Why addiction recovery should be a feminist issue

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Why addiction recovery should be a feminist issue

I'm not a feminist (wrong sex), but thought this article might be of interest here:


A couple of excerpts:

"…it seems that people who are participating in the progressive conversation on the big stage aren’t aware that addiction recovery is a parallel universe that influences popular culture. It’s imperative that progressive voices genuinely begin to challenge it… I am hoping to put recovery culture on the feminist radar by offering a condensed version of this twisted world and the culture it has generated. I don’t have much of a feminist pedigree, but I hope I can make a good case for its relevance to feminist activism…. addiction gets no play among the skeptic and new atheist writers out there – people who actively combat quackery and religious influence in public policy. How does it escape these people that a whole branch of public health has already been handed over to the faith healers?"

"…anger is the engine of social progress – it is the driving force behind all reforms, and it is the natural, correct response to personal violation. It’s also something that women have not long had permission to feel. In recovery, people are taught that anger leads directly to relapse, and relapse leads to death."

"...addicted women – vulnerable, broken, and “willing to do whatever it takes” – are instructed to embrace their powerlessness, mistrust their own instincts, turn over their self-will, and suppress anger, while submitting to these completely unchecked hierarchical relationships."

The article is from Stinkin' Thinkin', an American blog dedicated to forcing a rethink of the grip AA has on addiction recovery. There may be a scandal brewing over an activity known as "13th stepping", which is basically sexual relations between AA members. This can be fairly innocent, but there can also be varying degrees of coercion escalating right up to flat-out rape. I've only been to a few meetings in Toronto and have not seen any evidence of a problem, but it sounds like it can get quite bad in some meetings in the U.S., particularly in smaller centres where there is limited choice. AA has a loose organizational structure, with a now-you-see-it-now-you-don't approach to touchy issues; it's refusing to admit there might be a problem while simultaneously claiming AA doesn't really exist anyway. Sort of like the Catholic Church all over again.


I've worked in addiction treatment for a while, and it's simply not true that there's been no progress in addiction treatment in the last 75 years, as she says. Twelve-step programs are just one of many treatments. The trouble is not with addiction treatment modalities, though we can still learn a lot about the psychology and physiology around addictions. The trouble is the judgemental and punitive way addicts are treated, like thrown in jail, for instance. We have a federal government right now that insists that the Insite needle exchange program in Vancouver promotes drug use despite overwhelming evidence that the program saves lives and helps addicts stop their drug use.

Addiction is an enigma, part of the human condition. We can't separate addiction from who we are as human beings.

I agree with the part about the religious influence on addiction treatment. In my experience, religious folks have been some of the most problematic people working in the field.


Hi Sineed - thanks for responding. Looks like this isn't a very hot topic here! I guess the author of the article is too busy running her own web site to respond directly, but she did say, "(Sineed) didn't like my observation about the lack of innovation in addiction -- which I get. I know that people are doing a lot of work, but culturally speaking, our attitudes have not evolved along with the science, and most people are shunted into 12 Step therapy."

My motivation in posting here was to try to get a sense as to whether AA is more benign here than in the U.S. Most of the complaints on Stinkin' Thinkin' about 13th stepping (or anything else) come from American and British posters. As mentioned, I never attended often enough to make my own observations.





I've been in recovery in (NA and AA) and around the GTA since about 1994. I don't know if predatory behaviour in Canadian rooms is better or worse than it is in the US, but it most definitely happens here. I've been vocal about it, especially having young women (18 yrs) get picked off with guys who are at least ten years older and know better. I usually get painted as a bitch etc. I have a blog on which I've done some writing about predatory behaviour - and I guess some of it has a bit of a feminist flavour. I wrote about the two NYC cops who were involved with a sexual assault of a drunken woman. Overall, women addicts/alcoholics, whether clean and sober or using/drinking - are at risk from predatory behaviour. I spoke openly of a sexual assault that occurred (to someone else) and was basically run out of the area for being a "rat".

I don't really want to talk specifics on a public board lest I give myself and my anonymity away. I struggle with remaining in the rooms - I haven't had much stomach for the crap that goes on. As for the compulsory Christianity - that happens more in AA than in NA. I was asked at a meeting why I didn't participate in the Our Father. When I replied "I'm not a Christian" I could have knocked him over with a feather. Since getting into recovery, I've bought a house, started a degree, and have developed my career. This means that I am not available to do much "service" and this again makes me noncompliant and "difficult."

When considering young, vulnerable women who are not hardened/savvy to the sick behaviour of male alcoholics/addicts, I would counsel them to seek recovery elsewhere. There's Women For Sobriety. SMART recovery. I believe these places may be safer for women - but have no personal experience. Perhaps someone out there does?