The 12-step approach has been said (by some ex-members) to put a freeze on emotional development. For those who believe that people can develop out of addiction (like me, for one), this is not an optimal solution. Twelve-step groups are notorious for convincing members that, even if they’ve been clean for a while, their addiction is out there waiting for them, waiting to sneak up on them in moments of weakness. So they have to remain constantly vigilant: Any slip, even one drink or one pill, will be the first step on a journey that inevitably leads to full-scale relapse. Twelve-step groups want you to keep coming back, to help gird your loins against the hazards of relapse, and they encourage you to define yourself as an addict – for life. In other words, not only the way you govern your life but your whole self-image is frozen in place. This is what you are, and if any change occurs, be warned: it’s going to be a change backward – back to being out of control.
A reader of my other blog suggested that the net effect of the scare tactics used in some 12-step groups is to induce a kind of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). People with PTSD live with continuous anxiety, denial and avoidance mechanisms, intrusive thoughts, and more, about what happened to them, whether it was a serious accident, a mugging, physical or sexual abuse, rape, or getting wounded in a war. PTSD is in some ways an adaptive emotional response to trauma. It’s one way to stay clear of danger. After getting mugged or raped, you won’t go strolling through city parks at night, you’ll stay inside when the parade comes by, you’ll avoid people of a certain type, you might avoid eye-contact with strangers altogether, but you’ll continue to see yourself as a victim or a loser. This is a static state; obviously it’s also an unhealthy state, at least compared to normal, flexible, spontaneous functioning. It maintains anxiety rather than relieving it.
According to him, millions of us are voluntarily submitting ourselves to and “unhealthy state” of frozen emotional development, chronic manufactured anxiety, PTSD and a life time of seeing ourselves “as a victim or a loser.” He adds that 12-step groups are a poor choice for “those who do have the capacity to continue growing.”
Hate to say it, but tossing in that this describes “many (surely not all) 12-step programs” does not get you off the hook.