The Joys of Modern Life: 47. 12-step fellowships

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The Independent Culture
ADDICTION IS fashionable - and that's official. Just look at the plethora of anonymous support groups springing up across the country, and the trail of celebrities on their way to the Priory or the Meadows (where Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is currently "getting in touch with her inner child").

More than 50 per cent of Californians are now in a 12-step fellowship and in the UK we're gradually dropping our stiff upper lips and going for group hugs, too. To use the requisite psychobabble, we are declaring our "powerlessness" over drugs, alcohol, food, sex and money.

Whatever your addiction, there will be a 12-step meeting where you can go and admit to it. If you're a bunny-boiler from hell, there is Co-Dependants Anonymous (Coda). A slave to your job? Try Workaholics Anonymous (WA). In the States, you can meet like-minded individuals at Chocaholics Anonymous, Rageaholics Anonymous and even, bizarrely, Wheat Addicts Anonymous. If being a celebrity is getting you down, there's a class for you, too.

All meetings follow the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), combining self-analysis and mutual support with a "spiritual reawakening". Humility and anonymity are the big themes. The latter is especially convenient if you're a supermodel, Premier League footballer or pop star.

The beauty of 12-step meetings is that they are free; you don't have to shell out pounds 3,000 a week or get on a plane to Arizona.

The programme started in the Thirties when Bill W, an alcoholic, got together with another such to discuss their addiction. Meetings follow the same model, of one addict helping another to recover.

Although there has been something of a backlash against the 12-step programme in the US, where it stands accused of being "authoritarian" and using brainwashing and bullying techniques, research suggests that it can help overcome addiction in 70 per cent of cases.

Chris, a 34-year-old recovering drug addict and alcoholic, says that group therapy fulfils a variety of needs. "Happiness is the one thing people want more than anything else and 12th-step programme is a way of pursuing that," he says. "Also, people may join NA (Narcotics Anonymous) thinking they've got a drug problem and find out they have a `life' problem."

Group sessions are also a great place for networking, relationships, job-hunting and hanging out with the in-crowd. According to Chris: "NA is now super-trendy and some of the biggest deals are done in AA. I was headhunted at a meeting and also met my girlfriend there."

At NA, meetings have become as cliquey as the K-Bar. The beautiful people tend to gravitate to classes, and the phrase "well bunny" has been coined for a good-looking recovering addict. In London's trendy Notting Hill there is an NA meeting dubbed the "Cocktail Party", a stylish crowd with an "attitude of gratitude". The meeting opens with the slogan "Welcome to NA". Or, as members joke: "Welcome to the middle classes."

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