Alcoholism vs. Addiction

from The Fix website

By Kristen McGuiness 09/22/11

How much do alcoholics and drug addicts really have in common? Our experts explain the similarities as well as the differences.

Are Alkies Really Different than Addicts?

“When I first got sober, I remember going to AA meetings and identifying as an alcoholic and an addict,” explains Douglas, a 37-year-old property manager from Dallas who’s seven years sober but has the graying temples and sun spots of an older man. “But then my sponsor told me that if I was going to identify as both, I better put two dollars in the basket: one for each. I got the feeling that I had to choose between them—that I was either an alcoholic or an addict, but I couldn’t be both.”

Patty, another member of Alcoholics Anonymous, says, “There’s almost an unspoken taboo in AA where you’re not supposed to talk about drugs or refer to yourself as an alcoholic and addict.” With only two years of sobriety, Patty, who has blonde model looks and an easy smile, admits that she’s just as judgmental as the next person. “I can tell there’s a resistance because I think the same way,” she admits. “I snicker when someone identifies as an alcoholic and addict, but the fact is that everyone in that room is an addict—they’re just addicted to alcohol.”

Jan identifies solely as an alcoholic but she realizes that her addiction looks no different than the heroin user sitting next to her in a meeting.
And modern science agrees. As Dr. John Sharp, an addiction-focused psychiatrist who specializes in the integration of mood disorders and addictions, says, “Alcoholism is an addiction—it’s just one type of addiction. When you break out the specific things that someone who is suffering from alcoholism contends with—impaired control, preoccupation with a drug, using despite adverse consequences, distortions in thinking, most notably along the lines of denial—they are no different from any other type of addict.”

Sharp explains that the definition of addiction—a topic The Fix has covered at length—has been even further tweaked. “Recently, the American Society of Addiction Medicine came out with an updated definition of addiction, which identified five other aspects: inability to abstain consistently, impairment of behavioral control, cravings, diminished recognition of significant problems, and dysfunctional emotion responses. I think it’s fair to say you can apply those aspects to both drug users and alcoholics.”

Either way, when someone’s brain reacts in an addictive way to one substance, they will no doubt act that way to any substance, which is why so many struggle when they quit one drug only to pick up another. For many heroin addicts, alcohol is their way out of their primary addiction. For others, it might be marijuana. But at the end of the day, for many addicts/alcoholics, it all becomes the same. As Douglas, the Dallas alcoholic/addict, says, “I can be addicted to anything: women, booze, meth, cigarettes, food. The fact that I call myself an alcoholic is really just so that I can relate to other alcoholics. We’re all the same when we say that. I’m no more different or special than the drunk next to me, and chances are, we’ve both been addicted to drugs.”

Says Jan, a 45-year old school teacher from California who realized she was an alcoholic after years of coming to class drunk, “I always figured that there are different types of Anonymous organizations so we have the ability to connect to other people’s stories, but whether its gambling or sex or booze, addiction creates the same obsession of the mind and the inability to remove yourself from the addiction when you’re in it.”

According to addiction psychiatrist Dr. Reef Karim, she’s right. “There is no clinical term for addiction,” he says. “It is more of a pop culture term than a scientific one. The true definition is substance use disorder, which can be anything—meth, cocaine, alcohol. And then there are non-substance use disorders, which could be sex, gambling or porn. We define all of it as addiction. What’s the difference between alcohol and addiction? Words. Addiction describes the brain changes and behavioral changes that create consequences in your functioning.”

And for many alcoholics and addicts, these changes are the same. Jan identifies solely as an alcoholic but she realizes that her addiction looks no different than the heroin user sitting next to her in a meeting. “I think the reasons for having an addiction are the same,” she says. “We’re all trying to fill that same hole, that same void, with outside things. I do think that different addictions mean different effects on the brain chemistry and different chemicals affecting the body, but at the end of the day, we are both battling the same disease.”

Dr. Karim concurs, explaining how different drugs can affect the physiology of a substance user differently. “Each drug has its own specific challenges and battles,” he says. “When you’re looking at meth, there is a really strong neurotoxicity for the brain. Meth addicts not only have impairment but they can destroy neurons in the brain. With cocaine, there is more of a cardiovascular problem. One of the biggest troubles with alcohol is actually cultural. It is a social lubricant, and it is really big business. That’s why it’s everywhere. You can work an AA program, and do therapy, and get medication, but there are going to be triggers everywhere with alcohol. People go to bars all the time; they don’t go to crack houses.”

For Douglas, alcohol ultimately became the deadliest addiction. “There were times when I put down the hard drugs, and that’s when it really got scary,” he confesses. “Alcohol compromised me in ways that cocaine, and even meth, never could. It turned me into a different person—one who made decisions that the sane and sober Douglas never would. And I would think, ‘It’s only booze.’ But booze for an alcoholic is just as dangerous as crack.”

Dr. Sharp agrees. “Alcoholism shows up like all addictions do,” he says. “The only difference is that alcohol is more prevalent. It’s the most widely used drug in the world, and it’s a normal part of many cultures. But people who are vulnerable to addiction run into trouble with it in the same way they would run into trouble with substances that they might need to reach out for more, like illegal drugs which aren’t as widely available.”

For Patty, ultimately it didn’t matter whether she was battling booze, Vicodin, or an eating disorder. “Addiction is addiction,” she states. “I have bulimia and it’s been just as hard to recover from as it has been to recover from alcoholism, and recovering from pills is just as hard as recovering from drinking. It’s all fucking hard. Ultimately, as long as we think the drug or the behavior will make us feel better, it will always be difficult to find recovery or abstinence.”

“Both addicts and alcoholics have a disease that’s impacting their brain from a reward circuitry standpoint by telling them that drinking or using is a positive behavior,” says Kirim. “And there’s probably something else going on—like an anxiety or a spiritual problem. But then you also have the direct affect of the drug on the brain. So in one way, you’re dealing with one drug /alcohol disorder in terms of its causes but then you’re also dealing with two different disorders in terms of their consequences on the brain and the body.”

Douglas has seen the different effects of both, but believes it’s all one disease. “There are many alcoholics who become addicted to other substances, and there are a lot of people who are addicted to drugs and when they stop the drugs, they become to addicted to alcohol,” he says. “I almost wish that Bill Wilson had defined himself as an addict, too. I don’t think the disease is selective to the substance; some people just have a preference for the type of escape they like to have.”

Kristen McGuiness is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Fix who wrote previously about the 13th step and dreaming about drinking, among other topics. She is the author of 51/50: The Magical Adventures of a Single Life.

Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowitga Bydlowska


Oh, in case you’re wondering: I’m not a cocaine addict. I prefer to drink.

You found me in the middle of my story and I happened to have just found a baggie of cocaine in that bathroom.

But honestly, I prefer drinking.

I prefer drinking to anything in the world: sex, food, sleep. My child, my lover, anything.

I love to drink. Sometimes I think: No, I am drink.

It’s like my blood. Even before I get it, I can feel it in my veins. I’m not being poetic—

I can actually feel it in my veins.

It’s gold. It’s like little zaps of gold going through me, charging me, starting me up.

When I drink, I fill with real gold and become god-like.

So I’m not a cocaine addict. I’m a drunk.

I had been a drunk for a long time. I stopped drinking for a time, and then I started again.

I believe that you’re never cured of alcoholism. I use the word cure but it is not strictly a disease. Go to any AA meeting, watch or read anything about addiction, and sooner or later you will hear the word “disease.” But it is not a disease. Disease implies you can maybe cure it. In my opinion it’s closer to a condition or, perhaps, a habit you can’t unlearn completely once you stop it. Even if dormant, it is ingrained in you.

For example, my first language is Polish. I don’t use it often yet I will never unlearn it. When needed, I can speak it fluently, just like that.

I’m always going to be a speaker of the language of alcoholism too—if I relapse, picking up right where I left off, catching up to my last number of drinks with an extra drink to top it off, my vocabulary expanding.

People also tend to mistake alcoholism for drinking: “I’m going to slow down. Cut down on my drinking.” Okay. You do that. But if you’re an alcoholic, you can’t do just that. Alcoholism is not drinking, just like hemophilia is not bleeding. You can’t slow down, cut down on your alcoholism. You can’t unlearn its language. You can stop using it and forget some of the words, but you still know it. With drinking too, you can stop drinking and hope it’ll stay stopped. Alcoholism is a habit, a permanent condition of having the habit— like this wanting is, at least in my case. Sometimes the wanting gets too strong and I run. I run with it, run so fast I’m out

of breath, and then run even faster.

I relapsed when the wanting got particularly strong. To relapse means to “suffer deterioration after a period of improvement.”

There was a period of improvement when I became sober for the first time, at the age of twenty- seven. But before that, I was the kind of drunk girl who ran so fast with it, drinking, she could never catch her breath.

I was the girl who danced barefoot on tables or sometimes fell asleep with her shoes on, or sometimes lost a job or a relationship. I was the type of tragic girl that boys would try to fix, or try to drink with although only until they’d had enough, and there I would be, moving apartments yet again only to move in with another boyfriend who claimed he’d be better at fixing me.

I always had three drinks to your one, I always prepared for a night out with a bottle of wine, always opened another beer at 4 a.m., after coming home after a night of partying.

But it’s easy to hide your drinking in your twenties, when many of your peers seem to be bent on oblivion too, when comparing hangovers is par for the course. Except that I kept quiet when people discussed having blacked out as if it was something unusual. It happened

to me all the time. And I too shook my head in disbelief when a friend would do something silly while intoxicated— steal a garden gnome, climb on a roof, make out with not-his-girlfriend.

Look at that guy! Guy, you really need to cut down on your drinking!

Me? You couldn’t catch me. I juggled friends and environments. Except for those poor boyfriends, there weren’t that many people who witnessed my demise. It’s easy to flit from party to party, from event to event when you’re full of life in your twenties. It’s easy to drink in your room before you go out to flit—the people you keep around you in your twenties are new to it all. They are new to friends drinking in their rooms or friends in Emergency because of alcohol poisoning. And they are flitters as well; we all flit, trying to catch up with each other and outflit each other too.

The ones who drink a little harder can even make fun of themselves with typical youthful bravado. I remember sitting with a heavy-drinking friend and joking that once we reached twenty-five, we’d definitely have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous because this was just ridiculous, how drunk we were getting all the time.

She stumbled home, and I opened a third bottle of wine and wrote about that in my journal, or tried to write. Mostly I just scribbled. Go to AA when you 25 stupid bitch.

I went to AA when I was twenty-seven. At that point, I had lost another relationship and a job that I’d gotten freshly out of grad school. My roommates were planning to kick me out. As they say in AA, “AA was the last house on the street.” There were no other options.

I stayed in AA for three and a half years. I stayed sober.

But now I’m not.

I’ve relapsed.

I don’t know why. Or I know why and I don’t have the time to go over it right now. Or there are too many whys to consider. Or who really cares why?

The point is, I really, really need a drink.

From Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska. Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Jowita Bydlowska, 2014.

Tagged as: drunk mom, memoir, Parenting & drinking

Personalizing Step 7

The previous step suggests we were now ready to have our character defects removed. Step 7 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book says we now “humbly ask God to remove all these defects”. Pretty straightforward if that were possible. But this doesn’t come from an “exorcision” where these are cast out of us, and I don’t think Bill W thought that either.

We arrive at Step 7 after an honest look at our ourselves, including our positive attributes and those needing some work. We don’t judge ourselves and our attributes as positive or negative, good or bad. Those attributes just are what they are.

Often our confidants, friends, and counselors help us if we are in doubt about character pluses and minuses. They might also have helpful advice about changes. If we ask them to make constructive suggestions about improvements, they might offer ways we could adjust positively.

So, short of an exorcision or supernatural intervention, what are some other ways to personalize Step7? Again, here are a few examples from “The Little Book”, from Roger C.

– With the assistance of others and our own firm resolve, we transformed unskillful aspects of ourselves and cultivated positive ones. (Buddhist Non-theist 12 Steps)
– With humility we acknowledged our shortcomings, and with openness we sought to eliminate them. (We Agnostics)
– We asked for practical help in effecting these changes. (Gabe’s therapist’s steps)
– I am proud of my strength and ability to grow. (The Twelve Steps of Self-Confirmation)

Personalizing Step 6

Step 6In previous steps we started identifying mental and moral qualities we wish were better in our relationships within ourselves and with others. How do we improve these?

Step 6 in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous is a brief statement of what Bill W and the first 100 did: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character”. Sounds pretty straightforward and easy … just prepare yourself (without mental reservation) for God to remove these “defects”. Seems more like a half step: just get ready for some change.

If I am “entirely ready” to make changes in my character, how do these changes come about? Do these changes come from outside me, for example, from God? What if I am “entirely ready” for change, but I need something less ethereal than God plucking it out of me?

There are actions we can take to make the changes we want and need. Defects of character? How about some common words or phrases to say what some of these are. Here are but a few …


Problems we direct inwardly include …

Self condemnation
Being undisciplined

Whether we call these “character defects” or, with a more positive spin, “areas in need of improvement”, Step 6 is simply getting in a frame of mind — readiness — to accept that these need improvement or correction. We identify these sometimes in ourselves without help from others. We identify some of these when we do Step 5 with another person. And we continue to identify others throughout our lives. These won’t be “taken from us” by God or another person; the work is ours and ours alone. Guidance can come from others (including professional).

Let’s look at some examples of personalizing Step 6 from “The Little Book” compiled by Roger C.

⁃ Became entirely ready to work at transforming ourselves
(a Buddhist’s Non-Theist 12 Steps)
⁃ Became entirely open to change
(Personalized template by Neil F)
⁃ Were entirely ready to listen to wise counsel and seek that still small
voice within, guiding us to change behaviors harmful to us.
(The Twelve Step Journal)

Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

from: Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,(HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50)
from: Behavioral health trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,(HHS Publication No. SMA 15-4927, NSDUH Series H-50)

The most recent report on US substance abuse indicates that some things haven’t changed dramatically.

Overall, substance abuse was 92% in those 12 and older. Among all substances, alcohol abuse has declined somewhat for those under 26 years old, but for those above 26 the numbers haven’t changed much in recent years.

What does this mean for 12-step recovery programs and those “in the rooms” of support groups? The need remains unchanging: we must continue to be available for all who abuse substances. There is a continuing stream of those needing support, both newcomers and many thousands already in recovery.

Recovery must be freely available without limits. The recent workshop “Widening the Gateway” in Olympia, WA showed there are those who still feel “less than” in our meetings. This is unacceptable for those of us who believe the responsibility statement in AA:

I am responsible. When anyone reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there.
And for that, I am responsible.

Personalizing Step 5

This is the step where we share our Step 4, our inventory, with someone else.

Often this step is read aloud to a trusted friend or confidant. Why is this necessary? Isn’t simply writing our inventory enough? Do we really need to share it with others, no matter how much we trust them?

We may have shared some of the details of things mentioned in Step 4 with others, often friends and maybe someone else in recovery. The major difference in Step 4 is the clarity we get when we consciously think about and write down our fears and resentments. That clarity is evident when we read Step 4 aloud to another in Step 5. Just saying the words aloud — in the presence of a nonjudgmental friend — is often freeing to many in recovery.

The one who hears our Step 4 is meant to simply listen without comment during Step 5. Hopefully you have been honest in compiling this inventory, and you want an impartial friend, mentor or sponsor to listen with some empathy and understanding. After this sharing, you can mutually discuss the contents and get feedback. Feedback may be merely the listener’s sharing of similar parts of his or her inventory. That feedback will mention areas or persons who should be considered when amends need to be made.

Step 5 should not be a lengthy process. However, it is just as important as the Step 4 process of thinking and writing. It is often said that “confession is good for the soul”. Step 5 is close to that sentiment: unburdening our shame, guilt and remorse to another person begins the life-altering changes we call “cleaning our side of the street” in recovery. Unburdening to another person allows us to share our burden; it shows us how we can help others like us to unburden themselves and change their lives.

This step evolved from one of the 6 principles Bill W adopted from the Oxford Group: “We got honest with another person, in confidence” (in ‘Where the Twelve Steps Came From’, Bill W, July 1953 Grapevine). Eventually in the text of Alcoholics Anonymous, this became Step 5, reading “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”. This brought god into the equation, possibly because Bill W assumed that “sins” were part of our Step 4.

Some alternative Step 5 wording (again, from the “The Little Book”) includes these …

– Admitted to ourselves with total openness and to another human being being, the exact nature of our wrongs (from We Agnostics groups)
– I will now admit to myself, the exact nature of my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, both positive and negative. I will share and review this evaluation with another willing person if I choose, unless where to do so would put myself or others at risk. (from Realistic Recovery)
– We showed the inventory to al least one other person and discussed it with them. (from “Gabe’s Therapist’s” version)
– We asked our friends to help us avoid those situations (from Humanist Twelve Steps)

Gabor Maté interprets Step 5  as it “ … makes our moral self-searching into a concrete reality. Shame for ourselves is replaced by a sense of responsibility. We move from powerlessness to strength.”

Dr. Gabor Maté


One of the most interesting recent voices in addiction causes/treatment is a Vancouver, BC doctor — Dr. Gabor Maté.

Dr. Maté’s book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts details some of his experiences in the seamier downtown Portland Hotel, a large complex providing housing, health care, and other services to the indigent & others marginalized in our society. The book also thoroughly reviews many aspects of addiction, some scientifically complex.

Dr. Maté is one of the proponents of harm reduction in treating addicts. The Insite injection facility in Vancouver, though controversial with some, provides clean equipment for addicts to inject themselves in a safer environment than in back alleys with dirty needles/syringes.

A recent interview with Dr. Maté shows why he is both a compelling proponent yet controversial figure in addiction therapy. You can find that interview here in The Fix© website.

Step 4 — further personalizing it for me

InventoryStep 4 is a process for examining our lives prior to sobriety. As we saw earlier, it is the basis for identifying persons or things we blamed for our substance use. We think these “things” eventually led to our substance misuse, eventually causing the loss of the manageability of our own lives.

But Step 4 is more than a listing of people, places and things we resented or we think harmed us in some way. At its most basic level, we are asked to identify “our part” in those resentments in 12-step recovery.

At a deeper level, it is more than “our part” we need to establish in this step. Be just as interested in your reactions as in the person or situation that triggered those responses listed in Step 4.* Those reactions are more than saying “I drank or used because that person mistreated me, used me, or cheated me”.

We list the events in a Step 4 inventory that we “feel” led to our substance use. But what in those events made us “feel” the need to bury those feelings in drink or drug? Can we list the events (eg, I was fired from my job) separate from the feelings we had about them? There is more than a simple relationship between the “thing” (I was fired) and our feeling of injustice or being picked upon when fired. Where we drank or picked up when something we resented happened, there are actually two identifiable things in this: in this example, I was fired (the event) by a vindictive boss who had it out for me (what I felt about it).

The importance of teasing out the event from our feelings about it is crucial in understanding ourselves and our substance abuse. The event is a fact that can happen to anyone (I was fired), but the reaction (emotional) differs from person to person. If we felt we could only deal with these emotions by burying them in a binge of substance use, we differ from the other 90% of the world. That other large part of humanity may feel unjustly treated, but they can separate the event from the feeling (and subsequent reaction) to it. Whereas we feel self-pity and want to “drown our sorrows” in a good binge, others will accept the fact of the misfortune and handle it in a less destructive way.

Once we are in long-term recovery, we experience for ourselves the way the majority of the world handles life’s troubles. We see that we can mourn the loss of a loved-one, receive a blow like a financial failure, or see a temporary setback without substance abuse. This was unimaginable when we were using but is now manageable in sobriety.

Separating events from feelings will be addressed later in a discussion of meditation. In Step 5 we share those events and our feelings with another person.

* from the Gabor Maté book “In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts” and the ideas of Eckhart Tolle

Widening the Gateway Conference — Jan 16, 2016

Some of us from the Many Paths group will be carpooling to this conference. Contact Tom L at

Widening the Gateway
Overcoming Barriers to Being in the AA Family
January 16, 2016 9:30-4:30
701 Franklin St NE
Olympia, WA 1st Christian Church
Widening the Gateway PO Box 6283
Olympia, WA 98507
8:30 Registration, Coffee, Survey
9:30 Welcome and Plan for the Day
10:00 Keynote
Michael B. from London UK
10:45 Break
11:00 What is Sobriety?
Noon Lunch (Provided), Survey Report, Discussion
1:00 History of AA Secularism
1:30 Fitting Into AA with Integrity
2:30 Break
2:45 Breakout Sessions
Stating a Secular Meeting
Working Your Program
Respecting Boundaries in AA
4:00 Closing Remarks, Evaluations
4:30 Safe Journeys!

Personalizing Step 4

The end-product of Step 4 — an “inventory” of our interactions with people and things before recovery — is the most personal step in recovery.

All the other steps in our recovery are meaningless without a deep look, honest at our life interactions.

Honesty in Step 4 is crucial. We make our inventory and it is ours alone. In this inventory there may be things we want to keep to ourselves forever. There may be things we could only share with our closest confidantes. There are parts of our inventory that many others already know — a divorce; a criminal record; a job lost — or bridges burned in the destruction caused by our active addiction.

The original Step 4 in the Alcoholics Anonymous book is completed in written form by us, examining our fears and personal interactions in society. We are encouraged to examine things with an eye for “our part” where we thought we were wronged by others and society in general. This is a new self-examination technique for most of us. This review becomes a common practice that we use in varying degrees throughout the rest of our lives. Completion of this step carries us to the next step: discussion of the inventory contents we want to share with someone we trust.

The true goal here is not just to say “I drank/used because of” something or someone. No, a sincere inventory is the reverse of that: I drank/used and therefore I did something that led to the loss of friends, family, or a career.

This inventory starts the unfolding of a personal biography. Sure, substance abuse was a part of our life story. Everyone has a life story that can “inventoried” or analyzed. Ours is different from the other 90% of humanity who aren’t addicts because we abused substances until we couldn’t stop. Our lives and interactions with the world were tainted by this misuse.

Until we do an honest self-inventory we may think our life problems led to substance abuse. From this inventory we see it as the other way around: substance abuse led to our problems.

As our inventories unfold we have the beginnings of an understanding of our lives. These understandings help us accept and forgive others (and ourselves) as we learn “our part”.

Some other examples of Step 4 personalized include these:

a. I make a searching and fearless inventory of myself, of my strengths and weaknesses. I choose not to permit problems to overwhelm me, rather to focus on personal growth and the unconditional acceptance of others and myself. (12 Statements, The Little Book, pg 15)

b. Search earnestly and deeply within ourselves to know the exact nature of our actions, thoughts and emotions. (A Nontheistic Translation, The Little Book, pg 16)

b. I have the strength and courage to look within and to face whatever obstacles hinder my continued personal and spiritual development. (The Twelve Steps of Self-Confirmation, The Little Book, pg 26)

d. I will make a realistic and rational evaluation or “inventory” of my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, both positive and negative. This is not induce guilt and shame, but to evaluate where my attitudes, actions and decisions were not realistic or rational. (The 12 Steps of Realistic Recovery, The Little Book, pg 14)

Personalizing Step 3

Remember that the 12 steps were what the first 100 men used to get sober. Step 3 says that they “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” This is commonly called the “surrender” step.

Continuing with our theme of personalizing the AA steps, step 3 is the first mention of God in the historical steps published in 1939’s ”Alcoholics Anonymous” book. Half of the 12 steps mention God, but this is the first time we encounter God (Him) in working the steps.

If we didn’t expect to be asked to acknowledge God as part of getting sober, this can be the first challenge for many of us as we learn about AA and its steps. One of my first sponsors skipped over this step, knowing I might have difficulty with it. But sooner rather than later, we all meet the generalized acceptance of God in AA rooms. If we are uncomfortable with this general acknowledgement of a religious God, we are given an alternative: “God as we understand him”. Does this work for all of us in AA? No. For some it is a barrier to accepting AA and getting sober with AA’s tenets.

The concept of a religious god or an alternative is not necessary for sobriety. What is needed in step 3 is simply to “let go”. Let go of our ego’s idea that it is in control. Let go of our delusions that we can get sober by ourselves when we were never able to in the past. In letting go of these things, we then are asked to trust something outside of ourselves.

Who or what can we trust in step 3? For some it still could be God. For more and more of us, this eventually becomes our sober self. Until we feel comfortable with letting our best instincts guide us, we may use the rooms of AA, sponsors, and our friends, families and counsellors.

Some alternative versions of Step 3 (again, from “The Little Book”) include:

1. We turn to our fellow men and women, particularly those who have struggled with the same problem.

2. Made a decision to entrust our will and our lives to the care of the collective wisdom and resources of those who have searched before us.

3. Made a decision to accept things that were outside our control, especially what already is and to do the best with it.

Is non-conference approved literature banned from AA meetings?

Some in the rooms of AA think that nothing can be read aloud at a meeting unless it is “conference approved”. Is that true? And what does “conference approved” mean anyway?

“Conference approved” literature and audiovisual material is that published by AA World Services, Inc, and has been approved by the Conference for this purpose. “The term has no relation to material not published by GSO. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about AA. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.” (Service Material from the General Service Office).

One reason a group might limit the sources read at its meetings is because a group conscience has decided to limit them (eg, Conference approved literature only). However, there is no AA Tradition or guidance from the General Service Office to ban other literature.

What is the “Conference” and what does it approve? Each year a General Service Conference is held in New York, and it handles business which includes, among many other items, new material and revisions of already published items. These “approved” items are sold or given away by the AA General Service Offices. Obviously, it can’t review all other publications in the world; it doesn’t ban anything.

“In AA we are supposed to be bound together in the kinship of a universal suffering. Therefore the full liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy should be a first consideration. Hence let us not pressure anyone with individual or even collective views. Let us instead accord to each other the respect that is due to every human being as he tries to make his way towards the light. Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Let us remember that each alcoholic among us is a member of AA, so long as he or she so declares.” (Bill W., from his speech to the General Service Conference held in New York City in April, 1965.)

Personalizing Step 2

As we did with Step 1, Step 2 in a 12-step program can be individualized to be more meaningful and personal to each of us.

Step 2 in the Alcoholic Anonymous book published in 1939 was this: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The key principle in this step is realizing that we can return to a life without substance abuse. We believe there is a path back to a normal life.

This “power greater than ourselves” could be anything that brings back the sanity we couldn’t achieve alone. When the AA book was published, the use of capitalized nouns (eg, “Power”) suggested something spiritual or more than human. We now know that there are many “powers” that can return us to sanity when we believe this is possible.

Some examples of that “power” can be more down to earth and easier to understand or grasp without requiring faith in a Judeo-Christian supreme being. Here are a few examples:

a. We came to believe that others who understood or had themselves recovered could help us return to and maintain sanity.

b. Came to accept and to understand that we need strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore our sanity.

c. We believe we must turn elsewhere for help.

d. Came to believe that we could recover.

These and other examples come from the compilation in “The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps”, by Roger C. (published by AA Agnostica).

Faces and Voices of Recovery, Part 2

In a previous post, the Faces and Voices of Recovery website was introduced here.

Although not connected with AA, this organization uses the voices of those of us in recovery to promote understanding that long-term recovery is a reality. Through activities and organization, Faces wants to build the capacity of the recovery community to address public policy.

Through their activities, the hope is to reduce discrimination that keeps people from seeking recovery or moving on to better lives. Further, once we have got recovery there needs to be support for recovery-oriented policies and programs.

If you would like more information, go to

No longer an “alcoholic” or “addict”

Faces and VoicesFaces and Voices of Recovery encourage us to drop the negative images we have of ourselves as “alcoholics” or “addicts”.

An estimated 23 million of us in the US are defined as “persons in long-term recovery”. Most of us over the years have been trained to say we were addicted — to  substances including alcohol — when identifying ourselves in meetings. This neglects to mention that we are now in recovery, from months to many years of abstinence.

The simple wording change from “addict” to someone in “long-term recovery” stresses the positive changes we have made in our lives. It lets us tell others — in meetings  and in our community, if we choose to — that we contribute positively in all levels of life.

Importantly, this claim helps us realize what we now are. It can change the way we think of ourselves. It stresses that we have survived being in active addiction, and that we live now in recovery.

I will post more about living in long-term recovery and the organization Faces of Recovery and what it can mean to us and our lives as citizens and for others joining our ranks after active addiction.


Personalizing Step 1

Step 1 in 12-step recovery programs of all varieties is simply the recognition of a major problem in our lives.

That problem stops us from living the way we want to. It stops us from making changes to become a healthier human, both physically and mentally. It stops us from being a good family member, a good neighbor, and a good citizen of the world.

We know there is a problem. We know that if it can’t be changed, we are destined to fail in life. We have made temporary improvements in the past, but we always return to this path of failure. We may think or believe this is our fate — we can never beat this problem permanently. This is only what we believe or fear is our fate: a flawed person, doomed inevitably by this problem.

That is all Step 1 is … recognition of a major problem that can kill us, at least spiritually if not physically.

Our first step is seeing this problem. Many of us never get beyond this step.

In Alcoholics Anonymous this Step 1 can be variously worded. It can be personalized to our purposes. The Alcoholics Anonymous book offers a suggested wording for this step, but many others are available to us. In the end, we can personalize this step (and all the 12 Steps) if it helps us express and truly feel the seriousness of our problem.

One example of another wording for Step 1 is this: “We admitted we could not control our drinking, nor do without it, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Another example: “I have a life threatening problem. My past efforts to establish sobriety have been unsuccessful. I believe I have choices and that my life no longer needs to be unmanageable. I accept responsibility for myself and my recovery.”

These examples and many others are in “The Little Book”, by Roger C.

Valuable daily resources


These two books — “Beyond Belief” and “The Little Book” — are good resources used in the Many Paths meeting.

“Beyond Belief” is a daily reflections book using sources of wisdom from many 12-step recovery programs. It also includes wisdom from many other sources.

“The Little Book” is a source for 12 steps — from the “Big Book” and others — including secular and interpretations from other religions, psychology, etc.

Both of these books are available at the Many Paths meeting on Sunday mornings (10:30 – 11:30) at the Burien Community Center.  They can be purchased at the Solutions store (or ordered if not in stock). The Solutions store is on 153rd St. in Burien.

How is this meeting different from others?

I’ll refer you to one of the newer AA pamphlets called “Many Paths to Spirituality “. This gives many examples of individuals with differing world views and religions (or with no religion) finding recovery and a better life in AA.  We need to know this is possible.

We must acknowledge that any meeting — however small or large — has as many beliefs and opinions as it has people there. All are seeking recovery & a better life. Freedom from addiction is possible, no matter your beliefs.

This meeting strives to prove that point. Among us are persons of faith and no faith.  As we share today, you’ll hear the voices of sincere persons telling us about their path to recovery.

Many Paths begins


Welcome to the Many Paths meeting site.

Many Paths is an open AA meeting for anyone seeking recovery in a 12-step environment.

Everyone deserves recovery, regardless of faith or religion. This includes those with no religion or belief in God. No one has to conform to specific beliefs for meetings at Many Paths. All attendants are treated with respect.

There are no required prayers or chanting at our meetings.  Sharing of personal experience during meetings is encouraged, but no one has to share if uncomfortable. No one has to declare what addiction(s) brings them to this meeting.

Our goal is that you will be find hope in Many Paths – hope that addictive behaviors can be changed as you listen to others at Many Paths.

The weekly meeting is 10:30 to 11:30 am every Sunday morning in the Eagle Landing room of the Burien Community Center. Stop by the reception desk in the community center if you need directions.

Successive posts in will provide topics to be discussed at the weekly meetings.

Hope to see you at Many Paths soon!