The principles of A.A. & N.A.: Is total abstinence helping or hurting addicts?

12 step support groups believe that total abstinence is the only means to complete recovery. But, can this notion be more harmful than beneficial for some individuals in recovery? More on why no one should be stigmatized for their drug replacement and maintenance, here.

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Why are we turning away addicts who are seeking help?

“If you cannot help another addict don’t harm them.”

This is a mantra I heard in both the Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) halls. It’s got me thinking.

Recently, I have pulled away from both fellowships. Now, don’t get me wrong, both of them have gotten me to where I am today… but I cannot align with some of the way the groups conducts themselves.

But should people really be ineligible for A.A. and N.A. support meetings if they are on addiction maintenance medications, smoke marijuana, or are going for moderation rather than cessation? Share your feedback and questions in the comments section at the bottom of the page. We try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries.

All or nothing: A.A. rules and guidelines for meeting attendees

I have to admit, I have not versed myself with the traditions and principles of A.A./N.A…. but I am pretty sure NONE of them say turn an addict seeking help away.

Countless times I have seen addicts trying to get help but shunned from the halls because they are on drug replacement therapy, or they are smoking pot to ease the side effects of withdrawals. Hell, I have even heard people get ridiculed over “chewing their booze”… a.k.a. taking psych meds.

Did I miss the memo where every participant of A.A. and N.A. are doctors? No? Didn’t think so. So please, for everyone’s benefit, stop acting like them. No one can define your recovery. Only YOU can define YOUR OWN recovery.

Countless times I have seen addicts DIE because they tried the “program” time and time again and never got the help they needed because they were not being taken seriously. “Oh but SHE’S on drug replacement therapy”…


People are DYING out there and we have stipulations on who lives and who dies?

Drug replacement therapy vs. A.A./N.A. abstinence

Drug replacement therapy has helped many addicts stay alive as opposed to dying alone in a gutter with a needle in their arm. Some addicts simply just cannot put down their drug of choice, attend meetings, and stay clean. Some can and my hats off to those, but as you can see by the rising opioid epidemic.. not all can.

You know how a lot of these addicts became addicts? Their doctors gave them opiates and opioid medications when they were not needed. The over prescribing of paink killer meds has been a direct contributor to the rising number of opiate addicts.

It has been proven that Drug Replacement Therapy (DRT like buprenorphine and methadone) helps addicts abstain from their drug of choice. This gives the addict a chance to create a solid foundation, gain some coping skills (which we know we ALL lack), and build a network. Once these things are established the patient and their sponsor can talk about getting off of the drug replacement therapy all together.

Biased treatment and stigma

The problem that I have seen with the above scenario is that people judge and ridicule anyone coming into the halls on DRT. They aren’t allowed to hold positions, talk in meetings, and some people won’t even sponsor them.

Shame on us!

Instead of criticizing the way that these addicts choose to get clean we should be celebrating the fact that they are no longer risking their lives every day, multiple times a day, to get high.

For the states where Medical Marijuana is legal, this has also become an option for addicts getting off of harder substances. I have also seen addicts with 10+, 20+ years clean that have suffered with their chronic illnesses for all that time and now that medical marijuana is legal, they are no longer suffering but are now being pushed out of the halls where they are so many people they can still help.

Q: Does treating chronic illness with medical marijuana really make these people unable to help other suffering addicts?
A: No. So stop treating them that way!

Addiction recovery inclusion – NOT exclusion

Sorry for my language but I am very passionate about this.

Is the idea to create a world of abstinent people from the minute they put down drugs?


Are we trying to reduce the body count?

Personally, I am trying to reduce the body count. I want as many addicts to LIVE LIFE. I believe everyone is with me on that. So let’s bring our minds collectively together to figure out how to make those types of addicts feel welcomed.

How do we open our minds and hearts so that everyone, regardless of the way they are medicating, or easing their symptoms? I talk strongly because I care. Please continue the conversation if you care.

Do you have questions or comments about this opinion?

What do you think about the eligibility rules for A.A. and N.A. attendees? Feel free to express your opinions and post your questions in the comments section at the end of the page.

We welcome your feedback and try to provide a personal and prompt answer to all legitimate inquiries. In case we don’t know the answer to your question, we will refer you to professionals who can help.

About the author
Kayla is a freelance writer and entrepreneur with a passion for helping people overcome their addictions. After having been an addict herself, she decided she wanted to give back to those still struggling. Her expertise include: Medical Marijuana, Drug Addiction, Drug Abuse, ACOA, Meditation, DRT, law reform for non-violent drug offenders, overcoming grief, the 12 steps, NA, AA, plus more. She has contributed to many blogs trying to raise awareness to this epidemic.
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