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[ Opinion ] [ Science and Tech ]

Online Recovery Groups: Why They Might Work Better Than AA, an Insider Look!

Seventy-seven years have passed since The Big Book was published. Since then, human beings have been to the moon, cloned animals, and entered a new millennium but have yet to discover better options for treating addiction. Sure, AA has proven to be the solution for some addiction sufferers. But for those whom the 12-Steps are not the answer, they won’t wait for the experts to find a cure any longer. They’ve taken it into their own hands and are quitting on their own terms using the support of forums like r/StopDrinking.

Hosted by Reddit, a virtual bulletin board with an enormous dedicated community of users, r/StopDrinking has reached over 30K subscribers, all of whom fight addiction everyday on their own terms.

The rules of the group are simple: be kind, post only while sober, don’t promote, don’t attempt to contact privately, and don’t critique other members’ comments. Most importantly, no advice-giving is allowed. Users must “Speak from the I.” r/StopDrinking’s moderator says, “Speaking from the I is therapy talk for speaking from your experience. The theory is: I have no idea who you are, what your circumstances are. You are the expert on your life. The most helpful thing I can do with this limited knowledge of you is to share what worked for me.” Telling a person to go to rehab or an AA meeting is forbidden.

r/StopDrinking is an organic self-regulated community that doesn’t preach spirituality, nor does it forbid it. By interacting from the ‘I’ experience, all discussion is kept open and neutral. Participants can take what information they find useful and ignore whatever doesn’t resonate with their values. This comes in stark contrast to conventional rehab programs or AA where a strict plan is often enforced.

Is 12-Step The Only Way?

Proven effective treatment for addiction is still beyond the grasp of doctors, therapists, and 12-Step programs. Treatment success rates are often inaccurate, and even at their best, dismal. This doesn’t discourage government courts, prisons, and institutions to, by default, send those convicted of DUI and narcotics possession to 12-step based programs. However, this protocol is at odds with the government’s own National Institute of Health and National Institute of Drug Abuse, which still considers addiction a common physiological disease along with other chronic diseases like cancer. As ridiculous as it sounds, NIH matter-of-factly states that relapse is likely and “relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.”

But if addiction were a disease that could be treated with practical researched-based methods, then why does the standard method of treatment require a spiritual surrender and awakening?

Besides the “god issue,” AA has also come under scrutiny in recent years for a philosophy that encourages guilt, shame, and hopelessness by blaming the addict if he or she does not achieve sustained sobriety through the program. The Big Book says, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path…” This statement reflects the two opposing faces of AA’s convictions. By saying that most people will be cured by following the method, to some it also suggests that those rare people who do fail are beyond redemption.

In his book The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Dr. Lance Dodes says that, “Twelve steps sounds like science; it feels like rigor; it has the syntax of a roadmap. Yet when we examine these twelve steps more closely, we find dubious ideas and even some potentially harmful myths.” He also talks of America’s admiration for “Cadillac” rehabs, and how the effects of retreating to an expensive, tranquil clinic are temporary. And most rehabs do little to analyze or improve their methods.

Residential treatment facilities have similar success rates to 12-Step programs, though most of them use a similar group talk strategy. Relapse after residential treatment is common, if not likely, and be more discouraging since addicts go into rehab with the belief that they’ll be fixed. After all the money, time, and effort spent recuperating, someone battling addiction can feel doubly hopeless if they relapse. What’s more, even the most exclusive treatment centers have repeat patients leaving and returning through their ever-revolving doors.

How do we know forums like “Stop Drinking” are working?

Judging by the success stories posted in online addiction communities on the pornography, drug, and alcohol subreddits, many participants are racking up abstinence days on a regular basis. Whether or not the rates of abstinence in forums are any better than 12-Steps or traditional rehab is not yet known. However, just like many have benefitted from AA and the 12-Steps, it is definitely working for the users on these boards. We are even starting to see it here at TheRealEdition, weekly blogs that a few users post about their journey in (and sometimes out) of recovery. But in just a few months, we’ve received an extraordinary amount of success stories that have been emailed to us, thanking us for the platform.

Those who were afraid to reach out for help or were unsuccessful with traditional treatments are abstaining and giving hope to the addiction sufferers who are still struggling alone. Dozens of posts on Reddit reveal a visitors spontaneous decision to quit. New member, Adolf_Hipster2 said, “I was browsing the thread over on r/askreddit about when people realized they were an alcoholic. Too many of the stories have hit home… I’m ready to do this, and am actually sober tonight for the first time in years…and I’m nervous as hell.”

Why is it working?

Omar Pinto of The SHAIR podcast, hosts a private accountability group on Facebook. SHAIR stands for Sharing Helps Addicts in Recovery. The Facebook group is much like Reddit’s /rStopDrinking, where personal experiences, victories, failures, and sobriety check-ins are keeping people sober and giving active addicts hope for recovery.

TheRealEdition.com also helps addicts in the same way, giving them a place to post their addiction experiences in long form. “We our providing a platform that is inherently democratic,” says creator Matt Mendoza. There are no rules, no steps, just the open discussion and the camaraderie that gives addicts the support and confidence to attempt sobriety or maintain their ongoing recovery. Addicts and their families across the world know that they are not alone in their struggle and that there just isn’t one way out, but many.

Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream, says in his interview with The Real Edition that the opposite of addiction is human connection, and “when you see people rediscover community, you see people that have been hungering for it all along.” Despite the differences, when taking an overview of AA, rehab, and online addiction communities it’s clear that regardless of the method, the philosophy, or the scientific evidence, connection and community are key. If those suffering from addiction don’t fit among AA groups or rehabs, they can now find their own tribe online. If they can’t find likeminded people, they can establish their own group. At the root of it is simply addiction sufferers helping other addicts. Like r/StopDrinking’s pledge states, “We may be anonymous strangers on the internet, but we have one thing in common. We may be a world apart, but we’re here together!”