As a holistic psychotherapist, I have been humbled and honored to witness the transformative journey many individuals undergo in overcoming addiction. In fact, those clients have heard me say many times that I believe being on the road to recovery from alcohol and substances is one of the most courageous acts.
The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-Step Program has stood the test of time as a beacon of hope for many. I have seen countless clients use the program to support their recovery after years of attempting recovery on their own. Recently my attention was brought to Recovery Dharma, offering an alternative or complementary path, and I wanted to use this platform to discuss the differences between the approaches.
The Power of the 12-Step Program is renowned for its structured approach to recovery. The concept of attending 100 meetings in 100 days epitomizes the program's commitment to intensive, community-based recovery. And I have seen this approach be steadfast for many in sincere attempt for sobriety. This immersive experience fosters a strong sense of accountability, camaraderie, and shared experience among its members. It provides a consistent, supportive environment that can be incredibly stabilizing for individuals in the early stages of recovery.
The spiritual underpinnings of the 12 steps, emphasizing personal growth, making amends, and a higher power, often bring profound psychological and emotional healing. In fact, it is been rumored that even the Dalai Lama claims that the 12-steps are an extraordinary approach to healing. The steps encourage introspection, responsibility, and a deepened understanding of one’s own behaviors and their impact on others.
However, the AA model, like any approach, has its limitations. One significant criticism lies in its adherence to the disease model of addiction. Esteemed physician and addiction expert, Dr. Gabor Maté, argues that this model can inadvertently disempower individuals by labeling addiction as an incurable disease. Dr. Maté emphasizes understanding addiction in the context of trauma and emotional pain, advocating for approaches that address these underlying issues
“Addiction begins with solving a problem, and the problem is that of human pain, emotional pain,” said Maté. “The first question is not why the addiction; it's why the pain? And from my perspective, it's always rooted in childhood trauma, either overt or covert.”
The disease model also suggests a one-size-fits-all solution to addiction, potentially overlooking the unique circumstances and psychological needs of each individual. As we know in the realm of mental health and human behavior, a singular approach rarely fits all.
With that being said, my intention in examining this potential limitation of the program is not to discredit the power it has to transform lives. It is my integrative mental health philosophy and belief that hopes to encourage individuals to choose wisely the model and approach that works best for them and their authentic truth.
This is where Recovery Dharma may offer a refreshing perspective. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy, Recovery Dharma integrates meditation practices, mindfulness, and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism into the recovery process. It provides a spiritual framework that focuses on understanding the nature of suffering and the path to overcoming it, which can be particularly resonant for those seeking a more Eastern approach to healing. Recovery Dharma encourages self-inquiry and mindfulness, fostering a deeper connection with one’s inner self. It complements the 12-Step Program by providing tools for emotional regulation and personal empowerment, addressing some of the gaps in the traditional AA model.
In my practice, I advocate for a holistic approach to healing, including recovery, one that considers the diverse needs and belief systems of individuals. The AA 12-Step Program, with its community support and structured approach, can be incredibly effective, especially when combined with therapies that address underlying emotional and psychological issues. And, Recovery Dharma offers an alternative or adjunct path, aligning with those who resonate with its Eastern philosophical underpinnings.
Ultimately, the journey of recovery is deeply personal. It is about finding a path that resonates with one’s own beliefs, experiences, and needs - and sometimes that path must be unconventional. Whether through the AA 12-Step Program, Recovery Dharma, or a combination of approaches, the key is to embark on a journey of healing that feels authentic to you.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction, please know you do not have to do it alone. We are here to help. Other resources include:
My hope for this article is that it educates, illuminates, and supports your journey towards growth and healing. Subscribe to our list if you want more insights from me and/or want to learn of ways to work together.