In 2007 actor Kevin Costner starred in a movie entitled Mr. Brooks. The movie is about a serial killer who views his obsession to kill as similar to the obsession an alcoholic has to consume alcohol. In an attempt to stop murdering people Costner’s character, Mr. Brooks, joins Alcoholics Anonymous. Unfortunately, for both Mr. Brooks and another person, he relapses. Mr. Brooks is what some psychiatrists would call a sociopath or in terms of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV he has antisocial personality disorder. When hearing the term sociopath people immediately think of a serial killer. However, many sociopaths live amongst us without ever committing murder. In fact, they are very hard to spot. The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a cognitive-behavioural program with a spiritual component. The movie, and a book I recently read, has made me wonder if a psychopath can get better through use of the 12 Steps.
In author Martha Stout’s book the sociopath next door she states that four per cent of the population is a sociopath or 25 people out of 100. Ten per cent of the population is alcoholic so one has a greater chance of being a psychopath than an alcoholic. Stout explains a psychopath is someone without a conscience. He/she may understand right and wrong in an intellectual fashion but he/she does not care if they commit a wrong act – an act that would hurt another individual and/or animal.
There are some commonalities between a sociopath and an alcoholic. The first commonality being, the sociopath’s need to control everything. As a recovered alcoholic/addict I know that a big part of my addiction was fed through the delusion that I could control everything. If everyone in the world just did what I wanted them to do than I all would be well. As the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous (AKA: The Big Book) puts it, the alcoholic wants to be the director and control the actors and lights, etc. on the stage of the world. The frustration caused by one’s lack of control is a big part of one’s need to drink. The Big Book states, “lack of power that was our dilemma”. The sociopath wants to exert control over everything around him. Another commonality between the sociopath and the alcoholic/addict is impulsiveness. The sociopath makes impulsive decision to fill his need for immediate gratification just as the alcoholic/addict does the same. The alcoholic/addict will eventually begin to break the law in an attempt to satiate his obsessive need to self-medicate. The sociopath begins to break the law to quench his need of control over others. While the alcoholic/addict feels guilt and shame over his actions the sociopath feels nothing as he has no emotions. This lack of emotion and/or conscience is why I believe the 12 Step program would not work for a sociopath.
Through working the 12 Steps I found out that part of the reason I drank and used was to push down the feelings of guilt and shame I got due to the actions I took to obtain alcohol and drugs and because of what I did while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. I would steal to get money for drugs, self-medicate, sober up and feel bad about stealing and my mind would tell me to get more drugs to rid myself of these bad feelings. This cycle of addiction continued until I was sick of living that way and faced my feelings head on. A sociopath does not feel bad when hurting another living creature and so there is nothing to face.
A 12 Step program required me to find a power greater than myself. This power could be anything I chose as long as it wasn’t myself or another human being. I balked at first at this requirement and then realized that alcohol and drugs were the catalyst to me doing things I would never thought myself capable of and therefore these manmade things had become a higher power to me With this realization it was easy for me to come to believe that there could be something greater than drugs and alcohol and therefore myself. I chose the power of positivity and people or as Dr. Carl Jung termed it the collective unconscious. A sociopath thinks she is at the top of the food chain and better than everyone and everything and therefore would not be able to find a power greater than her. Without the ability to find a power greater than oneself the sociopath lacks the ability to carry out a fundamental requirement in completing the 12 Steps. With the lack of a conscience and a high power the sociopath would not be able to carry out the amends part of the 12 Step program as well. If the sociopath did find himself making amends it would only be a gambit to fulfil a preconceived goal the sociopath has come up with.
As a result of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous I was able to recover from the disease of addiction. But I feel if a sociopath tried to seek the same recovery through the Steps she would clearly fail. Even an alcoholic sociopath would fail.