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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Grave Mental and Emotional Disorders: 'The AA Member, Medications & Other Drugs''

In the "How It Works" excerpt that is read to open so many A.A. meetings, we face the fact that many of us may "suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of (us) do recover if (we) have the capacity to be honest." As one who has suffered from such disorders, in sobriety, I am grateful that those words are there. And it is not surprising that they are there, considering that we know that "the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind." [Alcoholics Anonymous, page 23.]
I am also grateful that I have learned, and been shown in A.A., that an additional mental illness - in my instance depression - is no impediment to recovery if it is addressed realistically and soberly.

In fact, the doctors who I have seen to treat this additional "outside" problems have, in some instances, helped me to gain some of the greatest insights into my 'self' - which is, after all, the root cause of my alcoholism and addiction, as well as my depression. 

Indeed, I have been blessed to have a plentitude of what Bill called the "loving advisors" who helped steer him through his alcoholic addiction, as well as his own battles with chronic and lasting depression.
"Had I not been blessed with wise and loving advisers," Bill writes in the August 1961 Grapevine, "I might have cracked up long ago. A doctor once saved me from death by alcoholism because he obliged me to face up to the deadliness of that malady. Another doctor, a psychiatrist, later on helped me save my sanity because he led me to ferret out some of my deep-lying defects. From a clergyman I acquired the truthful principles by which we A.A.'s now try to live."

"But these precious friends did far more than supply me with professional skills. I learned that I could go to them with any problem whatsoever. Their wisdom and their integrity were mine for the asking."

"Many of my dearest A.A. friends have stood with me in exactly this same relation. Oftentimes they could help where others could not, simply because they were A.A.'s."
["As Bill Sees It," page 303.]
Rather than morosely seeing depression as a debilitating character defect, I have come to see it as a readily treatable condition - much like alcoholism - rather than as a moral feeling. Unlike alcoholism, however, my depression requires that I take medication on a daily basis. Like meditation and prayer - which, not uncoincidentally, are also very helpful in dealing with depression - the medication that I take is, for me, a necessity and not a crutch.

Having had the chance to share my experience in dealing with one of the "grave mental and emotional disorders" which others in the program also struggle with, I have found that reading and understanding our pamphlet on "The AA Member - Medications & Other Drugs" is invaluable.  I am not a doctor, and as just another 'alky' (albeit with a concurrent illness), I would not dream of sharing my "medical expertise" with an  alcoholic who is a fellow member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Fortunately, the "Other Medications" pamphlet contains a report from a group of physicians in A.A. that the General Service Conference approved, presumably, for use in just such instances. At the beginning of the pamphlet it states the following:
"The experience of some A.A. members reveals that drug misuse can threaten the achievement and maintenance of sobriety."

"Yet some A.A. members must take prescribed medication in order to treat certain serious medical problems."

"Experience has shown that this problem can be minimized if the following suggestions are carefully heeded:
  1. Remember that as a recovering alcoholic your automatic response will be to turn to chemical relief for uncomfortable feelings and to take more than the usual, prescribed amount. Look for nonchemical solutions for the aches and discomforts of everyday living.
  2. Remember that the best safeguard against drug-related relapse is an active participation in the A.A. program of recovery.
  3. No A.A. Member Plays Doctor.
  4. Be completely honest with yourself and your physician regarding use of medication.
  5. If in doubt, consult a physician with demonstrated experience in the treatment of alcoholism.
  6. Be frank about your alcoholism with any physician or dentist you consult. Such confidence will be respected and is most helpful to the doctor.
  7. Inform the physician at once if you experience side effects from prescribed drugs.
  8. Consider consulting another doctor if a personal physician refuses or fails to recognize the peculiar susceptibility of alcoholics to sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants.
  9. Give your doctor copies of this pamphlet.
"Because of the difficulties that many alcoholics have with drugs," the pamphlet continues (at page 13), "some members have taken the position that no one in A.A. should take any medication. While this position has undoubtedly prevented relapses for some, it has meant disaster for others."

"A.A. members and many of their physicians," it further continues, "have described situations in which depressed patients have been told by A.A.s to throw away the pills, only to have depression return with all its difficulties, sometimes resulting in suicide."

As a member who has come all-too-close to suicide in sobriety let me be brutally honest with you. If an A.A. member gives such advice to another member, he or she is self-centeredly playing with that person's life. If the advice is given to you - even by your sponsor - ignore it and talk to your doctor about it. If you hear another person giving such advice, intervene. You may save that person's life.

Remember, as the pamphlet stresses in capitals: No A.A. Member Plays Doctor!

But also remember that, thank God, there are many "wise and loving advisers" we can turn to - inside and outside the program for help with any of the difficulties we may face in life. We are "no longer alone," nor need we be.

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