Since the first 12-step program was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1930s, the programs have grown to include offerings for a range of addictions and other issues. Today, they are considered by many to be a main component to help individuals maintain their sobriety after rehab for drugs or alcohol.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) reported that there are more than 23 million Americans who have dealt with some form of drug use disorder in their lifetimes. The problem is significant, and the need for solutions is more important than ever. Is a 12-step program still part of the solution? And, if so, what are the benefits of 12-step programs, and have they been proven to be effective?
Effectiveness of 12-Step Programs
According to an analysis shared by the NIH, 12-step programs have been shown to aid in achieving and sustaining long-term abstinence when attended regularly. The article cites other studies that indicate that participation in AA and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) has been linked to an increased likelihood of abstinence, often for longer periods of time, as well as improved psychosocial functioning and greater levels of self-efficacy.
The same overview examined why these programs work for individuals dealing with substance abuse issues. A major reason they have proven effective is the sense of fellowship that 12-step programs foster. Joining one of these programs serves to shift an individual’s social network; they spend less time with people from their past who may have supported, enabled, or even encouraged their use of drugs or alcohol, while their new social circle is focused on maintaining their sobriety.
Other changes brought about by 12-step programs include the structure they offer and the sense of shared goals they provide. Additionally, these groups provide a communal gathering, free from substances and any substance-related activities, where people are encouraged to develop more effective coping skills and increase their control over their own lives.
The Focus of the 12 Steps and AA
While the emphasis and wording may shift depending on the substance or the behavior that is being addressed, the focus of the 12 steps as created by AA includes:
- Admit powerlessness over alcohol addiction
- Believe in a “power greater than ourselves” to overcome addiction
- Turn to a “higher power” for guidance, in whatever form that higher power may be
- Honestly assess ourselves, our lives, and our choices
- Admit exactly what we have done wrong
- Make sure we are fully ready to recover
- Ask for help
- List all the people our addictive behaviors have harmed and be willing to apologize
- Make amends to the people we have harmed unless doing so would hurt them further
- Identify areas where we have failed and admit our shortcomings
- Continue to seek guidance from a higher power in our recovery
- Help others struggling with addiction to incorporate the 12 steps into their own lives
Different programs use different terms to describe the 12-step process, but the focus generally encompasses admitting your problem, making amends, and helping others to do the same.
Considerations When Joining a 12-Step Program
Many people have benefited from the variety of different 12-step programs available today to deal with substance and behavioral addictions, as well as other compulsive behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s important to be aware of some details when joining a 12-step program.
While you’re not required to participate in every meeting, meetings generally work best when people engage and speak. If you have difficulty in social settings, you may want to consider remote, virtual, or teleconference 12-step meetings where you can engage at your own level of comfort.
Some individuals may feel uncomfortable when AA and other 12-step programs refer to God or another “higher power” in the recovery process. The groups are quick to note that there is no religious affiliation within the 12-step process and that individuals who do not feel comfortable with the concept of God may substitute their own belief system.
Last, be prepared to make a significant time commitment to 12-step programs. Many people in early recovery attend meetings at least on a weekly basis, if not more often, as they gain more confidence in their sobriety. Individuals in more established recovery may choose to attend meetings less frequently. Alternatively, some individuals who have been sober for a long period of time may choose to act as a sponsor to someone newly in recovery, which requires a greater time commitment.
Ultimately, achieving a life free from substance abuse happens differently for each person. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. A combination of 12-step programs, talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps someone recognize their unhealthy behaviors and develop coping skills, and even medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be used to help someone find their best way forward to a life of sobriety.
Bridges of Hope’s treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. Utilizing therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices, we provide superior patient care in Indiana through our all-inclusive treatment services.