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I sat and looked around the room. A lot of these people were just like me.

Stacey R., Keene State College junior


One woman talked about how she started drinking in college. I thought to myself, what about me?

Sean O., Keene State College junior

Chapter 9.   Recovery... one day at a time

In addition to attending parties and abstaining from alcohol, students in  my alcohol-education program at three different colleges have been required to attend meetings conducted by Alcoholics Anonymous or other Twelve Step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous. Twelve Step groups are support groups for people who are recovering from alcohol and/or other drug use disorders. Another type of Twelve Step program is Al-Anon, a support group for friends or relatives of addicts.


Many students reported that attending these meetings was one of the most valuable experiences in their college career. Based on the wide range of types of people attending the meetings, students quickly realized that alcohol and other drug use disorders can happen to anyone. They also learned through Al-Anon that these disorders affect not only the user but also the family and friends of the user.


Interacting with the people at the meetings provided students with a learning experience they won’t forget. It gave  them a first-hand look at the devastation caused by alcohol and other drug use disorders – a devastation that can happen to them if they are not careful about their alcohol and/or other drug use. It personalized substance use disorders. In addition, they learned that there is help and support for those who develop alcohol or other drug problems or who have loved ones who have. Here are some reactions to the meetings:


  • There were a few who looked like they had been dragged through the field a few times, but other than that, the others looked quite normal. I tried not to stereotype or pre-judge, I just didn’t know what to expect. Television portrays them much worse looking than they really are.


  • When you enter the meeting, people are accepting you already without even knowing you.


  • The meetings opened my eyes to what is out there and that “bad” really does exist.


  • There were young and old people and those that appeared rich and poor as well.


  • I realized my life has just as much potential for disaster as theirs.


  • Members picked up chips which represented the number of days they had been sober. They each gave a speech about how sobriety has changed their lives.


  • There was a woman there who was 23 years old. She said she had been sober for 7 years. This means she was an alcoholic at age 16. She started drinking at age 11. When I saw that, I sat back and asked myself when did I start drinking?


  • There was a 15-year-old boy there who said he started going to these meetings after his best friend died of alcohol poisoning.


  • I think I learned a lot from these meetings. When things aren’t going so well for me, I think to myself about those people. They have had some real problems and got through them – so can I.


  • Everyone was so supportive and respectful of each other.


  • You could just feel the warmth and acceptance in the air. People helping people. Being there to lend a hand.


  • You can tell that the listeners really care about what the speaker is saying. They don’t care who you are or where you’re from, they’ll support you no matter what.


  • I attended a meeting in my hometown. I saw a guy I had graduated from high school with. I thought, “No way, he’s not like this!” I talked to him later. It was interesting to find out how he hid his problem. I mean, he was the type of kid who played a sport and had excellent grades, yet he had a problem.


Some students found the references to God and/or a Higher Power during the meeting disconcerting. They quickly labeled the program as religious. Although Twelve Step programs are spiritually oriented, they have no religious affiliation at all. You can even be an atheist and follow the program.


  • I felt uncomfortable because it did seem very religious and I am not a very religious person.


  • I found it to be a very spiritual experience.


  • I gained a lot from this meeting. It was spiritual, supportive and confidential.

12 Stp

  • If asked by anyone at the meeting why you are there, simply respond that you are visiting. Remember, your reason for being at the Open Meeting is hopefully a sincere desire to learn more about alcoholism and the support that is available for recovery.


  • Anonymity is the foundation of AA. Situations and events may be discussed with one another but never discuss people or use their names. Do not take a notebook, recorder or other type devices.


  • Use only first names, including yours. This protects everyone’s anonymity.


  • At most meetings a collection basket is circulated to help pay for coffee, cups, etc. A contribution is not expected, but if you do choose to contribute, 25 to 50 cents is adequate unless you would like to contribute more.


  • At some meetings a raffle is also held to cover the costs of books, flyers, brochures, etc. One dollar will usually get you a raffle ticket. Just like the other collection, you are not expected to participate and can easily choose to abstain.


  • Be respectful and courteous at all times. This is a matter of life and death for the participants.


Many of my students state that they felt as if they were intruding on the lives of the members when attending the meetings. These feelings are normal and actually make sense. Quite honestly, the things you will hear may sometimes be disturbing. When hearing someone discuss the tragedies associated with their addiction, you may very well feel as if you are intruding on their life. But understand that the act of speaking openly about these tragedies in front of a group of friends and strangers is not only helpful to the audience, but to the speaker as well. Part of the recovery and support process is to share experiences, strengths and hopes with others, including non-alcoholics. This is the AA process. You are not only allowed, but welcome to attend Open Meetings.  Remember, double check to be sure it is an Open Meeting by asking some of the people already attending.


Twelve Step Meeting Guidelines


If you are at all interested in this topic, I urge you to attend one of these meetings. For further information about contacting Alcoholics Anonymous, see the Resources section at the end of this book. Here are a few suggestions if you decide to attend a meeting:


  • Attend only meetings that are designated as Open Meetings. You can find out if it is an Open Meeting by calling the local AA Hotline found in the front your telephone book. When entering the meeting, double check and ask someone if it is an Open Meeting.


  • Confirm the time and location. Arrive at least 10 minutes early.


  • If you go with someone else, only two of you should go together.


  • Expect to feel nervous before entering. It is natural to feel this way when entering most new environments.


Effective Treatment 


Although this chapter deals with Twelve Step programs for recovery from an alcohol use disorder, there are many other ways to confront these issues. Clearly, Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step approaches are not for everyone. When considering professional assessment and treatment here are some guidelines that may help make that choice most effective.


Early Detection and Intervention: All approaches to alcoholism recovery depend on the desire of the person to get and remain sober. The earlier the better! The sooner someone addresses an alcohol use disorder the more likely that treatment will be effective. Effective treatment programs enhance this motivation with intervention and therapy.

Individualized Treatment: There is no magic bullet that will help everyone dealing with an alcohol use disorder.  Not all individuals need acute inpatient care. For others, outpatient treatment just might not be enough to deal with both the physical and psychological complications of a severe alcohol use disorder, in particular addiction. Effective treatment programs will offer more than one approach.


Comprehensive Plan: More often than not, the most effective plan includes family and friends from assessment through after care. Several interventions, based on different treatment philosophies, can be effective in reducing alcohol consumption depending on the patient's gender, severity of dependence and motivation to change.


Social  Skills Training: Those with alcohol problems can be taught to recognize situations, in which their drinking has been a problem and the skills to help them cope with those stressful situations.


Therapeutic Approach: Research shows that counselors and therapists who bond with patients through empathy, rather than confrontation, are powerful motivating influences in alcohol treatment. Additionally, contracting with patients to reward good behavior and to punish bad behavior can improve treatment outcomes.


Medication: Medical treatments combined with other interventions and therapies can assist in making treatment more effective.


Specialized Services: Treatment programs need to address the psychiatric, medical, employment and family problems. The programs need to target these individual needs of the patient.


Duration: The length of time the drinker participates in treatment matters more in most cases than if a patient is treated in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Studies indicate that outpatient treatment lasting less than 90 days results in poorer outcomes.


Aftercare: Most who enter treatment have at least one relapse. Follow-up contact by the treatment program, as well as participation in support groups, have both been shown to improve long-term treatment outcomes.





Brief Alcohol Screening and Intervention for College Students (BASICS) is an education and intervention program for college students who drink alcohol heavily and have experienced or are at risk for experiencing alcohol-related problems. More often than not these students “written up” for a policy violation are experiencing either a mild or moderate alcohol use disorder and not yet have developed addiction. Therefore extensive treatment is not necessary.


Following a harm reduction approach, BASICS aims to motivate students to reduce alcohol use in order to decrease the negative consequences of drinking. It is delivered over the course of two 1-hour interviews with a brief online assessment survey taken by the student after the first session. The first interview gathers information about the student's recent alcohol consumption patterns, personal beliefs about alcohol, and drinking history, while providing instructions for self-monitoring any drinking between sessions and preparing the student for the online assessment survey. Information from the online assessment survey is used to develop a customized feedback profile for use in the second interview, which compares personal alcohol use with alcohol use norms, reviews individualized negative consequences and risk factors, clarifies perceived risks and benefits of drinking, and provides options to assist in making changes to decrease or abstain from alcohol use. Based on principles of motivational interviewing, BASICS is delivered in an empathetic, non-confrontational, and nonjudgmental manner and is aimed at revealing the discrepancy between the student's risky drinking behavior and his or her goals and values. The intervention is delivered by trained personnel proficient in motivational interviewing and may be tailored for use with young adults in settings other than colleges.

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