It’s common in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) for some members to object to others mentioning their problems with drug addiction. Quite often in meetings the ‘blue card statement’ is read out, asking members to keep their shares focused upon their problems relating to alcohol, in accordance with tradition’s three, five and ten.
Tradition five states that: “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers”. It’s the group equivalent of the individual alcoholic’s Step 12. The ‘message’ is recovery from alcoholism through the practise of the Twelve Steps. However, each member’s experience of alcoholism and recovery through the Twelve Steps is personal to them, and they should be free to communicate this to others. It’s their message of recovery, and drug addiction maybe part of their experience/story as an alcoholic.
Newcomers and other group members often identify with drug misuse or addiction as part of, or a consequence of, their alcoholism. It’s very common in the 21st Century for people with alcohol problems to also have co-occurring addictions to other drugs, and AA members sharing their experiences fully may often be providing valuable help to others in the group.
Nowhere in the Twelve Steps or Twelve Traditions does it state that drug misuse should not be mentioned in meetings, whilst members are sharing their experience, strength and hope with each other. In fact, tradition one clearly states that AA members are free to:
“think, talk and act as they wish. No AA can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled. Our Twelve Steps to recovery are suggestions; the Twelve Traditions which guarantee A.A.’s unity contain not a single “Don’t.” They repeatedly say “We ought…” but never “You must!”
Any surrender of personal behavior, wishes, attitudes, opinions or language by an individual in order to promote group unity, is purely a voluntary decision. The literature suggests that group members practice tolerance, acceptance, kindness and love, and therefore members ought to refrain from being critical and judgemental towards others in the Fellowship. Censorship of speech is not a principle of AA.
Tradition three states that: “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking”. Bill Wilson is often quoted as saying that “you are a member of AA if you say you are”. This tradition came about due to the experiences of the early AA groups trying to impose a multitude of qualifying rules and regulations upon their members – born of fear and prejudice.
Tradition three is an attempt to be fully inclusive to all who suffer from alcoholism, regardless of differences and the various other difficulties that alcoholics struggle with; such as co-occurring disorders and other addictions. It’s unrealistic to expect AA members not to mention their various other life problems; particularly when sharing in the context of “applying these principles in all our affairs”, as suggested in Step 12.
Drug addiction is also detailed in the literature of AA. In the book Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book), drug use is mentioned as part of the alcoholic’s experience or illness. Examples are in the chapter ‘Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict’, written by member Paul O, and also in chapter two, ‘There is a Solution’, p.22, in relation to the description of the so called ‘real alcoholic’. Bill W describes at length the alcoholic’s tendency to misuse other drugs in his 1945 Grapevine article entitled ‘Those Goof Balls’, p.103 – 105, ‘The Language Of The Heart’.
Wilson clarifies his position on drug addicts, who also have a problem with alcohol, as being welcome in the AA fellowship in his Grapevine article entitled, ‘Problems Other Than Alcohol’, p.222 – 225, ‘The Language Of The Heart’. He also suggests that addicts who don’t have problems with alcohol cannot qualify for AA membership, and would be better served by other groups (NA etc). This judgement is in line with traditions three and five.
In consideration of the common experience of overlapping alcohol and drug misuse within the Fellowship of AA, I would suggest that it is unreasonable to try and censor members from talking about drug useas part oftheir experience as an alcoholic (clearly not an outside issue). However, members who primarily identify themselves as drug addicts, but also accept they have problems with alcohol, should be respectful of AA’s primary focus upon alcoholism and avoid excessive talk of other drug misuse and its accompanying language.
In relation to our differences we need to practice being open minded, tolerant and understanding; in particular with newer members and those attending meetings from treatment settings, who do not understand AA’s traditions and practices fully yet.
The term balance is often mentioned in the Fellowship of AA, and my viewpoint is that this healthy principle should be applied to this emotive (for some people) issue. Being rigid and attempting to censor in relation to mentioning drug problems by members of AA, who also struggle with alcohol, is extreme and unhelpful to many. Unfortunately this dogmatic attitude is adopted by some literalists in AA, and for me is against the inclusive principle of tradition three, and a rather strict and misguided interpretation of tradition’s five and ten.
I feel that a middle path is best, which allows members to be true to themselves and their history, but is mindful in regard to AA’s primary focus upon the illness of alcoholism – addiction to the drug, alcohol. In reality alcoholism is a complex condition and involves strong relationships with other human difficulties that are valid to talk about in AA meetings.
Society is always evolving and in order to stay relevant so must the AA fellowship. Language and ‘traditions’ that were appropriate in the 1930’s and 40’s are not always so fitting in 2016.
In today’s society attitudes are changing with the help of developments in the scientific understanding of addiction; with alcoholism and drug addiction being viewed in the same way, brought about by the same causes and conditions. Modern treatment agencies are increasingly merging their alcohol and drug services; and in terms of the various Twelve Step groups, AA, CA, NA, etc, the solution is the same – application of the Twelve Steps.