Bill White’s latest is up on Counselor Magazine’s website. Two of the most interesting moments come in a section on the “Emerging science of recovery”
Science also will spark controversies by challenging prevailing beliefs of recovery fellowship members. Research on the potential value of medication-assisted recovery is challenging and softening many AA members’ views about medication. One of the most controversial issues within NA in the coming decade will be the science-driven push to re-evaluate local group policies on methadone and other medications (e.g., denial of the right of more than 265,000 persons in methadone maintenance in the United States to speak at NA meetings, chair a meeting, or head a service committee—even by individuals with prolonged stabilization, no secondary drug use, and achievement of global health and positive citizenship.) Some will attempt to avoid this debate by declaring that scientific studies on methadone maintenance are an “outside issue,” but the growing weight of science will exert enormous pressure on NA as an institution, as it will all recovery mutual aid fellowships.
All recovery mutual aid societies will be scientifically evaluated in the coming decades on such dimensions as accessibility, attraction, engagement (affiliation and retention rates), short- and long-term effects on the course of AOD problems, effects on global health and functioning and the potential social cost offsets from such participation. Some groups will face this scrutiny and actually achieve heightened scientific credibility (as has happened with AA in the past decade); others will not withstand the effects of such scrutiny.
An issue most critical to the survival of recovery mutual aid groups is the question of how long members should continue to participate. While 12 Step fellowships have implicitly encouraged sustained if not lifelong participation, many of the alternatives to 12 Step Fellowships do not expect sustained member participation. Among the latter, members are expected to avail themselves of sufficient support to initiate stable recovery and then leave and get on with their lives.
Science is actually revealing that this latter position may work at an individual level. Recent studies of AA reveal a population of positively disengaged individuals who initiated recovery within AA, then later ceased active participation but continued to sustain their sobriety and emotional health over time (Kaskutas, Ammon, Delucchi et al., 2005). An interesting outcome of this finding is that the actual societal impact of AA may have been grossly underestimated, as its contributions have generally been measured by its active membership numbers—a figure that ignores the existence of this larger community of people positively affected by but no longer actively participating in AA. The same is likely true for other recovery fellowships.
Interestingly, the “participate as long as and for only as long as you need to” policy may work at a personal level for many individuals but may doom a recovery mutual aid group’s organizational viability. The future of any recovery mutual aid organization rests on its leadership development and long-term meeting maintenance capacity. The personal recovery outcomes of a recovery support group will not always distinguish those groups that will survive and thrive from those that will stagnate and die or regress to the status of a small ideological cult or commercial platform.