I recently attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in a comfortable house in Santa Monica, California. The room was occupied by approximately 70 attendees, and even more sitting on the outside porch. The focus of this particular day’s meeting was step six of the 12-step program. The sixth step is stated as follows: “We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” (Wilson, 1939, p. 76). Following the definition and interpretation of the sixth step, the main speaker of the day came up to the podium to tell her story.
This woman was a recovering alcoholic and ex-heroin user. She had been ober for 14 years before she relapsed, and as of now she has been sober for 16 years. She explained that she has struggled with alcohol abuse since middle school. She started with cigarettes and alcohol then moved to marijuana and heroin by the time she turned 21 years old. There were several other people who spoke that day about struggling with illicit drug use due to their alcoholism. Alcohol has been identified as a gateway drug that can lead to illicit drug use.
A study done by the American School Health Association showed students who used alcohol expressed a greater likelihood of using both licit nd illicit drugs later in life (Kirby & Barry, 2012). The speaker also shared how she had learned to be a better person through her sponsor. An AA sponsor is an individual that is there for support and to offer guidance to the recovering alcoholic (“How to Choose an AA Sponsor”, n. d. ). Her sponsor encouraged the speaker to join a softball team, where she learned how to become a team player and build self-confidence.
Others also expressed how grateful they were for their sponsors and the other members of AA who helped them get through their hard times. One speaker expressed that her sponsor had ecome her rock and her best friend by simply listening to the her when no one else would. I think the concept of a sponsor is a great way to provide support on a personal level. Many people at the meeting had committed to their sobriety for several years, while others were still struggling to reach their 90- days of sobriety. This particular AA meeting used the word “birthday” to celebrate every year a person has been sober.
There was a man who was celebrating his 21st birthday at this particular meeting. The meeting members brought out a cake and sang to him as he stood there proudly. I think this is another great reinforcement tactic to encourage members to continue working on their sobriety. Another term I heard speakers talk about was inventory. Whenever an ex-addict would mention feeling stressed, angry, or losing control over their sobriety, they would say they “took inventory”. I did not understand this so went home and researched what this phrase meant.
Step four of the 12-step program talks about the reasons why an individual drinks and how to examine these reasons in a list (Wilson, 1939, p. 64). By making these lists, the alcoholic reviews emotional problems nd factors that trigger the physical and psychologic need to drink. According to Professor Becker (2012) there are three general categories of events that can potently trigger relapse drinking. These categories are: exposure to small amounts of alcohol, exposure to alcohol-related cues or environmental factors, and psychological stress.
Laboratory studies have found that alcohol-dependent people are more sensitive to these triggers, compared to control subjects, which may increase the desire to drink (Becker, 2014). There was a man who came up to the podium to share his story and his wisdom to other recovering alcoholics. He told the audience that he once was addicted to heroin and alcohol as well, but has been sober for eight years. He explained that while he was an addict he had broken his leg due to loss of coordination from the alcohol. Although his physician knew he was an addict, he prescribed an opioid for the pain.
The man mixed the opioid and alcohol together and experienced painful side effects such as vomiting and fainting. Mixing opioids and alcohol together can result in coma and even death (“Dangers of Mixing Alcohol,” n. d. ). Many people are unaware of the dangers of mixing certain drugs with alcohol. Other side effects of mixing certain drugs with alcohol include nausea, headaches, drowsiness, and/or loss of coordination. Serious risks include an increased risk for internal bleeding, heart problems, difficulties in breathing, and death (“Harmful Interactions,” 2014).
Thus it is very important to read prescription labels before taking any medication. Another thing that surprised me about some of the speakers was that many of them had lost control of their sobriety after several years of being sober. After the meeting I spoke to one of the women who had mentioned relapsing after a long sobriety period. She told me that she had many misfortunes in her life including a divorce from her husband and a child that had been diagnosed with cancer. She said that after she left the rehabilitation center, she did not attend AA meetings.
She says if she had attended AA meetings she probably would not have relapsed at all. She is not the only one that has suffered this problem, in fact one study has shown that even with treatment for addiction, 50% to 90% of addicts will relapse after a recovery period (“Beating the Relapse Statistics,” n. d. ). Other studies have shown that preventive interventions may be necessary to revent future alcohol problems among individuals who have cut back on drinking without professional help (Moos, R. H. , & Moos, B. S. , 2006).
The hardship that many of the addicts had faced, and still face even after being sober for a long period of time, was deeply touching and emotional for me. Two speakers told the audience that they suffer from liver cancer due to alcoholism. Cancer from alcohol abuse is a major risk of drinking alcohol and is more common than people realize. A recent study has shown that alcohol consumption in the United States resulted in pproximately 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths (three to four percent) of all cancer deaths in the United States in 2013 (Nelson et al. 2013).
Alcohol has been found to increase the risk of cancer in moderate to heavy drinkers. Specifically, daily consumption 1. 5 alcoholic drinks or more accounted for 26% to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths (Nelson et al. , 2013). One alcoholic beverage equals one ounce of liquor, 12 ounces of beer, or four ounces of wine (Hart & Ksir, 2014). Behavioral health risks of drinking alcohol include physical injuries, violence towards others or themselves, alcohol oisoning, risky sexual behavior, miscarriage, and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.
Besides various forms of cancer, long term risks include high blood pressure, heart disease, stoke, liver disease, dementia, and depression (“Fact Sheets,” 2016). Many of these risks can ultimately lead to death, in fact nearly 88,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes every year, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States (“Alcohol Facts and Statistics,” n. d. ). Globally, alcohol consumption accounts for an estimated four percent of all deaths (Nelson et al. , 2013). Alcoholism or alcohol use disorder is a huge problem in the United States.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 6. 3 million adults over the age of 18 had an alcohol use disorder in 2014. Of the 6. 3 million, only about 1. 5 million adults received treatment in 2014. Furthermore, 679,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 had an alcohol use disorder in 2014. Of the 679,000, only 55,000 adolescents received treatment in 2014. Current interventions besides AA are currently underway to reduce the prevalence and incidence of alcohol use in both adolescents and adults (Becker, 2014).