One of the great things about 12-Step based recovery programs is their autonomy. They are beholden to no other organization and are free to grow and evolve as their community itself grows and evolves. Recently, the medical community has leapfrogged over the opinions of many 12-Step organizations with their introduction of long-term Suboxone maintenance programs designed to assist those at a high risk of death due to the opiate epidemic seen in the United States. Initially, there was hesitation among the more senior members of the rooms of AA and NA to accept those taking Suboxone as “truly sober” individuals. Let’s look at that flawed thinking and how it has evolved since the inception of Suboxone maintenance programs.

One of the established tenets of 12-Step recovery programs is that any mind or mood altering substance must be avoided. This is based on the idea that an altered state of mind could put you at greater risk for relapse on your substance of choice as your inhibitions may be diminished. However, as long as that rule has been in place there have been exceptions to it. Smoking in commonplace among those in recovery, as is consumption of caffeine. These are both addictive substances which alter our mind and mood, yet they are overlooked among members of 12-step recovery programs old and new. Why, then, was Suboxone met with such resistance among those same members?

Long-time members of AA and NA are still flawed human beings, regardless of the amount of sobriety time they’ve accumulated. One universal fallacy of all humans is an inherent fear of the unknown. Suboxone was an unfamiliar medication to these 12-Steppers, and Suboxone maintenance a previously unheard of form of treatment. Their initial response to those enrolled in a Suboxone maintenance program was skepticism.

Thankfully, another cornerstone of the foundation of 12-Step recovery would save these misguided souls from discounting and alienating those addicts who were benefiting from Suboxone maintenance. That cornerstone is the firm admonishment by the founders of 12-Step recovery against “contempt prior to investigation.” In other words, do not pass judgment on something until you have an adequate working knowledge of it. This warning is a saving grace when it comes to 12-Step recovery avoiding stagnation in old ideas by discounting new ones, and it helped those old-timers in the rooms of recovery come to terms with this new form of treatment they were encountering in newcomers. 

Today, Suboxone maintenance is regarded by 12-Step recovery members as just one more tool in an addict’s tool belt they can use against their disease of addiction. There are still a few old-timers whose views have yet to evolve, but as another age-old saying tells is “take the good and leave the bad.” When searching for a sponsor, it may be advisable to ask them their feelings on medically-assisted treatment, and specifically Suboxone maintenance in order to avoid any conflicts later on in the process. You should not fear any judgment from the 12-Step recovery community at large regarding your Suboxone maintenance program; on the contrary, sharing this part of your recovery story with the group may help a struggling addict find their way.