Gendered Language in 12-Step Programs
20 December 2017
Alcoholic Anonymous has a language problem.
Humans are complicated, and 12-step programs do not work for everyone. Substance use disorders do not have a single identifiable cause and there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. Like most things, treatment options are limited for people who are already marginalized. People of color, especially women and non-cis folks, are at a particular disadvantagewhen trying to access services. Despite opinions on the usefulness of the program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step programs are frequently the only options for someone who needs help to stop abusing their substance of choice. They’re free and exist all over the world.
AA is the original 12-step program; all others have been based on its literature. Other programs such as Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous all use the same script with the term “alcoholic” replaced with the relevant description. These other 12-step programs tend to utilize AA’s 12 traditions, a set of suggested guidelines to help groups organize themselves. The traditions state that there is one primary purpose for each group and that is “to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
There are some who believe if AA doesn’t work it’s because the person isn’t doing the necessary work and that objections to old-fashioned language and sexist stereotypes are something people have to get over. AA members sometimes say, “The language is archaic, but it works as is. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Just because something doesn’t harm you, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t harm others.
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