Why is Anonymity Important in Addiction Recovery?

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The concept of anonymity in recovery has been around for 75 years. It was first introduced in Alcoholics Anonymous, with co-founder Bill Wilson expressing the importance of anonymity in the Foreword to the First Edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. In 1946, anonymity was included as part of the publishing of AA’s Twelve Traditions and formally adopted at AA’s first international convention in 1950.

The purpose of this anonymity is to protect all members and stress that everyone in the meetings are of equal value.The purpose of this anonymity is to protect all members and stress that everyone in the meetings are of equal value. From a social media standpoint, attendees are asked not to post, text or blog about their time in AA for the fear it could inadvertently break the anonymity of others. Public figures are also discouraged from talking about their involvement with AA, regardless of how well-intentioned it might be. However, a person may inform loved ones about their affiliation with AA or tell a person they believe may have a drinking problem about their involvement with the group.

For the recovering addict, anonymity allows for a safe space to open up to others and address issues they wouldn’t feel as comfortable discussing in a more public setting. A 2012 study found that men and women benefit from AA in different ways. While men benefitted from the supportive network of friends and finding socially-based ways to stay away from alcohol, women benefitted from AA meetings because the environment helped them to embrace uncomfortable emotions, like depression and anxiety.

However, the concept of anonymity is slowly being redefined. William Moyers, vice president of public affairs and community relations for Hazelden and a driver of the Faces & Voices movement, believes protecting the anonymity of others is essential, but someone publicly sharing their own affiliation with an anonymous group may not be detrimental. He revealed his affiliation with a 12 step group in his memoir Broken: My Story of Addiction and Redemption.

“There was no way I could talk about recovery without talking about how I recovered – that it’s not a magic bullet or injection, that it’s a process, and that process is involved.”-William Moyers

“Anonymity is important, but it doesn’t apply to people who choose to stand up and speak out of their own experience and without representing or speaking for any entity such as AA,” he said. “There was no way I could talk about recovery without talking about how I recovered – that it’s not a magic bullet or injection, that it’s a process, and that process is involved. I need people to understand that recovery is hard work, and that hard work is reflected in my program through the 12 steps.”

In addition to AA, a wide range of recovery programs also preach the concept of anonymity. Other examples include Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.

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