It seems to be intrinsic to the 12-step philosophy that “alcoholics” have certain spiritual and moral defects that non-addicts do not have, and that any addiction is “but a symptom” of these. This is why the person who has desire to stop drinking for whatever reason and goes to AA is required to dwell on all their bad points and all the things they have ever done wrong in their lives (even if these bad deeds were not related to drinking at all). Clearly this is not helpful or relevant to stopping drinking, but it’s worth examining this strange idea.
So can a “good” person ever become addicted to a chemical substance? According to AA philosophy, no. Addiction is down to moral defects, especially “selfishness” and “ego”, rather than a person foolishly consuming too much of an addictive substance over a long enough period of time. Now I think it is true that people in the advanced stages of addiction may be “selfish” inasmuch as the desire for the next fix can be overwhelming and take precedence over everything else (you can see this in the desperation of some nicotine addicts who run out of cigarettes). But such a morally loaded term is not helpful by the time this stage is reached . Does the addictive desire for a fix really equate to intrinsic “selfishness” and moral defectiveness, or does it just indicate that the person is very addicted? The non-alcoholic husband who goes to the pub instead of helping to put the kids to bed could in fact be seen as being much more “selfish” than the addicted person who has a compulsive need for a drink.
The “ego” thing is even stranger. OK, we all know that this idea stemmed from the Buchmanite preaching that it was the human ego that turned people away from God and was therefore sinful, and this idea was carried directly over to the 12-step program (and is why the 12-step program contains no ideas whatsoever as to how to stop drinking ). But in the real world, it seems to me that getting addicted and dependent on anything is the last thing that anyone with a really massive ego would want to do. Really egocentric people want to stay in control and generally will not allow themselves to be seen to have any weaknesses or anything controlling them at all. The ideas of “ego” and “addiction” are completely unrelated, if not diametrically opposed. The pimp will get his hookers dependent on drugs in order to control them by supplying or withdrawing the drug, but he will make damn sure he never gets dependent himself. In the eyes of steppers, it will be the hookers who are the more morally defective and culpable (and will probably have to end up making amends to the pimp!).
What about the timid, insecure person with very low self-esteem who has really done very little wrong in his or her life but turns to the bottle to cope with feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, etc. and then finds himself/herself unable to stop? Is s/he an intrinsically immoral and bad person? Is encouraging such a person to dwell on all their bad points (and such a person will find a great many) really going to help them stop drinking? Might such a person not benefit much more from a program that actually builds their ego and self-esteem, and puts them in a position of power and control, instead of telling them that they are powerless and basically defective – which might have been the very feelings that led them to drink in the first place?
As for making amends, this is a very odd idea too. An alcoholic might have done things while drunk that they regret doing, which is presumably why they are making an effort to stop. (But this isn’t necessarily the motivation for a person to stop – they might be doing it for health reasons or because they are finding they just can’t function in their everyday lives, etc.) There might have been ‘harm’ to other people involved, but not necessarily. A non-violent person, for example, does not become a violent person because they develop a drink problem; a law-abiding person will not necessarily start breaking the law. And a person who genuinely feels sorry for anything they have done will apologize anyway – they don’t need to go to AA to do this, and their sobriety is certainly not dependent on whether they do or not.
Some steppers on this site got very nervous and unserene with me when I said that my partner was only harming himself when he was at his worst. They could not cope with the idea that he had not been mistreating other people and should not be made to feel endlessly guilty and apologetic, when the best ‘amends’ he could have ever made to everyone who loved him was just to get over his addiction and get back to his normal self. Genuine concern for another person, rather than harbouring a sense of grievance, martyrdom, guilt, and victimhood (as taught by Al-anon), just has no place in the 12-step program. On the other hand, making a person feel worse about themselves than they already do – after they have actually made the effort to quit - is somehow seen as being conducive to helping their continuing sobriety. Why?
I’d also like to ask some of the steppers on here where exactly the moral defects of the alcoholic start. For example, a person might drink moderately until he is 45, but develop a serious addiction at the age of 48. According to the 12 step philosophy, were those moral defects and the person’s “disobedience to spiritual principles” (and please could we have a definition of the latter) always there, or did they suddenly appear in the three years between 45 and 48?
Personally I think that “good” people can get addicted as well as “bad” people, and a person’s moral character is irrelevant and not really anyone else’s business. Getting addicted does not make a good person bad, nor does some complete bastard getting sober and going to AA make them fundamentally less of a complete bastard (as is evidenced in the behaviour and attitudes of some steppers I’ve encountered).
To sum up, I can’t see that morality, ‘spirituality’, or character have anything to do with either a person’s tendency to get addicted or their ability to get themselves sober. But over to you.