I really do push patients to go to 12-step recovery meetings: either AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). I do this because 12-step meetings work, they are free, and can be found in nearly every community.
What’s not to love?
But patients on medication-assisted treatments with methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone)
often have bad experiences if they share that they are taking these medications. Patients may be given bad advice, or treated with distain by other members.
NA literature (Bulletin #29) makes it clear that although NA has no opinion about methadone maintenance as a treatment method, NA considers abstinence to mean abstinence from maintenance medications as well as drugs. However, NA also makes clear in Bulletin #29 that because the only requirement for membership in NA is a “desire to stop using,” people on maintenance medications who have that desire have as much right to come to NA and enjoy its benefits as anyone. They should be made to feel welcome by NA members.
Most of the patients I see do have a desire to be completely off methadone and buprenorphine at some point, and going to NA can help them learn tools not only to help them get off these medications, but also prevent relapses. NA can help them build relationships with people who become a support network.
When I ask a patient to go to NA for the first time, I shoot a prayer skyward that the NA members he encounters will be kind and welcoming.
Often, patients on maintenance medications say they feel more comfortable going to Alcoholics Anonymous, because that fellowship focuses only on sobriety from alcohol. I tell patients they should go where they feel the most comfortable, understood, and accepted. Recovery blooms in both of these wonderful fellowships, and if my patient feels welcomed, she is likely to return, and be helped.