By Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC   |   February 2nd, 2013

Exposing The Eight Most Common Arguments For Not Attending Twelve Step Programs

Twelve Step ProgramsAs an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, I work with many people who are struggling with addiction or substance abuse. Whether you are the one struggling or you have a loved one who is battling the disease, I always recommend a Twelve Step Program. Unfortunately, I am almost always met with resistance. Much of that resistance comes from misconceptions about what Twelve Step Programs are all about, so I will address some of the biggest myths here. These are the eight most common arguments I hear for not attending Twelve Step meetings. (For brevity and clarity, I am using the terms alcoholic and addict interchangeably. When I use the terms “alcohol” or “drugs”, you can substitute any addiction- including gambling. pornography, prescription or illicit drugs.)

  1. Twelve Step Programs are a cult or religion. I know this because they all meet in churches and are very secretive.

    False. Twelve Step Programs meet in other places besides churches. They look for inexpensive or free space to hold their meetings. They have no religious affiliation. There is no “secrecy” but rather anonymity. Many feel embarrassed or shameful because of the behavior regarding addiction. Anonymity offers privacy and an opportunity for confidentiality.

  2. If these meetings aren’t religious, why all the talk about God? I have a problem with that.

    The “God of your understanding” or your “Higher Power” is a concept used as an acknowledgment that there is something bigger and more powerful than you. Accepting you are not the most powerful thing in the universe is an acknowldgment that one needs help getting through addiction. Your “Higher Power” can be a spiritual belief in God, but it can also be anything that helps you stay clean and sober.

  3. Do I need these meetings if I quit drinking on my own?

    You sure do. You used drugs or alcohol to deal with all kinds of feelings- maybe you used them when you were happy, sad, angry, scared, anxious, depressed or to celebrate, to mourn, to be social, to relax, to fit in or simply because it was a sunny (or rainy) day. When you stop the addictive substance (or behavior), feelings will flood you like the Mississippi River overflowing its banks. It will overwhelm and make sobriety horrifically challenging. You need support and insight to learn new ways of dealing with the onslaught of feelings. Furthermore, if your life has become unmanageable because of your drinking, your behavior probably has not been stellar. Perhaps you lied, treated people unkindly, or were even abusive. You may have gotten in trouble with the law. You may have jeopardized or even lost your job. Your family life may be in shambles. Your health may be compromised. Now, feelings of remorse, guilt and shame may grab on as you struggle to turn your life around. Without new tools to deal with accepting accountability and responsibility, you can easily relapse.

  4. I do not have a problem with alcohol/drugs, etc. My partner/child/parent has a problem. Why do I have to go to meetings?

    If you live with or love an addict, you have to admit your behavior hasn’t been beyond reproach. You probably have screamed, argued, pleaded, nagged and begged relentlessly. You are most likely frustrated, scared, exhausted and pissed off. In short, your life has become as unmanageable as the addict’s. His/her addiction may be alcohol or drugs or gambling or porn, but your obsession with “changing/fixing” the addict has become YOUR addiction. Twelve step Programs will give you tools and support for dealing with your own behavior and feelings. Everyone can benefit from following the twelve steps. They make sense.

  5. Ok, if I really need some help, why isn’t individual therapy enough? I am not a “group person.” I don’t like “airing my dirty laundry” in public. What if I see someone there that I know?

    Right there, in the question, is the answer. “Dirty laundry” refers to something shameful that should be kept hidden. There is an expression in AA, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Ain’t that the truth! Confession really is good for the soul. Shame and isolation lead to relapse. In  a group there is camaraderie, compassion and support. Think of how much lighter and freer you feel after you share something you have kept bottled up inside forever with a trusted friend. AA provides a room full of compassionate and trustworthy souls all focused on the same goal. They GET it.

    Psychotherapy/counseling can be an important part of recovery but not a substitute for Twelve Step meetings. In fact, some alcohol and drug abuse professionals will not work with someone unless they are actively involved in a Twelve Step Program. By the way, Twelve Step meetings are free. Oh, and if you see someone you know, so what? Remember, they are there for the same reason.

  6. Why do I have to follow the rules exactly? I am not like everyone else.

    Recently, I heard Rob Lowe speak about his own 20+ years of sobriety and his participation in Twelve Step Programs. He said, “Addicts suffer from terminal uniqueness”. What that means is your sense of being special can be lethal. Relapse often occurs when someone feels they can bend the rules- even “just this one time.” Here’s an example- when you are sick and the Doctor prescribes you take medication on a certain schedule, you do it. You don’t take half the antibiotics and expect to get better. Your “uniqueness” doesn’t mean you get to mess with those instructions – not if you want to get healthy.

  7. If I decide to go to these meetings, I don’t want to go forever. When I am better, can I quit attending meetings?

    Going to meetings is a lot like working out. Even after you have reached your goals and gotten in shape, you continue to work out. If you stop working out , you will revert to your old self in a pretty short period of time. Maintenance is what it is all about. Maintenance is relapse prevention. And like working out, once you get into it, you may find you really like it. You will definitely like the results!

  8. I am too busy to spend my time going to meetings.

    Really? Consider how much time and effort went into maintaining your addiction (or your obsession with someone else’s addiction). You found the time to stay sick, now use that time to get well. I cannot guarantee that recovery will give you everything you want in your life, but without recovery, your life will be a mess, your addiction will get worse and may even kill you. Recovery makes all things possible. How can you be too busy for that?

Twelve Step Programs Resources

For more information on Twelve Step Programs:

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings :

Narcotics Anonymous meetings:

Gamblers Anonymous meetings:

Al-Anon meetings:

donnabio.jpg© 2013 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in Farmington, CT, and is the author of the award winning “From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce” now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback. To purchase Click here or visit

[Reprinted from Donna’s May 22, 2011, blog article: Twelve Step Programs – Debunking the Myths]

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Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADCAbout The Author: Guest Contributor Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC
Donna F. Ferber, is a psychotherapist in private practice for 28 years. She is a licensed professional counselor, a licensed alcohol and drug abuse counselor and an educator. Donna works with individuals and in groups. Her office is in Farmington, Connecticut.

Twelve Step Programs – Debunking the Myths

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