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Can You Overdose On Alcoholics Anonymous?

Going to meetings every day and sponsoring a bunch of newcomers is fantastic—until you realize you’ve overdone it.

Photo Credit: KayVeeINC via Flickr



Though Bill was a successful lawyer with offices across the country bearing his name, he finally had to concede that there was something about his life that didn’t spell success: his drinking. At the age of 52, he came into the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and went after it with the same zeal he had applied to his business life. Not too long after, he began to feel burned out. 

As he explains, “I’m not saying this recovery thing isn’t for real—it’s a profound change in living—but I do feel that I’ve come to a love-hate affair with AA. In my first year, I did about a dozen meetings a week and after a while, I just began to feel like I was hearing the same things. I think a lot of that worked when AA started and was this low-bottom group of drunks but life has evolved and AA really hasn’t.”

This type of disillusionment can be common for people getting sober, in and out of the 12-step programs. As addiction psychologist and researcher  Dr. Adi Jaffe explains, “Like with anything else in life, people can get burned out. Devout 12-step followers may disagree but going to so many meetings in a short period of time can lead to a certain leveling off in their commitment.” Jaffe adds that he had a client “who was going to multiple meetings every day and was relapsing but when she broadened what she was doing—incorporating therapy and other healthy behavioral choices—she seemed to have more positive outcomes and has remained sober since.” 

Dr. Jaffe continues, “Alcoholics Anonymous loves to use the Einstein quote, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’ but the irony is that that same principle can be applied to AA.”Despite his many meetings, Bill found that it was difficult to find a sponsor in the traditional sense so he asked his therapist to help him to balance out his initial over-commitment to AA. “I have a wonderful therapist, who has 12 years in recovery herself and works with those dealing with addictive disorders,” he explains. “We have worked through a program which would be like the steps but which spoke to my own circumstances. And in that, I began to see that I didn’t have to be defined by the group. I could do AA like a gentleman.”

Bryan, a 42-year-old electrician with thick brown hair and hazel eyes, understands that—after having spent the first 10 years of his sobriety hanging out in AA and not doing much else. When his girlfriend got pregnant with their first child, he had to look at where he had become overdeveloped in AA and less developed in other areas of his life. As he explains, “I was out there drinking and using for almost 15 years so when I came into the rooms, I was just swept off my feet by the group. Finding a job or getting help with therapy or some of my outside issues was hard. But AA was easy.”

Los Angeles-based family and addiction therapist Melody Anderson has seen people focus on one aspect of their recovery when they are not willing to go to deeper. “And sometimes that’s okay,” she says. “Even when you come out of surgery, part of recovery is resting and taking it easy. But then after a while, you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I doing more in AA than I’m doing in my own life or am I coming to a place where I am avoiding reaching beyond AA because I am not willing to do that self-examining work?’” 

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