Spiritual practices aren’t always necessary for recovery, research suggests, but they can help.
“Prayer and meditation increase as a function of AA participation,” said John Kelly, associate director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “That does lead to better outcomes for some.”
Men who’ve beaten addictions with Peabody’s guidance trace their healing to character reform via the original 12 steps. Twenty-three-year-old Pat Smith of Wakefield, Mass. battled heroin and crack cocaine in his teenage years, but nothing worked until he enrolled in a residential, intensive 12-step program. For addicts, he says, surrender to God is an indispensable step.
“People [at AA meetings] are like,’We don’t need God in here, leave God out of it’,” Smith said. “But the truth is, AA is a religious program… It’s Christian principles, the whole book. So it’s like, if you guys want to go to meetings and leave God out of it, then go ahead. But don’t call it AA because it’s not.”
Roger C. brings a different concern. Those who insist on doing the original 12 steps, he says, are apt to alienate nonbelievers, who might never get the help they need.
Some get turned off “when someone comes up to you as a new member of AA and tells you,’if you don’t find God, you’re going to die a drunk’,” Roger C says. “That rigidity is very religious, very intolerant and very hurtful to a number of recovering alcoholics who are looking for an avenue to get sober.”
Offering multiple pathways to recovery bodes well for alcoholics, Kaskutas says, because what works for one person doesn’t always work for someone else.
“Because there’s this ethic of take what you need and leave the rest, it puts the attendee in a position of being able to form a program that is palatable to them,” Kaskutas says. “AA is doing just fine.”