"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 9600 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. In
2016 the IDAA Steering Committee voted to allow membership from other
prescribing providers: physician assistant, nurse practitioners and
certified registered nurse anesthetists. 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 health care provider 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 used wisely. 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 doctor".
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 led 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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IDAA envisions recovery for all health care professionals and their
families impacted by addictive disorders.
The mission of IDAA is to carry the message of recovery to health care
professionals and their families.