I went through a period of deep depression during my early years of college. I had no health insurance, and the University-offered services would not treat mental diseases. One was expected to find treatment on their own at the poor clinics in town. With no insurance and no money, I did not get treatment for my depression and insomnia right away. I decided to treat myself. I used drugs to get to sleep and I also used drugs to attempt suicide, more than once. This is when treatment was forced upon me.
After my second suicide attempt, I was forced to attend a 12-step meeting program that was not officially associated with AA or NA, but the program used their texts, used a similar format (with the prayers and such), and it also had a professional psychologist lead the groups. The treatment I received was barbaric. No one ever considered that my insomnia and depression could have been the direct causes of my drug abuse, but they claimed my primary problem was addiction, and that the addiction was the cause of my depression. They were wrong, as it wasn't until my depression was treated that my drug use subsided.
Their approach did not help me at all, and it disregarded my individuality. I am a freethinker (a nice way to say agnostic when it comes to religion), so the religious ritual and cult-like thinking of NA really, really, REALLY turned me off. I could not relate to my peers in the groups or to the way that they wanted me to recover. I was forced to pray. I was forced to name a Higher Power, and when I said I didn't have one besides the desire to return to college a healthy person, I was criticized and they said I could NOT, under any circumstances, recover without a god. They told me I was in denial. They said I wasn't humble enough. They said I didn't understand myself. They said that if I missed a week I would be likely to use again. They said that those who stopped coming were surely using again and inevitably going to self-destruct.
Eventually, I was able to learn their "lingo" and speak like them so that they were convinced I was on the road to recovery. I did it because I felt harassed and the way the counselors dealt with me seriously stressed me out. I had everyone believing I was on their side and saw recovery the way they saw it. I even believed a lot of their teachings. I felt so worthless and "powerless." I was convinced that I couldn't look at a glass of wine or smoke a cigarette or take even a Benadryl to sleep ever again without ruining my life. I thought I had a life-long disease and that unless I shun all drugs (besides those prescribed that aren't controlled), I would ruin my life and die before the age of 35.
After I got out, I got real treatment for my depression. I am now finishing college, and I do not have a drug problem. I use some drugs in moderation, and I feel like I am more mentally stable than I was when I half-believed their doctrines (yes, they are doctrines).
AA/NA is full of worthless, cult-like, conformity-inducing platitudes. "You can't recover if you aren't powerless." "You can never use any drug again." "You have a lifelong disease." The whole thing just destroys one's sense of self and self-esteem. I really feel like it is a cult for those who buy into it wholeheartedly (and having been raised in fundamentalist Christianity, I see many similarities… coercion, shaming, us vs. them, etc…)
I really think the mental health care system needs to re-evaluate the way they treat their patients. People are different. AA may work for some people, but I think that most highly thoughtful and self-aware people do not fit the AA/NA mold. It IS possible for some people to use drugs in moderation. And it is NOT the case that all those who abuse drugs have an addiction problem that is the cause of all their other problems. Sure, physical addiction may be there, but in many bipolar, depressed, or insomniac patients, if you address the depression or whatever, the drug "addiction" will spontaneously disappear. That is what happened for me.