Last night, a friend of mine who is in recovery relayed an incident that happened near him regarding someone who got drunk and committed a crime. He was rather upset about the incident, and so we went through it until he came to a realization about why he was upset, and so found his own peace with the situation. However, in the course of that struggle within himself, he said that he thought everyone involved should be sent to AA meetings due to the alcohol factor in the crime.
When we experience or even observe at a distance the healing that occurs within 12 Step groups, it is very easy to assume that sending people by force to meetings will help them recover and end their cycle of self-destructive behaviors. The truth is, the courts have been doing that for years and we still have prisons loaded with people. Here's why it does not work.
1) 12 Step groups only work when the participants want to get sober. In the early days of AA, the group used to vote on a newcomer to see whether he would be allowed to continue with the group or not based on his willingness to follow the program. While AA later dropped this as it grew, it was an acknowledgement that willingness and self-motivation to get sober were keys to recovery.
It is the same way with the Church: you can Baptize a child and drag him to services, but if he does not want to live with Christ, he will not experience Him. Now, bringing a child to church has its benefits, since the child will get messages that may later 'ring a bell' and make sense to him (that happens a lot, actually). And, the same happens for many people that are sent to AA meetings by the courts.
However, it is not a magic recipe, and it usually takes years for these messages to sink in.
2) You don't need to be an addict to engage in self-destructive behavior. There are plenty of people who act irresponsibly with or without alcohol. Their thinking is screwed up, and while alcohol may fuel the flames ("Hey, hold my beer and watch this!") many times the fire is already lit. In 95% of cases, alcohol does not make you do something you don't want to do, it just makes it happen quicker.
Someone with poor thinking needs to be coached on how to think properly and how to become responsible. Many alcoholics struggle with immaturity outside of addiction (addiction is a contributing factor, since it stunts emotional maturity), but immaturity these days is rampant due to societal expectations. Thanks to the 'Baby Boomers' we have adults trying desperately not to grow old, who have raise children who don't know how to grow up.
A generation ago, parents raised adults. Now, they raise teenagers. And, by definition, teenagers do stupid things. This phenomenon is a social problem that alcohol aggravates, but it is not the cause.
The 12 Steps can help someone grow up by healing his addiction, but there are lots aspects of maturity that require counseling outside of addictions-specific work. Counseling can help get irresponsible people to learn responsibility.
It is important to understand the differences so that we don't jump to the conclusion that 12 Steps can cure everything. Yes, the spiritual lifestyle that the 12 Steps entails leads in the direction of maturity, but the groups are not forms of group therapy. 12 Step groups are about the disease, not necessarily the acquisition of techniques needed for adulthood. That should go on outside the group, with sponsors, counselors and elders.
The Church must also have a role in providing a clear moral definition adulthood. Right now, the Church traditionally has relied on culture to do this, but what we are seeing now is that our cultures are dropping the ball. We see moral and social decay all around us. Families are disintegrating, moral conduct is becoming rarer, and unhappiness is rampant. These are all contributing factors to the irresponsible behaviors we often witness.
To preserve our people, the Church must start once again to clearly define good character and ethics as society fails to do so. I am always sad when I hear about a priest or bishop who appears to be very successful at attracting converts with long speeches about the traditions, but he never mentions the virtues. These fellows think that virtue is not 'breaking the rules,' but it is more than that. It is about compassion, kindness, responsibility, emotional self-control, and most of all love.
We must show people in this era how to be loving and moral adults. This is something that goes way beyond addiction.