September 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm EDT | by Michael Radkowsky
Are 12-steps right for me?
Alcoholics Anonymous, gay news, Washington Blade

Twelve-step groups are abstinence-based, but the only requirement for joining is a desire to stop using.



Like most of my friends, I guess you could say I have a couple of addictions. I usually get really drunk on weekends. I frequently use recreational drugs including K and sometimes even Meth when I’m going out or having sex. Maybe I’m addicted to hooking up because I like the rush it gives me and do it regularly.


It feels weird to think of any of this as problematic because it seems like the norm in my social group. But I have to admit that I am almost irresistibly drawn to all of these behaviors and don’t think I could just cold-turkey stop any of them.


You often write that Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups are helpful for dealing with addiction. I know I could use some help but I don’t have any idea how these groups are supposed to work. I hear there is a religious angle, which I’m not interested in. Also, when I hear acquaintances talking about “The Program” and “working the steps,” it sounds like some kind of cult. And I’m not interested in living a life of deprivation.


I wonder if you could explain how these groups are helpful?



Michael replies:


I’ve seen 12-step groups literally save the lives of friends and clients and I think they work in two main ways.

First, attending meetings gives you support and a feeling of community. You’ll meet others who are working to be sober, hear their stories and share your own struggles with them. You’re likely to feel less alone in your effort to stop using, learn tools for staying sober and make friends you can reach out to when you’re feeling vulnerable. You’ll also have a sponsor, your guide and advocate in the program, whom you talk with regularly.

Second, the program lays out “12 steps” of recovery that are a path to greater self-awareness and personal growth. Like good psychotherapy, the steps give you a framework for looking at your behavior patterns and taking responsibility for yourself. I see them as tools for learning how to live with integrity and for understanding what leads you toward compulsive addictive behaviors. I often hear from people in the program that working the 12 steps and practicing principles such as honesty provide a feeling of serenity that helps them deal with the stressors of life without overreacting or falling back into addictive behaviors.

A few more points to keep in mind: twelve-step groups are abstinence-based, but the only requirement for joining is a desire to stop using. Don’t worry; groups for sex addiction such as Sexual Compulsives Anonymous don’t define abstinence as celibacy, but as stopping compulsive sexual behaviors and figuring out your own definition of healthy sexual behavior.

While 12-step groups’ traditions, slogans and rituals can seem cult-like, they actually have a very open, diverse membership and are not at all about mind control. To the contrary, they can help you break free of active addiction and that is a very powerful form of mind control.

Like you, many of my clients have told me that they aren’t interested in attending a 12-step group because they don’t believe in God. Yes, there are many references to “God” in the steps and recovery literature, but God is defined simply as a “higher power,” something bigger than yourself, not a biblical deity. It’s a spiritual, not religious program, and many members are atheist.

Finally, while I get your concern about not wanting a life of deprivation, the experience I’ve most often heard from people in recovery is of having a life that is fuller and richer than they ever thought would be possible.

Getting past addiction is extremely tough and there is no easy way to do it. And a 12-step group may not be for you. There are also harm reduction programs that some people utilize to moderate their substance use and minimize consequences. What I like best about the 12-step model is that it gives people strong support and helps them develop the internal strength to deal with life without self-medicating. If you are intrigued, the best way to learn more is to actually attend several 12-step meetings.  There are many in our area, including LGBT meetings.

If you feel like you can’t control your substance use and hookups, I hope you will look for support. Your life, like other LGBT lives, is far too valuable to be squandered in addictive behaviors.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBTQ individual therapy and couples counseling in Washington, D.C. He can be found online at All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to


1 Comment
  • Michael,

    If I needed cancer treatment, and found the best-qualified surgeon, but s/he refused to acknowledge the existence of competent oncologists or radiologists, I would find a new surgeon. It would not be out of line to expect that my surgeon, while not needing to be an expert on chemo, would be happy to consult and collaborate with other cancer experts who are at the top of their related fields.

    In that context, I was extremely hopeful, on reading the "Are 12-steps right for me?" headline. "Excellent," I thought, "Michael took my careful, thoughtful response to his prior piece on Aug 28 seriously. As a well-rounded mental health professional, he must have looked up 12-step alternatives, especially SMART Recovery and the evidence supporting it. It only makes sense that a seasoned professional would be eager to promote healthy recovery over a favorite or familiar program."

    But, no, I am sadly disappointed. And, I don't get it. Great surgeons want their patients to get better, even (or especially) when surgery is not the answer. They want their patients to make fully-informed choices about how surgical options tie in with other evidence-based treatment options.

    So, what is stopping you from saying the words "SMART Recovery," noting that its meetings are widely available in the DC metro, that it is 100% abstinence-based, has been in operation for 20 years, and is under the direction of well-credentialed professionals?

    Seriously, for anyone reading Michael's admitted wisdom here based on his long experience… if you came to this piece because the 12 Steps haven't been right for you, don't let that slow down your path to better health. Google "12 step alternatives", get connected to SMART online or at a local meeting, pick up books written by seasoned professionals. Being resistant to the 12 steps is not the same as being resistant to better health and recovery, no matter how much some folks imply as much.

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