Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alternative First Step

The first step of AA is this:

Admit that you are powerless over alcohol (and that your life has become unmanageable)

There's some credence to this claim.  Life probably has become unmanageable if you find yourself at the first step of an AA meeting, or there's some element of life that you don't like, and it relates to your drinking.  That was certainly the case with me, though I can't pinpont it precisely, except to say that I was drinking too much and felt that it might just be an extraordinary waste of time--and that I was suffering and anxious and working to escape my then present surroundings.  It is highly possible that your drinking is a problem and that you just know it as a problem in that general term. 

AA's first step asks you to prioritize your awareness of your alcoholism into their accepted language.  In other words, when following the first step, you do not come to realize your relationship to alcohol with any nuance--you are left out of the relationship.  In turn, that relationship is one sided and extreme:-- which does classify over the top fully realized alcoholics.  But because alcohol is a progressive disease, AA may only catch or hgihlight the worst cases regarding step one.

So, we'll need to localize this first step in the individual, and make it a little more positive:

Admit that you love alcohol over everything else, including yourself.

Admit that you drink to the negative impact of other aspects of your life, and that your drinking has become a central part of your life even when in confluence with other highly positive aspects that, on their own, are rewarding and endure.  Every time you make a decision to drink (and yes, you make a decision to drink, however easy it is, and however hard it might be to make a decision not to drink), you push yourself into a lower position, one that will be harder and harder to dig out from, and one that encourages future drinking.

Don't give up on yourself to give up on alcohol.  You matter too.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. AA and practically everyone else who talks about overcoming severe alcohol addiction talk about it as though there were absolutely no benefits to drinking and alcoholism were caused by some sort of a "demon" inside you that makes you do things. That's just deluding yourself. Drinking has benefits; if it didn't, why would anyone do it? People become addicted to alcohol mostly because benefits of drinking are immediate whereas its most severe costs do not come until much, much later. The temptation to drink is much like the temptation to overspend on a credit card: you can consume right now while the bill will not come due until some time later. It's a conflict of two rational "halves" of a person--the short-sighted one and the long-run one. You need to weigh your benefits and your costs instead of pretending that there are no benefits.

Off said...

Thanks anonymous, for the comment and the additional insight. I don't disagree with your analogy, and will try to thoroughly explore both AA and other quitting drinking type programs in future posts.

Anonymous said...

Again on the topic of addiction as a conflict between short- and long-term rationality: the situation in which a person is too short-sighted is called "time-inconsistent preferences." Thus, a game-theoretic reformulation of the First Step would be something like: Admit that your preferences with respect to alcohol consumption are time-inconsistent, which causes you to consume inefficiently large quantities of alcohol.

Off said...

Thanks so much for the insight and definition.