The AA member, medications and other drugs
AA conference approved literature.
On the main AA website in the USA, you will find a section entitled “Literature listing.” Every AA Conference-approved piece of literature is there. These include PDF copies of all the AA pamphlets. Members can find them on literature tables at meetings across the world. What is a pleasant surprise is that they are free of charge to download. These pamphlets are for the personal use of anyone who needs to access the information they contain.
A pamphlet that I have come to appreciate is The AA member, medications and other drugs. It’s a fascinating and informative read on using prescribed medication for fellowship members. You are likely to find varied opinions on this issue. Not all of them are positive, especially in cult-like splinter groups, which thankfully, are in the minority. These groups favor a fundamentalist approach to recovery. The information contained in this pamphlet will be helpful. This essential AA publication may help to alleviate confusion, guilt, and even shame for some members that they are on medication. Frequently, they are reluctant to disclose that they are on medication at meetings.
Problems other than alcohol
After a traumatic childhood in foster care, I drank to avoid dealing with unresolved issues. Until I arrived at AA meetings, alcohol was the glue that held me together. Unquestionably, alcohol devastated my life. No recovery could even begin until I put it down. With the help of meetings, I was able to stop drinking. Early recovery was so difficult that I went to see a psychiatrist. On top of my alcoholism, I was also diagnosed with:
Early recovery was such a roller coaster of overwhelming emotions that it was impossible to stay sober without the help of prescribed medication. This treatment helped me to make real progress. It gave me a quality of life that I didn’t have. I was suddenly better equipped to deal with life on life’s terms. The medication enabled me to become employable. I found a profession that I enjoyed and remained in for 30 years.
Bill W’s poor mental health
At a certain point in recovery, I discovered that Bill Wilson also suffered from poor mental health.
“During the first four years of my recovery, I found it necessary to seek professional help since my emotional health was extremely poor.”
(As Bill sees it – Page 285)
“The next frontier – emotional sobriety” published in the AA Grapevine magazine, is an interesting article about Bill’s struggle with depression and his eventual release from it. Bill writes about his long struggle with poor mental health. With the help of the program, he overcame this very dark period in his sobriety.
First attempt to work the steps with a sponsor
I was so determined to get well that I joined a fundamentalist group. I thought that a hardcore approach might help a serial relapser like me to stay sober. These people are sometimes referred to in the fellowship as ‘Big Book thumpers.’ They believe that all the answers are in the Big Book. I quickly found out that they were very anti-medication. They hold the view that an alcoholic can not hand their “will and life over to the care of God” (Step three) and medication at the same time.
For a while, I managed to keep this information a secret. When it came out that I was on prescribed medication, my sponsor let me go. I was also judged and ostracized by some of the other members. After that, I decided to leave these groups. Initially, it wasn’t easy to assimilate back into regular meetings. I had to go through a process of deprogramming. It was not unlike walking away from a cult. It took a while to cleanse my mind of the extreme beliefs and practices that are typical of extremism in the fellowship.
It’s important to say that, on the whole, mainstream AA has no opinions regarding the use of medication. Most members are supportive. They believe that if someone is on medication, they should comply with the treatment recommended by their doctor.
The fundamentalist view regarding medication
I have always struggled to understand the fundamentalist position on this issue. Surely, no AA member is qualified to comment. Taking medication for poor mental health is no one’s business in the fellowship. It is strictly between the AA member and their doctor or psychiatrist.
“No A.A. member should “play doctor”; all medical advice and treatment should come from a qualified physician.”
Here are some of the things that I was told when I was involved with the fundamentalist groups:
‘I was eating my alcohol in the pills I was taking for depression and anxiety.’
‘The 12 steps wouldn’t work for me as long as I was taking medication.’
‘As long as I was using the mood-stabilizing medication as my higher power, I had not surrendered.’
‘I was still “running the show” (BB pages 87/88) of my life by relying on a doctor instead of a sponsor.
The list goes on.
You may find this YouTube video interesting.
A message to newcomers on medication
The bottom line is that no member can tell anyone in the fellowship that they need to come off their medication. Sponsors are not doctors and, therefore, not qualified to give this type of advice. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I am writing this blog for the protection and safety of newcomers.
These days, alcoholics are coming into recovery with coexisting mental health issues. They have to be on medication. It is simply not in the job description of any sponsor to tell a new member to stop taking mood-stabilizing medication.
“We recognize that alcoholics are not immune to other diseases. Some of us have had to cope with depression that can be suicidal; schizophrenia that sometimes requires hospitalization; bipolar disorder, and other mental and biological illnesses.”
Copyright – www.aa.org. “The AA member, medications, and other drugs.”
Exceptions to the rule
The pamphlet states that there are exceptions to the rule. Sober alcoholics can easily become dependent on other drugs. Powerful opiate-based painkillers or benzodiazepines are a case in point. These substances are mood-altering and highly addictive. They can easily become a substitute for alcohol.
AA experience has shown “that many alcoholics have a tendency to become dependent on drugs other than alcohol. There have been tragic incidents of alcoholics who have struggled to achieve sobriety only to develop a serious problem with a different drug.”
Copyright – www.aa.org. “The AA member, medications, and other drugs.”
The power of the 12 steps
Although I had to be on medication for many years in recovery, when I was ready, I went through the program. I found agnostic-friendly sponsors and was taken through the steps. A miracle began to occur when I got to step eight. I will always be grateful to friends and sponsors who were supportive of my dual diagnosis. As a result of working through the first nine steps, I was able to let go of my medication.
I have now been medication-free for many years. The crippling anxiety and depression have left me. I can’t remember the last time I had a panic attack. My life is full, and on the whole, I am happy and at peace. Of course, I still have the occasional bad day, but who doesn’t?
I frequently share in meetings about how mentally unwell I was when I first got sober. Disclosing this information is my way of carrying the message to the alcoholic who may be suffering from coexisting mental health problems. If a newcomer ever approaches me and asks for advice about taking medication in recovery, this is what I tell them:
“Medication enabled me to get well enough to work through the steps, and the steps, gradually, helped me to come off medication.”