What Besides A.A. Can Help Me to Stop Drinking?
June 6, 2004 2:59 PM   Subscribe

I've had an alcohol problem for about 5 years now (I'm 28). I tried AA for about 3 months last year and hated it. I couldn't relate to anything they told me and I have no religious beliefs. This is something that has to stop. Is there anything out there that can work? What can I do?
posted by pieoverdone to Health & Fitness (41 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: -- jessamyn

go to AA. you don't have to subscribe to any beliefs. stop picking everything apart. hell, stop listening if you have to - but you WANT to be there because those individuals are having some success at staying sober on a day by day basis, and that makes them people you can benefit from being around. it's worth being around people like that. yes, some of them talk a lot of god. some of them don't. some of them are buttcrack crazy. some of them aren't. some are liberal. some aren't. but they're doing something you apparently want to do. just go. just keep going. number one rule: TAKE what works, LEAVE the rest. you don't have to figure it all out first. one day at a time.
posted by quonsar at 3:15 PM on June 6, 2004

Go outside your circle and stay out of it forever.
posted by oh posey at 3:17 PM on June 6, 2004

stay out of it today. forever is a fucking long time. nobody can do anything forever. anybody can do something one day at a time, grasshopper.
posted by quonsar at 3:22 PM on June 6, 2004 [2 favorites]

You don't need Jeebus to quit; it just helps some people, is all. Whatever you do, find someone you know IRL and tell them about what's going on - tell them when it's working, when it isn't, when you get depressed, etc. Make it someone who'll keep tabs on you if you can. Don't feel like you have to be in a program to lick this, but do let a friend know what's going on before you strike out into that wilderness. Good luck.
posted by trondant at 3:24 PM on June 6, 2004

aren't there probably aa groups that aren't so religious? i know some people in aa and they seem to go to pretty specific groups based on who they are: gay, women's etc.
posted by rhyax at 3:34 PM on June 6, 2004

"Go outside your circle and stay out of it forever." <- Its harsh to walk away from the friends and the great stories (great to the people who drank, not so great when you aren't laughing with friends) but trust me buddy, consider this highly. Do not let your friends talk you back into it, don't let yourself think its wrong to want to stop. Is this something you can relate to? (non-snarky)
posted by Keyser Soze at 3:59 PM on June 6, 2004

There is a fair amount of alternative recovery around, if AA is not to your taste.

SMART Recovery and Women for Sobriety are abstinence-oriented and determinedly secular. Both groups have online support and face to face meetings.

Moderation Management is a harm reduction group which allows drinkers to set their own moderation goals--MM also supports abstinence goals if that's what you prefer.

(Full disclosure: I served on MM's board of directors for a while. Yes, it works. But not for everyone, and moderation is MUCH harder to maintain than pure and simple abstinence. Consider your choices carefully.)
posted by Tholian at 4:04 PM on June 6, 2004

I don't have any experience with it, but you might take a look at something like Rational Recovery.
posted by willnot at 4:05 PM on June 6, 2004

I think Rational Recovery used to have meetings but it seems they've switched to a pure self-help model now. They're very anti-AA. I'm not sure if anything they have to say would be helpful to you or not. I think their model of addiction is infinitely more sensible than AA's, but then again I think it's the social structure of AA that people tend to benefit from. Then again, most people who quit abusing alcohol do so on their own. So YMMV.

I have friends who say AA/NA has saved their lives, and other friends who never got anything out of those groups. The 12-step stuff isn't for everyone. I think their model of addiction is completely wrong, but still, whatever works for people is fine.

Personally the higher power stuff at AA would drive me insane, but then again if drinking were causing problems for me I might be inclined to see what I could get out of it (which you've already done).

[quonsar] go to AA. you don't have to subscribe to any beliefs. stop picking everything apart. hell, stop listening if you have to - but you WANT to be there because those individuals are having some success at staying sober on a day by day basis, and that makes them people you can benefit from being around

If I haven't misread the intent of this comment, this is what turns me off about AA: The group gets credit for successes, and you get credit for failure. When you say "I couldn't relate to AA at all" and the response is "go back and change your attitude"...it sounds like they're not listening to what you're saying.

On preview: Shucks. What willnot said.
posted by boredomjockey at 4:09 PM on June 6, 2004

Tholian: Wow, SMART Recovery looks like the real deal. How long have they been around?
posted by boredomjockey at 4:15 PM on June 6, 2004

I wish I had more information, but I know I read a newspaper article about a group here in Chicago years ago that was "Alcoholics Anonymous for Atheists and Agnostics." I assume there are other such groups around.
posted by dnash at 4:26 PM on June 6, 2004

Accept, in your heart of hearts, that everything you do is a CHIOICE you make. Before doing anything (taking the next drink, going home with that new girl, making that purchase), say to yourself, "I am chosing to do this." If that though disgusts you, don't do it. Do anything else, running it through the same filter.
posted by dobbs at 6:05 PM on June 6, 2004

chosing=chooosing., or course.
posted by dobbs at 6:05 PM on June 6, 2004

Jesus, I can't type. I'm sorry. Matt, delete that sorry excuse for a post. As well as this paragraph.

Accept, in your heart of hearts, that everything you do is a CHOICE you make. Before doing anything (taking the next drink, going home with that new girl, making that purchase), say to yourself, "I am choosing to do this." If that thought disgusts you, don't do it. Do anything else, running it through the same filter.
posted by dobbs at 6:09 PM on June 6, 2004

I think the most important thing is to find a group where everyone has a common goal and everyone helps the others to achieve their goal. The single most important aspect of recovery seems to be the public commitment to friends, either current or those met in AA or whatever, and the continuing request that these people help you in your quest to overcome your addiction. If you can help them in the process, even better. Seek out a group, whether it be a different AA group, or one of these other groups cited above, or even a group therapy group put together by a shrink; just find some folks with a similar issue with whom you can work together.

I know you have no religious beliefs. Nevertheless I will pray for your success. Perhaps it will help you. God bless.
posted by caddis at 6:15 PM on June 6, 2004

I just want to add one additional reason to find a group. To overcome a huge personal problem such as addiction or loss of a loved one, etc. you need to get a little selfish, in terms of focusing most of your energy on yourself. Focusing some of this very same energy on helping others with the very same problem takes some of the pressure off of yourself and focuses your mind on the problem instead of yourself.
posted by caddis at 6:21 PM on June 6, 2004

Accept, in your heart of hearts, that everything you do is a CHIOICE you make. Before doing anything...say to yourself, "I am chosing to do this." If that though disgusts you, don't do it.

This is easy to say from our armchairs, but I think it's too pat. We don't know anything about pieoverdone's situation, but lots of people I've known who have battled addictions have known that they were making a choice, and they were disappointed in themselves for making that choice, but not making that choice also seemed unbearable to them for a variety of reasons (depression, boredom, anxiety, loneliness, etc.).

If it were that easy, would anyone have a drinking problem?
posted by boredomjockey at 6:34 PM on June 6, 2004

Shouldn't post when your drunk, Dobbs. :-)

There are Internet groups, chats, boards, etc that you can also use as part -- I really think it would only be part -- of your support system.

Best of hope for your recovery! It's a great, great thing when someone beats an addiction.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2004


Sigh. Karma bites back.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on June 6, 2004

quonsar speaks the truth.

pause for a moment of puzzling over this conundrum - ;)

And I emphasize the importance of genuinely seeking to learn from the AA peeps - I never bonded with that way of doing things but I sure have a better understanding of how I relate to the drinky-winky and that helped me a whole bunch.

Go with your mind open, and don't worry about the cringing, angry feeling you get when you hear the higher power stuff. Try to listen through it, to conceptualize the ideas they are presenting in religious language as non-religious... and you may be surprised.
posted by mwhybark at 7:02 PM on June 6, 2004

Oh, one one other thing:

"This has got to stop" is a great first step. Acknowledging you have an issue and strongly desiring a change in your own behavior is a promising way to begin. You CAN do it.
posted by mwhybark at 7:05 PM on June 6, 2004

Ok, so I went to an AA meeting tonight. Basically what I was told was that drinking is a character flaw and it's exploited by not being completely honest with yourself. It was clearly stated that it is not a chronic medical disease, and the only way to be honest with yourself is through God. Everyone in the room was a Christian. In essence, you pray away your desire to drink.

There's also a step about making a complete inventory of everything that is wrong with you and you have to do it with a sponsor. One of the sponsors there said that if it isn't 100% painfully honest, you're wasting his time. Also, no one is ever supposed to tell you to 'take your time' trying to fix this. This means you have a lazy sponsor and you will fail.

People, this was all within an hour.

It was all very evangelical. It's the same thing that turned me off on it last year.

posted by pieoverdone at 7:06 PM on June 6, 2004

Try a few different AA groups. They're not all the same.
posted by kindall at 7:17 PM on June 6, 2004

It's the same thing that turned me off on it last year.

You might find it valuable to open your mind and accept what they say, at least for a few weeks or months. What have you got to lose? With a drinking problem, you have to at least acknowledge that right now you do not have all of the answers yourself. These are people who were where you are now and have overcome their monkeys. I would give them a little bit of the doubt and see where it takes you. I think your skepticism is as much a resistance to giving up alcohol as a resistance to their methods. Even if not, if they get you started on the road to recovery with a funky system with which you don't entirely agree, is that all bad? You have the desire to make a change, don't lose that momentum. Go with AA, find another group, or find a commercial drying out clinic. Whatever, go with your present desire to change and do not let that pass.
posted by caddis at 7:43 PM on June 6, 2004

do people take Antabuse anymore?
posted by websavvy at 7:44 PM on June 6, 2004

Read "infinite jest". Has more AA-type horror stories than I care to remember.
posted by signal at 7:50 PM on June 6, 2004

In essence, you pray away your desire to drink.

Depending on where you are, you can probably find many AA groups that will just barely touch on the religion angle, it's very dependent on who is there and what they feel is helpful to their process. In a general sense, the higher power thing is more about finding a metaphor to deal with something that is so powerful you can't deal with it [your addiction] and sort of fighting it with another large powerful thing you can't deal with [the good lord jeebus]. I used to say that the ocean was my higher power and thought about the inexorable tides pushing me away from drinking. Hippie-dippie, I know, but it allowed me to work with some of the AA rhetoric without buying it hook line and sinker. On the other hand, if it's not for you sometimes, depending on your level of problem, a good friend, a change of scenery or a new fascination with a less problematic vice can work wonders. AA is great for structure and for everyday reinforcement [lunchtime meetings can be a bit less touchy feely/Christian than evening meetings] but again, not for everyone. Focussing on your need to get this dealt with [i.e. this HAS to stop] and finding the way to make that happen is hard as hell but worth the punch in the gut that it often feels like.

Also, you mention medical disease... you might want to talk it over with a doctor and see what sort of advice he/she gives you. It's a good step towards being out in the open about your drinking, and a good doc might have good advice.
posted by jessamyn at 7:50 PM on June 6, 2004

You might explore the The Stanton Peele Addiction Website.

Peele wrote, among many books, The Diseasing Of America - How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are Out of Control
Here is Chapter 2. Alcoholism In America

And here is Chapter 3. Who Says What the Truths about Alcoholism Are?
From Ask Stanton: 12-Step Questions
posted by y2karl at 8:38 PM on June 6, 2004

People, this was all within an hour.

you got a lot of hours to work with. if this wasn't the right group (hell, i'd have run screaming) maybe the next one will be. note the irony of looking for an easy fix to be trundled in before you, like room service in a hotel. see if you can laugh at that expectation and if you can get an insight into your problem by examining that tendancy :-)

this is what turns me off about AA: The group gets credit for successes, and you get credit for failure

in reality, there is no AA. only people. i have never heard of a group getting "credit" for a "success". the very concepts of "credit" and "success" are foreign to anything that goes on in AA. i must respectfully say you don't know what you are talking about.

all that aside, pieoverdone - do what works. check out some of those alternative programs too!
posted by quonsar at 8:44 PM on June 6, 2004

I second kindal's suggestion to find another group. I have a close friend in AA (and Al-anon actually) and she has said that it took her quite a while to find the group that she was comfortable with.

Also, she's an agnostic, from what she says, you don't need to look at the "higher power" that AA espouses as the Christian God, it can really just be the "god" inside yourself.

If all of the people at the group you were attended was "evangelical" that's definitely the wrong group for you. Keep looking and also try to get a sponsor that you can relate to and that you feel you can respect.
posted by freshgroundpepper at 9:02 PM on June 6, 2004

There are other alternatives to AA.

However, AA is, and has been in many cases the last house on the street for those without hope. People don't end up in AA because they want to, or because they are looking for a warm, personalized experience. They go because they don't know where else to turn, and have run out of options.

What they find there is a group of people who have overcome a life of drinking and addiction, and who now live meaningful lives free of the compulsion to drink.

Pieoverdone, while you may not immediately be attracted to the 12 step format, look at the quality of the lives of those who were willing to take a few suggestions. You might also be surprised to find out that, like yourself, they did not immediately cling to the format in the beginning either. Ultimately, of course, the choice is yours. While there are plenty of other choices out there, AA simply works.
posted by jazzkat11 at 9:03 PM on June 6, 2004

See a real doctor. Anything from drugs to cognitive behavioral therapy can be effective. AA isn't the only choice.
posted by skallas at 10:06 PM on June 6, 2004

in reality, there is no AA. only people.

Well, of course there's an AA, though, because two guys wrote a book back in 1935 that people still read, and they invented these 12 steps that people still make use of, etc. Surely all of that hasn't been discarded since the last time I learned anything about AA. When I see an ad in the paper for an AA meeting, that does mean something, doesn't it?

You could also say "there is no Christianity, only people" but you'd be missing something important (namely the common framework that these people use to some greater or lesser degree to make sense of things).

i have never heard of a group getting "credit" for a "success". the very concepts of "credit" and "success" are foreign to anything that goes on in AA. i must respectfully say you don't know what you are talking about.

What I see here is someone saying that AA hadn't worked for them, and some other people (along with lots of other varied, balanced and helpful advice) saying that AA works when people want to stop drinking ("AA simply works" sounds like credit for success to me) and saying that she needs to revisit the group with a different mindset (which locates the cause of her disappointment in her mindset rather than in some weakness of AA). So I stand by my statement, though it is possible that I don't know what I'm talking about, as you respectfully suggest; I've only been to AA meetings as a visitor, never as a participant.

(In the interest of maintaining a good signal-to-noise ratio in this thread I'll let you have the final word on this.)
posted by boredomjockey at 10:58 PM on June 6, 2004

In essence, you pray away your desire to drink.

jessamyn highlighted this, rightly so. your restatement of what they are saying fails to reconceptualize this idea sans jeebus, or buddha, or the ocean, or whatever.

You are one of the creative and aggressive people that got on board here at the same time I did. You can imagine reasons that religious practice has continued to exist in the world since the beginning of culture without requiring a literal separate being. Consider why this might be.

and don't forget, pie: it's possible to get to where you need to go. it looks to me like there are some folks here willing to lend a hand. AskMe is, well, you know.

More practically: please let us know about other groups in your area. While I am far from able to comparatively evaluate non-AA vs. AA, user adoption provides diversity in life as in computage, and so I hope you'll be able to find the local MeFAA chapter in short notice.
posted by mwhybark at 11:42 PM on June 6, 2004

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, has a good Alcoholism FAQ and links to a federally-run substance abuse treatment referral program. Here are the results for zip 63109, including what kinds of programs are available at different facilities and what types of payment (and insurance) are involved.

For a long time, especially when alcoholism was socially viewed largely as a character flaw, AA was the only game in town (other, perhaps, than spontaneous evangelical conversion a la one Geo. W. Bush). Today, treatment options are more varied than ever, and one can certainly find alternatives to the AA approach. The most important thing about any treatment is that it works for you, and knowing that you simply can't click with a group because of its basic mindset is good enough for me. (I would never treat my periodic bouts with depression by going through psychotherapy, no matter how popular it may have been in Woody Allen's New York.) If a secular, medical approach is the way you currently think about your problem, a treatment that adheres to similar principles would probably be more successful with you.

Good luck.
posted by dhartung at 12:13 AM on June 7, 2004

saying that she needs to revisit the group with a different mindset

while i object to the use of "the group" (there is no "the group", every group is different, tied loosely but not bound in the legalistic sense, by the principles in several books. everyone has been telling her to find a group she likes, she has expended virtually zero effort on that task as of yet!)

i would point out that changing one's life IS ALL ABOUT ALTERING ONE'S MINDSET. and little else. it is rather inescapable. :-)
posted by quonsar at 6:43 AM on June 7, 2004

If you work for a medium to large sized company, your health insurance may include a rehab program. It doesn't necessarily have to be in-patient. And those types of programs sometimes aren't so Christian based. It may also be helpful to discreetly let HR in on your situation, if it is affecting your work.

I once had a friend who was tipped off that he was to be fired the next day. His work performance was sorely lacking because of alcohol and drug use. I don't know if his manager knew the reason why my friend wasn't doing a good job, but in any case my friend was to be fired. First thing in the morning, before reporting to his station, he went to see the HR dept, told them he was having this problem. They put him in out-patient rehab right away, informed his manager, and effectively stopped his firing.

If going that route isn't an option for you, I second, third, fourth, whatever looking at different AA meetings. Every group has a different tone, a different personality. You have the right to speak up in a meeting and say "I am so uncomfortable about being here. I don't like all of this higher power, religious talk, but I feel the need to stop drinking. Does anyone know of a meeting that is less Christian-focused? Please let me know after the meeting." No one should fault you for being honest. And if they do, you will know that you are definitely in the wrong meeting for you.

A lot of people feel the same way you do about the higher power. For instance, I once heard a man speak who had been in program for five years. He said that for the first couple of years he was so not able to relate to a higher power, but his will to go through program was so strong, that he decided to make the doorknob on his closet door his higher power. And when things got bad and he needed to talk, he sat on his bed and talked to his doorknob. Hey, it worked for him.

Finally, I suggest keeping a journal (no, not a blog!). Write in it when you feel the urge to drink. Write in it when you are angry, upset, when you are confused because you don't know what you are feeling. After a while, you will begin to notice a pattern to what triggers you to want to drink, and that knowledge can be very helpful to you in solving this problem.

Good for you for choosing to stop drinking. You may have to do it one day, one hour, one minute at a time, but you can do it.
posted by vignettist at 10:09 AM on June 7, 2004

Differing approaches to alcoholism relate to conflict about the extent of control one can have over one's life. Rational Recovery and the other non-12 step approaches take the stance that people who are alcoholics can make choices and control the amount that they drink. Lots of people, including psychology's professional organization the APA, believe that people can take control and moderate their drinking, or at least moderate the harm that comes out of their drinking. (FWIW I'm a psychologist and I don't find this perspective helpful for most of my patients who drink).

In my experience, some people can and some cannot exercise control. For those who cannot, the downward spiral of alcohol is a painful struggle about willpower vs surrender. It is when people actually have the experience that they cannot control their drinking that they "hit bottom" in AA parlance.

I think support is *really* important in changing one's life, especially since most people who are alcoholics have social networks that support their drinking, and discourage one's attempts to stop.

AA can be a terrific support, IF you can relate to the people in the group you're attending. If you can't, then that particular group probably won't be helpful to you at those moments when you need to reach out, like making a call instead of taking a drink.

Try other sources of support if AA doesn't work, including the groups named above, therapists who know something about addiction, etc.
posted by jasper411 at 10:33 AM on June 7, 2004

Give yourself a goal of stopping for a month only at first. Something you know you should be able to do. Don't beat yourself up if you slip. If you slip, consider that a slip, not an end to your stopping altogether. Having a buddy, someone that you talk about his stuff with regularly and publicly will help alot. Also, keep a diary during this time. Write down how you feel each day when not drinking.
posted by xammerboy at 3:42 PM on June 7, 2004

Stop hanging out at a bar that founded Alcoholics Unanimous...;)
posted by notsnot at 3:53 PM on June 7, 2004

Hi Chris, I haven't been there in about a month. I'll go back eventually and have Mr. Paul give me Diet Coke all evening.
posted by pieoverdone at 10:35 AM on June 9, 2004

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