Stereotypes in Recovery by Rose Lockinger

We’ve all experienced - or are at least aware of the many stereotypes that go along with addiction. People who aren’t educated make all kinds of assumptions about the person who is addicted to substances. For example, the stereotype that all drug addicts are criminals, or the stereotypical image of the “wino” sitting in the alleyway, clutching a brown paper bag.

We know full well that all types of people can become addicted. No matter where they come from, what their race, education level or status in the community, there are plenty of addicts who defy stereotypes. There is also the assumption that states, 'once an addict, always an addict,' that implies the person addicted to substances is permanently broken and can’t recover. Of course, this isn't true. Recovery is possible. We’ve seen it. Whether it is through treatment or a 12-step program it is possible to recover from any type of substance addiction. 

Stereotypes and roles don’t end with active addiction, though. There is plenty of that going on within the recovery community. We can poke fun of it and nod our heads in recognition if we see ourselves in these stereotypes, but we should also be aware that there are pitfalls to separation within our community.

Common Characters You’ll Find In Recovery:

  1. The Book Thumper Crew: These are the “I carry my Big Book with me wherever I go, quote it copiously and will beat you over the head with it if need be” folks you may find yourself shying away from.  The AA “Big Book” is a well-known and well-loved text and a rich resource of information and support for anyone, anywhere on their journey to recovery. With that said, there are some members who can’t seem to have a conversation without quoting from the text, or referring to it for guidance on any topic. These people feel that the answers to all their problems (and yours) lie in the Big Book, and will often criticize or ridicule those who aren’t as devoted to the text.

  2. The Life Managers Disguised As Sponsors:  Sponsors are another wonderful source of support. Each sponsor/sponsee relationship is different. The main purpose of a sponsor is to help their sponsee get through the steps. For many though, a sponsor is also a friend and a mentor of sorts, and someone to bounce thoughts and ideas off of. Ideally, this person has good recovery, has worked all twelve steps at least once and often (although not always!) has more time in recovery than their sponsee.  However, there are some that take their role to the extreme. These folks may mistake micromanaging and controlling behavior for sponsorship. They may become overly involved in their sponsors lives, and even become intrusive or harass their sponsees.  Another variety of life managers in recovery are those that like to “Call you on your sh*t” in an effort to “help” you. While it’s always good to have honest friends, these particular people are really just overly critical control freaks who disguise their need to gleefully point out your character defects as being a concerned friend, when really they would just rather point out your defects rather than work on their own.
  3. The Thirteenth Steppers And Serial Daters: The term “Thirteenth stepper” isn’t necessarily an official term, but most people with any time in recovery knows exactly what it means. Unfortunately, not everyone in recovery has good intentions, and some are sicker than others. The thirteenth stepper is a predator of sorts, and often has years of time in recovery. This person will often pursue people who are brand new in recovery, often with only days or weeks sober. This is a balance of power issue, and the results of this behavior can be disastrous. Men and women are both guilty of this, and it can be a very serious problem for all involved. This is also an ethics issue. The person new in recovery is vulnerable, and generally hasn’t had time to develop the coping skills and support system necessary to get through the heartache and grief that comes with the end of a relationship. Many newcomers who get “Thirteenth-Stepped” relapse, and many never come back. Less insidious, but sometimes just as much a problem is the serial dater. This person goes full speed ahead into each relationship as though they’ve just found their soul mate, only to have things fall apart in a few short weeks or months, sometimes longer. Then they are at it again, often with no break in between (or sometimes they overlap). This goes on repeatedly. It’s not unusual for the serial dater to walk into a meeting and realize they’ve dated half the people in the room. It makes for some awkward situations, to be sure.

  4. The “No Matter What Club”: These shining members of the recovery community are heroes. Just ask them. These are people, who if given the choice, would undergo open heart surgery without anesthesia or pain medication. These are the people who fire their psychiatrists and stop taking their meds, and who refuse pain medication no matter how many teeth they get pulled out. They don’t use mind-altering substances, NO MATTER WHAT. And they make sure everyone knows it. There is a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle attitude that people who do take medication are somehow “less recovered” than they are.  The danger in this type of thinking is that there are those who must take meds. This is particularly the case with those who are prescribed psychiatric medications. While it’s true that psych meds are often overprescribed, there are many recovering people who are also struggling with mental illness, and who must take medication in order to remain healthy, productive members of society. Too many well-meaning sponsors in this club try to play doctor and tell people that they shouldn’t take medication. Or, they may even try to dictate whether someone is truly sober based on their taking prescribed medication.  This is a type of bullying, really, and another danger is that people may be less likely to come forward and talk about their medication with friends or sponsors. This secrecy is what can lead to relapse.

  5. The Twelve-Step Police:  The twelve step police generally know the literature inside and out. Although twelve step programs don’t really have “rules” they are happy to make them anyway. Much of this policing is around terminology. The two main twelve step programs are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Their main difference lies in their primary purpose. AA is about helping members to abstain from drinking alcohol. NA considers alcohol to be a drug, and does not distinguish one drug from another. If you are abstinent from alcohol, you are sober, and if you are a member of NA who abstains from all drugs you are clean. Nothing rattles the twelve step police quite like hearing someone accidentally say “sober” at an NA meeting or “clean” at an AA meeting. You’ll recognize them immediately, because when this transgression occurs they turn beet red and may start shaking.

  6. Marijuana Maintenance Crew:  Usually, these are AA members, for obvious reasons. Because they are “sober” they are okay with smoking a little marijuana. You can’t tell them that they aren’t sober, because they haven’t had a drink in years. This creates some issues and some confusion. They are often quick to point fingers at relapsers or those that don’t work a good program. Just relax, man.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

As you can see, there are some distinct divides in the recovery community. People who take medications or don’t use the right terminology may feel intimidated or excluded in meetings. People who come into the rooms vulnerable and new may feel pressured by “old-timers” to engage in sexual relationships. And, some people have not yet learned to curb their need to control others and may inadvertently run a person right out of the rooms with their zealous nature. It’s important that we stay open-minded to these issues, and try to be kind to one another. Twelve step programs save lives, every single day. But, they are not perfect, and there is no such thing as working a “perfect program.”

Whether you are a member of AA or NA, or -- gasp -- both fellowships, you are a member of the recovery community. We need to support each other, and recognize that each of us has our own journey. We should never hinder another member’s journey by pressuring them or bullying them. We should also always be aware that there are plenty of people out there who are more than happy to judge us, so let’s avoid judging each other. We should make sure our meeting rooms are a safe place for everyone. Our lives depend on it.

Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.

You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram


Shannon Egan

Shannon Egan is an author, international journalist, and advocate for addiction recovery. Despite training as a writer on humanitarian issues for the United Nations, Shannon prefers sharing her personal stories of addiction and recovery to infuse hope in those still struggling and spread the message that recovery is possible.