe in drug legalization. It's the people who are heavy users who are more likely to get into legal trouble.

You were OK with the idea that you might be arrested/have a criminal record just for having the drug or using it?  Maybe they treat addicts better in Sweden.  I think here in the USA, the criminalization of drugs means addicts are less likely to get help.

I tend to agree that forcing people to go to meetings is wrong.  It violates the spirit of the meetings. 

Comment by Luara on April 7, 2014 at 5:09pm

ps Unfortunately here in Ithaca NY I didn't find good 12-step groups.  I went to a couple and they just weren't "alive".   People didn't seem to know how to pour their guts out to people they didn't know.  Unlike in the Los Angeles area. 

It was dicey.  I had a lot of wonderful encounters, meeting people afterwards and talking and sharing about things.  I thought it was an incredible thing, that they could come up with this format - where people share without interruption in turns during the meeting, and afterwards you can talk about it with whoever you related to - that this format enables people who are damaged to relate to each other in a non-damaged way. 

And other times I would feel very hurt and angry when people would judge me.  A lot of people aren't in a space where they're sharing just about their personal feelings. 

But after years of going to meetings, I no longer felt like a Martian.  I had heard from so many people who related to me, and heard so many people say things I could relate to. 

And it cured me of that feeling I had been taught, that the abuse in my family was all my fault and that I had imagined it or hallucinated it (yes, I was taught those two things at the same time!  And yes it was a feeling.)  It gave me a solid feeling about who other people were, inside.  I didn't have much of an idea about what went on inside other people, before that - I had been victimized too much to know. 

People said that NA, AA, etc. were much more rigid and more Step-oriented than ACA.  The ACA meetings didn't talk much about Steps. 

Although, I got very tired of sitting there listening to the long introductory readings, which were always the same.  So I arrived about 15 minutes late. 

Comment by sk8eycat on April 7, 2014 at 4:51pm

Our group was from a mix of toxic families, too.  I just happened to be one who had one alcoholic fundamentalist mom was no rose garden either, sometimes.  She had me scared of hell and satan until I dumped religion altogether.

Comment by Sven Andersson on April 7, 2014 at 4:49pm

Luara: For the most part, I do not believe in legalizing controlled substances. There has been a lot of talk even here in Sweden about legalizing THC to a certain extent. For a long time I thought that was a good idea, but now I've read stuff that makes me sceptical. I do wish that scientific resources would be dedicated to developing a safe 'soma' type of drug that lacks the unhealthy and destructive side-effects of alcohol. Scientific studies has shown that designer drugs like MDMA for example do far less damage to the individual and society than alcohol. (I do have a drink now again, I have to confess, but its not very often)

sk8ecat: I've heard about this. I don't just think that is ridiculous -- I think its unethical. This sort of thing does not happen in Sweden. But better than being thrown in prison, I suppose?

Comment by Luara on April 7, 2014 at 4:22pm

I didn't have alcoholic parents, but the ACA groups didn't care about that when I was going, and it didn't seem to matter whether people had alcoholic parents or not.  It was for anyone from a bad family. 

In the group I went to most, in Glendale, we had a discussion one time about renaming the group.  One person suggested "Adult Children of Assholes". 

Which was pretty apt :)

Comment by sk8eycat on April 7, 2014 at 4:18pm

Luara, Super!  The group I belonged to met in North Hollywood...we had quite a few "drop-in" members who were adult children of well-known actors and musicians. 

My own dad was just an "ordinary" accountant...brilliant until he locked himself into a bottle of vodka.  He finally went for treatment after I'd been on the road for 3 years, and said I was going to stay away till he cleaned up his act.  He would NEVER go to AA, and it took me years to figure out that he was a deeply closeted atheist...married to a semi-fundie.  That'll mess anybody up.

Comment by Luara on April 7, 2014 at 3:49pm

I went to a lot of ACA meetings for years in the Los Angeles area.  I got a great deal out of them and they weren't overbearingly religious. 

Comment by sk8eycat on April 7, 2014 at 3:33pm

You said that nobody is forced to go to NA or AA meetings, but, at least here in Los Angeles County, people who have a certain number of DUI arrests within a certain period of time ARE required by the courts to go to meetings.  They are given a card that has to be signed and dated by the group's secretary to prove they attended.

I was secretary of an ACA group for longer than I care to admit, and I always had to ask somebody else to lead the Serenity Prayer because everyone knew I was, and still am, an atheist.  It got to be kind of a joke, but that group did help me some.  I learned that I wasn't the only person in the world who spent my teens (and left home as soon as I could) trying to cover up for an alcoholic parent.

As for being an atheist in a 12-step group, I kept hearing that a "higher power" could be my own better self.  Ho-hum.  (My best friend in that group was a believer when I joined, but after spending time with me, he began to see the silliness of religions...and we laughed a lot together.)

Comment by Luara on April 7, 2014 at 3:05pm

How do you feel about drug legalization - as someone who did really have a drug problem? 

I'm all for legalizing drugs, but I didn't get addicted, driven to a life of crime or anything like that.  I had a lot of good times. 


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