As word about the Syracuse group and their practices spread, it seems as though people are beginning to pick up on the harmful practices by some AA members and groups that try to convince other members to go off of prescribed medications, particularly mental health medications. In my own experience, this kind of behavior is actually quite ocmmon in AA, and I’ve heard from others across the world who either had sponsors or people in AA try to get them off of their medications or who tried so with others. I’ve heard and seen both, and have my own experiences with a sponsor trying to get me to go off of prescribed medications.
In 2005, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD and put on medications. About 9 months later, a woman in AA weaseled her way into sponsoring me. She said that she had been a counselor (but didn’t mention a drug and alcohol counselor), and could “help me” with the things that I was going through. It turned out, though, that her idea of helping was anything but.
She sponsored me for about 9 months, and during that time she repeatedly told me that I was overmedicated (I wasn’t, I was on low doses of medications) and was going to relapse because of it. She would say things to me like “I have no idea how you are sober right now” and other demeaning phrases because I was on medication. She pushed me to go off of them and even told me that I could detox on her couch, as if the medications were addictive medications. They were mood stabilizers for my mood issues and antidepressants for PTSD. But she was convinced that I was addicted to these medications.
I refused to go off of these medications, and in turn she set me up with a surprise meeting with two people in the program who’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and didn’t take medications and did okay. She tried to point them out as “examples” for me to follow. I still wouldn’t go off medications, though, and her treatment of me only got worse.
This woman, though, was convinced that any medication was bad, even medications like aspirin, which she refused to take when needed. She would look down on me for taking cold medication and tylenol pm when I was sick, and acted like I wasn’t sober for taking it. Still, I kept taking my medications, and am glad that I did.
The sad truth, though, in AA is that not all people are able to hold their ground when it comes to refusing to go off of medication. And, some of those people who go off medication due to their involvement in AA commit suicide, relapse because of it, and/or have a flare up of mental health symptoms. It’s interesting to me that a program that preaches sobriety would condone practices that can lead to relapse.
I remember a man in the previous town I lived who was in AA and committed suicide. Apparently, he had issues with depression and couldn’t find medications that worked for him. Still, most people in AA blamed him and his “disease” of alcoholism for what happened, as if it was his alcoholism, not depression, that caused him to relapse, as if he just wasn’t working his program enough. Some old-timers even used it as an example to tout how important it is to “work your program”. It was sad, and it was one of the things that drove me away from AA and led to my eventual exit of the program. I remember that I read a Facebook post about this guy and the situation and pretty much everyone except for a few people were in agreement that the suicide must have everything to do with the fact that the guy was an alcoholic. I was one of the few who pointed out that he was depressed and had mental health issues and that this likely had something to do with it… very few people listened. This shows how toxic AA can be.
Here’s an article about the Syracuse Group. Please read it if you can, and comment below about any experiences that you have regarding this issue.