Can you help me escape from the 12-step NA world, in which I grew up?

Readers Question Readers Question: (Name changed for privacy)
Stanton Peele Response by: Dr. Stanton Peele
Posted on March 3rd, 2009 - Last updated: September 29th, 2023
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Break Free from the 12 Step WorldStanton,

Thank you for your web site!

I am a 22 year old who has been abstinent from drugs and alcohol for the past 5 years.

I have been drug and alcohol free much longer than I used drugs.

I feel lost in life; I have grown up with the 12 steps drilled into me, but I recently have been seeing holes in the lifestyle I am expected to live.

I have only had friends in this 12 step program since I was 17.

My boyfriend, however, is normal. We have no alcohol in the house, and we live with 2 other 12 steppers.

To make a long story short, I don’t believe in the “santa claus” of Narcotics Anonymous anymore.

NA worked at first to keep me from self-destructing, but I am dissatisfied with how my life is spent now. There is no goal for me in NA. I really don’t know if there is anything left for me to learn.

I have found myself happy in the company of friends who occasionally drink (and sometimes drink too much) with no compulsions to drink. Being in their company is a big “no-no” and a sign of relapse, people warn me.

I fear I have been socialized to only fit in with ex-drug addicts and ex-alcoholics.

The program preaches that addicts have always felt “different than.” Now, more than ever, in the presence of those who live their lives as they please, without the intervention of the 12 steps, I feel “different than.”

NA has no peer group for me.

There are no young people my age in it.

I have been stuck with many judgmental people who are my parents’ ages or older for 5 years.

All of the dogma and myths perpetuated in NA say that having friends who use drugs or drink will make you go get really high and lose everything.

They say that I will never fit in anywhere but NA. (Which, I have learned, is VERY untrue.) NA members constantly reinforce at meetings “I am first, and foremost, an addict” and “I will never be normal.” (!!!)

I honestly can say I don’t know what will happen when I leave NA. I would like to find others with experience being young and getting clean, and then returning to a “normal” life.

I am scared that I have been overly socialized, and will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I would like to know what a glass of wine, alone, tastes like, too. (Being 17 and drinking means you drink whatever is there, so I have never had a proper mixed drink or a single glass of decent wine.)

Do you have anyone or any resources you can point me to??? I want to know that there is life after NA.


Dear Belinda:

There is nothing so scary to me as people, like you, who are “captured” by the 12 steps before you can barely think. If there is anything cult-like about AA, this is its best example.

You describe what this experience is like perfectly from the inside.

You are surrounded by 12-step individuals (although, in your case, you aren’t dating one, you are still living with two other 12-steppers).

You are indoctrinated with the idea that you can’t associate with other people, aside from 12-steppers, without endangering not only your sobriety, but your life!

And, as you indicate, there are no guarantees when you leave this environment — life is uncertain, and you have hardly been exposed to it.

But you must follow your inclination to escape this worldyou have strengths you don’t know about, you must get beyond this artificial destructive environment you’re in, and you must understand for yourself what your abilities and limitations are.

But it sounds like, on your own, you have already broken out of this closed circle — you are seeing other people, and I hope they have something to offer other than occasional drug and alcohol use.

One obvious avenue it seems for you is to further your schooling, if you have not yet done so.


Do you feel trapped by the AA or NA?

The 12 steps teaches us that addiction is a chronic disease that cannot be cured. The Life Process Program was developed as an alternative to AA and other 12 step addiction recovery programs, and one that puts YOU in control of your recovery.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.


  • Luke T says:

    This is pretty sad for me to read. I know everyone doesn’t recover the same but NA has been the only thing that’s kept me clean when nothing else would work. I’m the youngest but I’ve found through some fishing there are some really amazing people with big lives outside of the program and similar interests. I want to learn how to live like them and simply learn how to live. I also want to be here to help those my age when they come to a meeting. As for not having friends outside of the program, that’s a good idea at first, but as someone told me “Luke, not everyone is an addict.” There defiantly are predators who come in the rooms and that’s why men stay with the men and women with the women. It sounds like not every area is as awesome as mine, but this thing works. It isn’t about just quitting, it’s about continuously working the steps to become a better and better version of yourself. I’ve seen so many times people feel they don’t need to work a program and they relapse. Many don’t come back. This program also has saved my moms life.

  • sharron cocker says:

    if you read my first post here forget it..LDS recovery is safer and the people are nicer but it didn’t turn out ok for me there either if I had kept going I would have ended up a pious sanctimonious preaching snob, seems to me that’s what happens in 12 step fellowships people get new personalities to get changed , but what do we get changed into,i just don’t like what i see in steppers,I’m still abstinent .but no longer looking for support groups

  • Victoria says:

    I can relate to this post!

    I was 25 when I stepped into the rooms of AA. I immediately felt out of place as I was the youngest one in the room and I think the next closest age was like 45. As I was attending and trying to stay sober, I felt like I was being brainwashed. Then, one night, I was getting ready to head home after a meeting, this man that was a member asked if I needed to talk. I did need someone to talk to. Little did I know that his intentions were not what I needed. We were in his vehicle and I was confiding in him that I really hated being single. Next thing I know we are driving down a country road and I was taken advantage of.

    About 90 days sober, after this incident, I was “thirteenth stepped” by another male member. I reached out to other women in the program to ask for advice and was encouraged to pursue this relationship with this thirteenth stepper. I did not even know what thirteenth stepping was at the time.

    I spent two and a half years in that relationship. I suffered physical and mental abuse from that man. I also have mental illness and my symptoms sky-rocketed through all of this.

    During this relationship, I came out, to very few female members and the guy I was dating at the time about the guy who had taken advantage of me. Of course, it became public knowledge before I even had a chance to process what had happened with my therapist or decide what I was going to do about it. I then went to Doves and with very little help, filed a protection order.

    After being served, the man immediately hired an attorney and I had a court date. I could not return to my meeting home group at this time as I received a letter from this man’s lawyer stating that myself and the man I was dating at that time were no longer allowed to set foot on my meeting home groups property as his name was on the lease. If we did set foot on the property, cops would be called and we both would be issued a ticket for trespassing. In the letter, it said that my behavior was out of line and that was the reason I could no longer set foot on my home group. I have not been there since receiving that letter.

    The court date came and I asked for the protection order to be dropped. My mental health was really bad and I knew that rehashing what had happened would send me over the edge. On top of all of this, I was STILL trying to stay sober.

    A few months passed and the relationship with the guy I was dating kept spiraling out of control, especially after the court date. We were on and off and he was going back and forth between using and sobriety.

    I tried to go to a different group at this time, but everyone at this group knew what had happened. I felt so alone and judged.

    Because of my relationship with the guy in and out of sobriety, I decided to go to Alanon. A woman whom I talked to in Alanon suggested that I reach out to the man whom had taken advantage of me and make amends to him, so that I could go to Alanon meetings there. I listened to her and did try to make amends to the man that took advantage of me. I would do anything to stay sober, right? Even if it went against my very core of my being, right? We are supposed to do what is suggested to us, right?

    Now, I can no longer attend either of the two groups in the very small town that I currently reside. The man whom took advantage of me attends both of those groups and I do not feel safe around him. Also, the man whom I was dating for the last two and a half years is now my ex and I don’t feel safe at the group he attends either. I spend most of my time alone in my apartment with my cat. I do not go to any meetings and I am really struggling to stay sober, even though I have a little of two years of sobriety.

    Please tell me there are alternatives to meetings.

  • sharron cocker says:

    I was in, and around, and out, at times of both AA and NA for 20years.getting periods off when going, but also picking up again when going . I went through all 12 steps a few times, followed the suggestions ,of service, meetings, sponsors, book steps, and still picked up after dong them. I left for good over 2 years ago. after leaving i went somewhere else for help called smart meetings .i got off again via smart but i couldn’t sustain recovery there either.

    then i returned to the LDS church i had been in as a young girl ,and went to there addiction recovery meetings. They also have a 12 step adapted prog. it is different to AA and NA steps

    I do there 12 steps i go to there meetings now and this has worked for me.

    I cant say a bad word about Smart meetings or there workers. I love them all. They were helpfull to me kind and i was safe there. they validated my issues i had once had with AA and did what they could to help me. however it wasn’t keeping me off substances for long and i have no idea why it didn’t work for me, but works for others.

    at my LDS church meetings there is not one among them who has did me any harm. all have been respectfull kind careing, supportive. They are all good decent people. In the USA church recovery there are sponsors but here in the UK we dont have them biggest problem in AA was with sponsors that i had so i am glad we dont have them here in UK yet ,though i reckon if we did i would not have the same problems i had with sponsors in AA.we share a step each week we dont do long talks about our past. and we share our 4th step with the bishop and a recovery person of our choice.

    in my LDS church recovery groups there are facillatators who are not alcoholics or addicts. and there are rules around abuse and those rules are enforced and no one breaks them. and confidentiality is one has to be a church member to go to our recovery class, nor to they have to believe in god. and some dont. and no one is forced to go or do it.

    i love my church recovery group and all who go there.

    since going there i have stopped all alcohol all drugs nicotine caffeen complusive shopping internet addiction to social media and i have also came off medication via my one is told to stop medication .thats between the persona there doctor .I have also after shareing my last 4th step got closure on AA. and stopped blameing myself for the abuse i took from some of them, and stopped blameing myself for my many lapses and relapses. when i shared 4ht step with my church person all resentments in it were to some in AA .the people i shared it with told me NO WONDER you kept relapsing .

    i have a much better life today than i have ever had. i am happy my mind is at peace i have more self esteem and i have good friends some are in LDS recovery some are members of my church and some are not members in recovery or church.

  • Jalina says:

    I don’t know what it is about 12 step fellowships that had such a hold over me.

    They had power over me in the same way that my addiction did.

    I felt that I had to go to meetings regardless of the boredom, pain, hurt, confusion, anguish and destruction the people there caused me.

    Most people in most 12 step fellowships have a mental illness. In one women’s meeting I went to, everyone there except for me had borderline personality disorder.

    Others in the fellowship had narcissistic personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or psychosis.

    It is little wonder that there is so much dysfunction and abuse amongst members.

    I found most people to be dishonest, rude, contrary for the sake of it, competitive, jealous, controlling and completely lacking in normal social skills.

    After years of being on the receiving end of this behaviour, I was destroyed.

    My low self-esteem told me that I was on the receiving end of this abuse because there was something wrong with me. But that is simply not true. It wasn’t me who was the problem. It was the abusive people.

    I have been free of my addiction for many years now but I’m not free from the sustained abuse I was subjected to from the 12 step fellowships.

    I am now in recovery from that!

    • Zach Rhoads says:

      I can understand, completely.
      I’m thrilled to know that you are pursuing a life-path that makes sense to you. And, of course, it saddens me to know that you had to go through such difficulty before you felt able to do-so.

      For what it’s worth: Many people in similar situations have expressed that helping others find resources (and avoid abusive recovery programs and therapies) has been the best way to rid themselves of lingering feelings of stress.

      Best of luck to you Jalina. And do reach out any time.

  • Alex says:

    I left AA a while back after being in and out for 18 years. Was gaslighted one too many times. I went back to drinking in moderation about 2 years ago, 2 beers 3 times per week, not on the same day. Did this for 3 to 6 months without getting drunk. Low and behold, no more craving because I was forced to eat healthy for the last couple of years (virtually no sugar ever, no junk food) due to cholesterol which eventually returned back to normal. “Alcoholism” for me was a sugar addiction and me not being emotionally mature. I have done meditation daily for many years, got me to grow up. Got so tired of arguing with people over the word meditation because they dont have a clue what it means (I am in small town southern Illinois, I was in the Navy years ago and did my shore duty in Japan so I have had formal training with meditation from Buddhists, once even with a Buddhist monk who had to use a translation computer to communicate with me as he couldnt speak a lick of English and I didnt know enough Japanese to be able to speak with him in Japanese). I eventually stopped moderate drinking because I got bored with it. Bad history with alcohol so why risk it. I proved AA to be irrelevant to my life. Now that I am gone, not sure what to do about my social life as I never learned how to have one without AA. I dont care about alcohol at all as it looks pointless, waste of time. I also got so tired of being lectured over silly things (people demanding to know who my sponsor was for instance when it is none of theirbusiness, them doing this publicly instead of in private and chastising me publicly during the meeting for refusing to play their manipulative games), why be lectured by people way more screwed up than me? I hold down a job, I pay my bills on time, my apartment is very clean, I am not drowning in debt like them, I am physically in shape and I eat very healthy, I dont drink coffee, I take cold showers, if my mom needs help as she is in her 80s I just go do it without complaining, I can make a relationship with the opposite sex work and they were never able to do that, and I havent used Nicotine in years. But they demand I play the game with them…again, just like how I could go eat a Reeses peanut butter cup or a donut and not experience a craving for more (as I am not addicted to sugar resulting in a hyper sensitivity to various processed foods) but I still dont eat like that but once in a blue moon(free meal once every few weeks) same with alcohol. I just dont drink anymore as it doesnt interest me or excite me in the slightest. I knew I had to make that work somehow to leave AA, but ironically, now that I have proven I can drink in moderation on a consistent and regular basis, I have abandoned it to ensure that gaslighting program is never a part of my life again.

  • Alex says:

    Has anyone else grown up with a parent in AA? Mine “has 20 years” in the the program and I only recently learned it is a cult. My childhood makes sense. My parents chose AA over our whole family and to this day they are only minimally involved in my life. Their crazy thinking has rubbed off on me and I don’t know what to do.

  • Davie Maxwell says:

    I have been in NA for a few years as well. I took that risk recently and left it altogether.

    I was a heroin addict that had many rockbottom. My life has completely done a 180 degrees. I’ll always be grateful for the time I got clean and still am clean.

    I found in NA that too much fear is being instilled in people that are already fearful to begin with through trauma etc. There’s quotes like “do the steps or die” or things like once you’ve had a drink of alcohol your gonna take it to the next level and go back to your drug of choice and eventually die or end up where you were. It’s true for some but not for all. Having beliefs instilled in you that you can’t make mistakes and pick yourself up again without NA is very much fear based.

    I find it very much cult like in the sense that when you leave NA many people try to reel you back in making you believe you can’t live life without NA. This is utter crap. When your whole world is NA it limits you to other opportunities in life. I’ve seen people with plenty of abstinence time up that still seem to be going nowhere in life. It’s like they’re idling in meeting after meeting. Too much routine and consistency does not equal freedom. In my view it’s the same as being a mouse on a wheel. Routine and consistency is something else taught in NA that supposedly equals freedom.

    There’s a saying in NA they use which is doing the same thing expecting a different result is insanity. Many in NA constantly do the same thing over and over just to stay clean but won’t take other healthy risks in life because they’re so fearful of using over emotional let down. To me this is not living and simply existing in a program that programs your brain with fear of not being able to live without the 12 steps and the fellowship. Leaving NA has been the best thing recently I’ve done since getting clean.

    My world has gotten bigger and it’s also enabled me to take healthy risks and meet new people out in the world and not just a small 12 step environment. When you remember and are aware of what works for you and what doesn’t in regards to substances, people, places and things, then you won’t have any problems in regards to your old destructive lifestyle. Living in fear constantly of what could happen if you don’t do meetings or don’t have a sponsor or don’t be a servant of NA is not living in my view

  • Mick says:

    I can identify with your concern. I am drug , alcohol and cigarettee free for many years. NA and AA meetings have done this for me, but, the Sponsorship and people part has always been a bad issue for me. I have no problem with an invisible God and I was abused by people before being clean and sober, so when people in meetings tell me I should rely on people in the meetings, I find it very traumatizing, like they can’t understand why people like myself have an issue with this. I haven’t done Sponsorship in years and I don’t intend to. I have a brain and if I need help I can ask for it. Getting sober at a young age can be difficult, especially with the identification bit. For me, drug and alcohol free is my answer because I had a bad rock bottom. I hope you don’t try alcohol again but if that’s what you need to do, then try and find out. Only you cand decide if you’re an alcoholic or an addict or not and you need to find out for yourself. I still go to meetings but I avoid damaged, critical, cross sharing or shaming people and I don’t go to the meetings that they go to. Try find a young persons meeting, that might work. Try get hobbies and interests outside of meetings: go watch live bands, travel, take up outdoor pursuits etc. Look after yourself, keep yourself safe and follow your Higher Power’s, your gut instinct feelings. I was told by a member once, “If you don’t feel like going to a meeting, don’t go to a meeting. If you feel like going to a meeting, go to a meeting.”

  • Matt says:

    I have been a member of NA, off and on since 2001. That was when I first truly had a desire to stop. I was miserable in my life and felt completely out of control in all areas. By taking suggestions such as a 90 in 90, getting sponsor, I was able to stop for the first time in over 20 years. I lost the desire to use, which I did not think possible.
    I relapsed after my first 2 years and was too ashamed to return. I did not go back for 12 years. During that time I used rarely. When I did it was compulsively, but I would stop after a day or two and then go months or years without using again. In that time I worked on myself quite a bit, mostly through therapy. I developed a successful career and got involved in endurance sports. I achieved some goals that I’m very proud of. I never once bought drugs or sought them out. I would steal a few pills from family members periodically. I called it opportunistic using.
    After getting divorced 5 years ago, I started smoking pot again and it became a problem. I never went back to hard drugs. My life did become unmanageable. So, I returned to NA. It did help me get my using under control. However, as I spent more time there, I realized that I often felt like the most well-adjusted person in the room. Everyone is an individual and the program doesn’t promise anything more than stopping your using, losing the desire and finding a new way to live. It just seems like there were very few people who seemed stable in their personal lives. Those who seemed most serene surrounded themselves only with NA members. I also became disillusioned with the disease model of addiction and found harm reduction. It made so much sense to me.
    I have recently transitioned out of NA over the last couple of weeks. I spoke to members who I considered friends and it did not go well. One told me that I think I’m at the center of the universe and am the most selfish person ever. That is not supported by how I live my life. I’m a loving caring father and am in a beautiful relationship with a woman who is not an addict. I do want to clarify that many people were very supportive of my decision and treated me with respect. I believe I will be able to stay in touch with some of them. I also found the group I went to to often be very spiritual and supportive. I don’t want to negatively characterize my entire experience.
    Anyway, I could go on and on. My biggest takeaway is that my disease did not progress in the 12 years I was away. I was permanently changed. I do not believe that addiction is chronic incurable and fatal. I also don’t believe that success in life is defined by abstinence, but by how one is living.
    One thing that really resonated with me in reading this page is the following quote:
    “However powerless I was when I came into the rooms of NA, through hard work, self reflection, and the drive to change my life, I was no longer powerless. But it seemed that no matter how many wonderful changes happened within me, members still insisted that I was a powerless victim, and when I said otherwise, “it was my disease talking”. When I worked hard for a goal and achieved it through hard work, members insisted that it was not my hard work, but rather, a gift from God.”
    Someone just yesterday told me that it is impossible to fix a problem with the same brain that created it. That is ludicrous. I know I don’t have all the answers and I do depend on others for advice, at work, from friends and family, from my therapist. However, I solve my own problems all the time and I trust my instincts today. It is a culture of learning how not to trust yourself or take credit for your own accomplishments. The members who reacted negatively believe that I am under the grip of my disease and cannot be making a rational choice. One told me that he thinks I’m mad at God. WTF? Those people cannot comprehend that I am making a rational and conscious choice based on what I know is best for me. Harm reduction is empowering! As soon as I heard that message, I knew that was what I wanted.

  • Counselorchick says:

    People are not “powerless” and never were “powerless.” Just that for a start allows clients to see how they were systematically brainwashed into the 12 step cult religion. That’s the place to start for those who have very good reasons for leaving the cult but still believe they were once “powerless.” From there, you can then discover how you were brainwashed to believe that your “best thinking” is your perpetual enemy. It’s a long road of deprogramming but people do it constantly since the 12 step cult religion is so good at brainwashing people and cultures. You can do it!

  • Melody says:

    I would not have been able to stop drinking without the help of AA and the people in those rooms. Count myself lucky that most meetings in my area were filled with folks that really cared. The main issue I found with AA is the egos can be a bit much and at times I would wonder why if we have stopped drinking and are applying the steps to our lives, how is ego even remotely an issue. But then again we are human. I’ve not been back to a meeting in three years but it’s only because I moved and just wanted to see if I was destined for failure if I didn’t keep going. During my 5 years in AA I definitely lost the desire to drink and it’s never returned. I have had a glass of wine I’d say every six months but it did not lead to more. I never thought of myself as a lifetime alcoholic and did not agree with the mindsets that it’s a disease and you are never cured. So in summary, AA gave me sobriety for sure but I’ve been fine without the program and do not look at AA negatively. I am Christian and rely on God a lot more since going to AA.

  • Alicia says:

    I am glad to have found this, I had a terrible experience in AA to the point where I had a few emotional breakdowns. I finally left for good this past May. There was so much hypocrisy and contradiction in those rooms and I certainly did not consider any of those people to be friends and I felt worse than I ever had when I was drinking. I lost so much through all those years of trying to force myself to be other than I was. I still am trying to rebuild my life after it. I joined a few Facebook groups that were supposed to be supportive for those who left aa but they were letting in particular one woman post who was clearly still attending meetings and was constantly attacking other people’s posts. It’s hard to find any kind of support once you’ve Been brainwashed into thinking that you should only be friends from that program. Sorry if I posted in the wrong place but just feeling kind of depressed

  • Kevin says:

    This really is ridiculous. If, at 22 years old you need “assistance” to “escape,” then you didn’t get a message somewhere in your upbringing. Further, for Diane-if your thoughts go to “being cool in NA” or anywhere, then you missed a message. Diane is correct on this though “don’t use(drink) no matter what”. IF you need freedom from compulsion…keep coming back. If you don’t. Don’t bother those of us who do, with these conversations. It appears to me that this is using dogma to try and control others by labels of “cult” and so forth. Organized religion stood between me and God for years. These steps help me find “God as I understand him”. Not God as the baptists (or whomever) understand him.

  • Dianne says:

    AA and NA are negative , brainwashing cults. The members do not seem happy, joyous and free. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s fear and shame based. There success rates for complete abstinence are abysmal. I suspect many people are not really sober and still take cakes . NA especially is a prison mentality cult. You want to be cool in NA? Be an ex con heroin addict. Heroin is glorified in NA. The slogans for both fellowships are meant to shut down critical thinking. The one slogan I totally agree with is “ don’t drink or use no matter what “. That denotes will power. Drugs and booze are not powerful. Your thoughts are! You have the power and I am a deeply spiritual person.

  • Sarah says:

    I recently have left NA and haven’t gone in about a month or so. I had to leave because I ended up holding up a meeting all by myself. I had become secretary, treasurer, chairperson and everything in between. No matter how many times I announced I needed help no one wanted to step up to help me. I felt like I was drowning. I got a sponsor after a year of not having a sponsor and all she did was make me feel like I was suffocating. She kept telling me that in my two years of clean time that I had not changed and that I have been saying the same things and doing the same things for two years. This really hurt me, because I have seen much personal growth within myself. The steps never appealed to me and I never felt a sense of enlightenment or accomplishment through working them. They only made me feel as though I was reliving my addiction over and over again. Since leaving the meetings, these people who I have known for over two years of my life, who I considered friends and people who cared about me have not contacted me. Only when I’m being asked about meeting money am I contacted. I’ve been told I’m going to relapse or die if I don’t go to meetings. I’m sick of the self righteous attitudes people have and just am wondering to myself where to go from here. Should I still try to include these people in my life? They were such a big part of it for two years and now my existence has shriveled into nothingness since I stopped attending meetings.

  • Chris Iholts says:

    I’m considering leaving NA and am significantly cutting down on meetings. That I had to do. They helped out a lot at first and showed me how to get and to stay clean. Now, with eighteen years clean time, I find myself unwilling to work a program. It doesn’t seem worth it. I’m fifty-nine years and life has kind of passed me by. NA seems to be more for the younger addict. . I never found working the steps to the best of my ability to be so profound as I’ve heard other addicts so enthusiastically share. The main benefit I noticed was in being able to bounce back after having screwed up. Working the steps didn’t stop me from acting out on character defects. That is always a personal choice. The steps can’t help with that, otherwise everybody would be working a twelve step program. I don’t see the freedom in having to work a program to the best of my ability. That is a very difficult thing to do. Where is the freedom in having to do something. I don’t like a lot of the NA literature either. The “just for today” mostly drives me crazy just listening to it. The basic text definitely has an addict attitude and I don’t consider NA as the ultimate authority as it seems they claim to be. Maybe they are just making suggestions but It sure seems that they are telling you how to live your life. I do like the book “it works how and why” although I don’t find myself compelled into reading it. I must give NA credit for saving me a lot of brain cells. I could also find myself one day using again. But not like I used to. I’m not the kind of addict who after having a beer will find myself with a needle in my arm later that night. But sure, it’s better not to use drugs in any way, even ultra lightly, I suppose.

  • Sheri says:

    AA is absolutely a cult and a dangerous one at that. I was raised in it and breaking free from the ideals is painful and an ongoing struggle. You are raised to believe if you ever struggle with alcohol you are “an alcoholic” and “will never be able to stop without aa” and brow beated by family or other aa members if you won’t admit it. The most dangerous part is that they tell people that they must belive in God. From a Christian perspective , yes it is good to believe in God… But that is something God helps the person with when they are ready and can be quite dangerous to force someone into it. If they are not ready to believe in the God of all creation, it opens them up into believing in other Gods which is forbidden by God because it opens the door to other spiritual forces. They will be right there to help so you stay in the aa cult but the power is not coming from the God of all creation. If you try to get out, yur mind will be tormented with thoughts and temptations until you go back. I have experienced other spiritual forces myself and continue to fight daily and had to come to Jesus for deliverence. Good and evil are very real. Be careful to be on the right side. Just because something helps people does not mean it is good or a path you should follow.

  • Dani says:

    I am so comforted as I read more and more testimony from people who have left their 12 step programs for one reason or another. I’ve been in NA for almost 4 years now, and I have to say that at this point, I’m starting to feel more like I’m being stifled than set free. In addition, the literature isn’t lining up for me…
    I used to be unable to stop using. I was, quite literally, powerless over drugs. My life was in shambles, and there was no doubt that I needed some help. I was introduced to the 12 steps like so many others, in a treatment facility. I clung to the message, and working the steps really did help me to get an honest perception of how addiction was destroying my life, and shined a light on reasons why I might have chosen that path in the first place.
    However powerless I was when I came into the rooms of NA, through hard work, self reflection, and the drive to change my life, I was no longer powerless. But it seemed that no matter how many wonderful changes happened within me, members still insisted that I was a powerless victim, and when I said otherwise, “it was my disease talking”. When I worked hard for a goal and achieved it through hard work, members insisted that it was not my hard work, but rather, a gift from God. When I remembered who I was, and regained my naturally buoyant and happy personality, members told me that I was “on a pink cloud” and wondered if I could stay clean “when the chips were down”. I thought it was a really negative attitude to have. Plus, when I shared my joy about a promotion at work, or moving into a new house, or getting engaged to a wonderful man, other members became jealous. I wasn’t imagining it. They were genuinely NOT happy for me. They encouraged me to go to more meetings rather than stay home with my family to rest after an exhausting day at the office. They told me that if my home group was the only meeting that I went to in a week, I was headed for a relapse. They told me that if I wasn’t part of H&I, if I didn’t sponsor people, if I didn’t volunteer at every function, that I was essentially stealing what was “so freely given to me”.
    I was told that NA would love me until I could love myself, but when I see a newcomer at a meeting, I notice that no one asks them to sit at their table or offers a phone number, and they rush out to the after meeting meeting without extending an invite. The “cool kids club”, as I call them, are only interested in those who make them look… well, cool. They don’t want to be seen with the homeless prostitute who can’t string 24 hours together, and I AM NOT EXEMPTING MYSELF HERE. I’m pointing out that several of the slogans I heard are not always true. And it seems that “until you can love yourself” is as far as the love is extended in my experience. Once I did learn to love myself, once I took my power back and started making serious changes in my life for the better, I stopped getting calls. I stopped getting invited to the parties. It seems that if I wasn’t a co-dependent victim with an inferiority problem and a need to make the cool kids my higher power, I wasn’t of any use to those who really, deep down, needed to be worshipped. They need that clap on the back to feel good about themselves. They need people to notice how much they do for the fellowship, and they need the congratulatory recognition.
    Maybe my service wasn’t so “in your face”. After the 1st year of NA, I stopped doing the extracurricular activities. I didn’t participate in our area newsletter anymore, I didn’t bring H&I meetings into rehab, I stopped planning activities, and I focused on my stepwork, because I thought this is a 12 STEP program, not a service program, or a hang out at the coffee shop program, and I really want to change my life. Imagine my shock when I heard rumors about myself through the grapevine, that I was either using again or on my way! It was very hurtful, though I tried not to let it trouble me because those whom I was close with knew better. But I was all of a sudden, out of the in crowd. My service of doing the yard work for local halfway houses, in an effort to give the residents more time to find jobs and work on themselves during the first year of recovery, well, I guess that wasn’t “cool” enough. No one knew that I did that except my close friends and family, and I didn’t feel the need to tout about it all over town. It made me feel good, I enjoyed doing it, and I helped people. But in the end, when it was time for me to move on after doing this quiet service for 2.5 years, I was given resentment instead of gratitude for my service. “Well NOW we have to pay someone!” is what was said to me with a theatrical eye roll…. No “thank-you”, no “what is your plan now”, no anything, except more negativity and self centeredness, “the core of our disease”.
    There are a lot of people who are sponsoring others, and I’ve learned, that not all of them have worked all 12 steps. When I question why we need a sponsor, as in, why do we need ONE special person who is responsible for guiding us through this extraordinarily personal experience, instead of relying on a host of people with different strengths and perspectives, I’m met with “well, you need one person to call you out on your BS”. I have parents, a best friend, and a husband for that. I don’t need someone who by all accounts, is just as “sick” as I am to guide me through my life journey. I say this after much reflection and study and searching, both within and outside of myself. These people are not professionals, and for them to demand that I choose one to exemplify is incredibly short sighted and potentially dangerous. If I were a person who had serious emotional problems, trauma, or mental diagnoses, Joe Schmoe is not qualified to help with those, regardless of how many meetings they go to in a week, and how many years they’ve stayed sober. Someone said to me that I need a sponsor in NA because “my best thinking got me here”. I laughed and said, “You’re sitting in the seat RIGHT next to me dude, so your best thinking got YOU here! What should I listen to you for???”
    I’ve been thinking myself into circles about this, because I’ve been indoctrinated to believe that if I leave the fellowship I will DEFINITELY use again, and then I will die. I’m afraid. However, there is no one who can see the future, and no one knows what waits for us out there. I realize that this mantra has been spoken by people who are afraid, and repeated by others who are afraid, and so on, and so on. I don’t want to live in fear of progress. I don’t want to stay in the same room listening to the same stories for the rest of my life; there has to be more!! I don’t want to continue reliving my past or believing that I’m powerless over my life and my behavior because I’m an addict. It just isn’t true!! I’m more than an addict. I’m so many things, some good, some not so good. But I’m not broken.
    I’ll close with the question that’s been on my mind all day: If our 3rd tradition is “the only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using” and I’m not using, so have no desire to stop, and no desire to ever start again, am I still a member??

  • Paul says:

    I’ve been clean for 29 years. I left NA when I had 16 years and came back to NA 10 years later. I left because there was so much conflict in the room with all the crazy people, some harmful, and I felt that I was not wanted there. I didn’t leave because i felt ready to leave, but because people told me I was no longer welcome because they were so caught up in their own heads, own imaginations. But during those 10 years, not once did I have the desire to use. I did, however, become very unhappy over time because my living skills got worse and my relationships became unhealthy and I did a lot of damage. This is why I came back 3 years ago. To try and improve my living skills through the 12 steps. I should have left when I was ready instead of leaving because I felt rejected. I should have stayed for ME 16 years ago. After being back for 3 years, I have put a tremendous amount of daily work into the 12 steps and applying them to my life and my life has significantly improved. But, I want to transition to leaving again. Not because NA has done anything bad to me, but because I don’t want to think of myself as abnormal anymore, don’t want to think of myself as “sick” and diseased. Don’t want to hang around people that just seem so messed up even with years clean and seem to have no willingness to address the real issues underlying addiction. They just seem to all be staying the same and I wonder if it’s unhealthy for me to continue to be around stagnant and unchanging people, that are OK with not changing because “hey, I’m an addict”. I’m becoming a very healthy man again but I’m going to leave in a balanced manner. I will add weekly therapy with a skilled therapist, will gradually, over a 3 month period, scale down my meetings, and make sure that I focus on these spiritual principles on a daily basis, even after I leave NA. I can still inventory daily by writing, still meditate and pray to my Higher Power, and still practice good principles in my life and help others. Don’t let the word Higher Power scare anyone, it’s just my personal choice, I believe in God and he’s with me always and I can take him with me, where ever I go. My Higher Power helps me remember that I’m never alone. I always want and need my Higher Power. I do not enjoy listening to drug-a-logs though, they bore me. I don’t like listening to how someone raped somebody or how they murdered someone, or how they want to hurt another person either. I understand that people need to hear this stuff to identify, but I don’t. I want to be around people that are focused on taking care of them selves, loving themselves and others and being compassionate to all. That can be found just about anywhere, not just in NA. The hard part is when I discuss this with an NA member. They convince me that these thoughts and conclusions of mine are because I’m “sick” and it’s the “disease” talking to me. I’m really trying not to believe that simple because it’s a common belief in NA. It will be hard to leave because part of me wants to stay at NA, where I’m comfortable, even though I’m stagnant by remaining. I will actually miss NA. But, I’m 54 years old and I just have a feeling and a sense that there’s a whole world of adventure and good people in life to get to know and spread my wings out with. I’m 54 and a little past the middle of my life and I don’t want to waste another second. I have to do this!

  • Richard says:

    I think it irresponsible and ignorant to refer to AA as a cult, personally I would liken it closer to a religion whereby dogma and extremism have taken away from the true sense of the message. I am also having a hard time trying to break free from fellowship meetings and the largely accepted belief system of its members, much of the dogma is a complete contradiction to the “spiritual” beliefs and I wanted to stop abusing substances so I could live life with a sense of freedom, the very fact I feel tied into the fellowship out of fears of what would happen if I was to leave, fears born as a result of what other people in the fellowship believe, is a good illustration of how, although the fellowships worked a miracle in helping me get clean and sober, it now seems to limit and even oppress me spiritually. I am grateful for the fellowships and am open minded enough to understand we are all on our own paths and if people find their calling in the 12 step programmes then good for them, personally I would like to go beyond the steps and have found some comfort in knowing I’m not the only one who feels, and thinks the way I do. I have been looking for alternatives and have found hope in the philosophy of people like Tommy Rosen and Scott Kiloby, former addicts who have an approach that resonates with me. I intend to connect with people who are all on the same page.

  • Caroline says:

    I too have left NA. I believe it contributed to my depression getting worse. Since leaving and seeking psychotherapy and getting closer to God and my family, I feel so much happier and at peace. But I have no desire to use any kind of narcotic substance. I know that I’m a recovering addict and I’m ok with that. I realized that my thinking was too narrow and I wasn’t truly living in the world. But now, I really feel like I’m a part of life.

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