The next IDAA annual meeting will be held in
Keystone, Colorado July 31 - August 4 , 2013. Go here
for more information and registration.
"And We Will Know Peace."
Introduction to Meetings and a Caveat
Support groups available to alcoholic and other drug dependent doctors are
far from alike. Some are simple AA or NA groups and function largely
according to the traditions of those organizations, yet almost all differ In
some ways, albeit minor ones, from a "typical" AA group. Some are careful to
avoid altogether the use of AA's name while traveling another path. Ask
questions, assume nothing, and be prepared for yet another demonstration that
alcoholics both individually and collectively are wonderfully varied.
GROUPS vs. MEETINGS
First off, if a number of alcoholics meeting together are to call themselves
an "AA group" they are asked to be open to all alcoholics. If attendance is
to be restricted, the word "meeting" should be used instead. Whether or not
restricted meetings should take place at all is endlessly debated, but they
have existed for many years and will certainly continue to do so. This
introduction helps to keep expectations clear for all concerned so that
people can find their way to the help they need and want and that AA's
traditions are respected as well.
The membership of these groups is quite varied. The oldest and largest is
International Doctors In Alcoholics Anonymous (IDAA). It has approximately 4500
members and has, ever since its founding In 1949, admitted to full membership
any alcoholic or drug dependent "doctor" whose degree is in the field of
health care. Members Include DDS's, DVM's, PhD's in psychology, nursing,
social work, and the health sciences. While traditional AA groups do not
admit Al-Anon members, this group does. To join, one simply writes or uses
the membership form on this website and asks to be placed on the mailing
list. If willing, individual members may be asked to help if a colleague is
in trouble in their area or wants contact with a fellow physician or other
doctor in recovery.
IDAA is not an umbrella organization that has chapters or subgroups, so that
if a local meeting calls itself "an IDAA group," this means only that there
are similarities. Each local group is quite autonomous. It is not
controlled or endorsed by IDAA, nor are membership requirements necessarily
the same. The size of the community and the numbers and disciplines of
people in need will initially shape the group, while the groups themselves
tend to change composition with time. The old adage that all it takes for a
new meeting is two alcoholics, a coffee pot and a resentment is as true for
professionals as for anyone else. There is constant change.
CONFIDENTIALITY AND ANONYMITY
Many groups are for advocacy and support only. Some are very careful never
to monitor or report on anyone for any reason, even at the request of a
person wanting proof of attendance. Other groups will attest to attendance on
request. Others go further and become an actual monitoring arm of a state
disciplinary board. Several have been chaired by a physician not himself an
alcoholic who has been not only a ranking member of a state Impaired
physician committee but actually the therapist of some of the physician group
members as well! Clearly it will pay to learn the ground rules whenever
possible before assuming that a particular degree of confidentiality exists.
Unfortunately there have been other problems with some of the special groups
over the years that have sometimes resulted in the physician actually having
less anonymity than the average layman approaching AA. Most of these actions
have ceased with experience. At times lists of names have been prepared so
that members could locate each other more easily and the lists have not then
been wisely used. At other times unauthorized audiotapes have been made and
then shared with medical students to show them that they too are not immune
to addictive disease. Well, and good, but the speaker was not always
consulted in advance and would not have agreed. These episodes fortunately
have been rare but they have happened. Recognizing these mistakes helps to
avoid them in future while admitting honestly that they have occurred. A
physician deserves fully as much privacy in recovery as does anyone else.
A major frustration for many doctors has been the slowness of committees and
organizations to reach out to the colleague who is in obvious trouble. AA
groups quite rightly stick to "attraction, not promotion." At their best,
they do not in any way push people around so that one is left with nothing
and no one to fight but oneself and one's addiction. Meanwhile the local
impaired physician committee may not be doing very much. To expect it to may
not be realistic. Some groups have responded by taking on the dual function
of outreach and subsequent support. One of the best organized and creative
of these is Physicians Serving Physicians and is not an AA group. This
Minnesota-based organization will approach a fellow physician in trouble,
essentially gang up on the person and kindly but firmly try to maneuver him
or her into treatment. This is not a game for amateurs but there are
techniques to be learned and when this is well done, the success rate of such
well planned interventions can be impressive.
TREATMENT CENTER SPONSORSHIP
There are a certain number of groups that assemble in meeting space provided
by treatment centers. Sometimes this reflects nothing more than the
generosity of the center and there are no strings attached. At other times
it reflects an attempt by the center to establish itself as the place where
professionals come to be treated. Physicians are, after all, a fairly
influential group and there is status for the place known as the center where
professionals come for treatment or for the person known as the "doctor's
Some treatment center groups are fee-charging therapy groups designed
primarily for ongoing care of members of particular occupations. They
frequently welcome people who had their primary treatment elsewhere. While
their function may indeed include giving support, they are not support groups
in the usual sense of the word. They have been known to present themselves
in misleading ways in order to attract more patients.
WHAT TO DO?
In spite of some headaches along the way, most of the professional groups can
be regarded as safe. Certainly for most the benefits have far outweighed the
problems and has lead to a lot of recovery, fun and fellowship. While a
little bit of creative paranoia is probably a good idea and a reasonable
amount of investigation is in order before making assumptions about a
particular group, there is only one really important caveat: that worry about
the suitability of a particular group must never be used to justify paralysis
while drinking and drugging continues.
No therapist, treatment center or group of human beings is perfect.
Sometimes even alcoholics and addicts themselves are imperfect, but together
can do what would be impossible for anyone to do alone. When a group can
help others escape from the isolation and loneliness that is the most painful
part of addiction, it can be truly exciting. Join AA and IDAA now!
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International Doctors in Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of
doctors and their families whose primary purpose to support one another
in recovery from alcoholism and other drug addictions.
The IDAA organization provides support and encouragement through:
The study and application of the steps and traditions of Alcoholics
The annual IDAA meeting.
Education and ongoing network development within the tradition of
IDAA does not provide professional counseling, therapy or