What are 12 Step Program and Do They Really Work?

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD, MPH

Does the 12 step program really work

Table of Contents

Putting your active addiction behind you is a serious life-changing decision, and it can be difficult to know what road to recovery is right for you. Everyone is different. Some pray to God for strength to overcome cravings and some need more than just faith to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol. It can be a bumpy road to find the right path, but know that there are options. What is important to know is that there are options besides the 12 Step program that help people stay on the right path when a crisis occurs.

What are the 12 Steps?

Welcome to the 12 Step program. When this program was first created it was a small group of doctors who felt powerless in their numerous attempts to quit drinking. They relied heavily on their faith and when they band together with the desire to stay abstinent from alcohol, together they overcame their cravings and more importantly laid the foundation of the 12 Step Program that would help thousands of recovering alcoholic take back control of their life. Each step is meant for growth in their abstinence, self-care and self-improvement, and practicing humility with a disease that thrives off of pride and ego.

Admit Powerlessness – Step one is to acknowledge that you’ve lost, or never had, any control over your preferred substance. This will bring relief to your mind that it is not your fault, that you haven’t been able to see that alcohol or drugs were making your life difficult and that you can’t manage it anymore.

Look for a Greater Power – Understand that faith is key in the 12 steps of recovery. If you seek out a power that is greater than yourself then you can embark on the path to wellness. A greater power will help you fight this addiction.

Surrender to That Power – Once you know there is a greater power than yourself, you can understand that turning your will to God and trusting in Him will help in this battle with your substance issues. Here the decision is made to trust in Him.

Take a Moral Inventory – At this point, the person looks critically at oneself and the actions that have been taken as an addict. It’s an exploration of self that needs to be realistic and face the person you have become through your addiction.

Admit Wrongdoings – Step five is where you admit all the wrongs you have done, all the things you have become. This admission is made to God, and also to another person, who will hold you accountable for those wrongs.

Ready Yourself – This is about preparing yourself for God to remove these defects in your character. You have to open your heart and mind to get ready so that the God that you trust and believe in will make this possible.

Remove Your Shortcomings – Here you humbly ask God, as you understand him, to remove your shortcomings. This is your own private prayer.

Make a List – There are people you have harmed through your addiction – family, friends, perhaps co-workers, even strangers. Consider these and make a list of them all, become ready to make amends to these people.

Make Amends – You need to approach those you’ve harmed to make things better. There will be some cases where this may not be possible, or to do so would just make things worse. Be able to accept this.

Become Aware of Wrongdoings – You must remain vigilant about what you do and how you behave to others, be aware when you’ve done wrong and admit to it. Practice this behavior every hour of every day.

Pray – Improve your connection with God, as you understand him, through prayer. Consider his will and your own and his knowledge to help you overcome this addiction.

Spiritual Awakening – Realize your own spiritual awakening, continue to practice these principles and let other addicts know that this can help them.

As you can see, the 12 Step program originated with a heavy emphasis on God and faith. Nowadays, the 12 Steps has been modified to respect all religions by saying a Higher Power. Even with these modifications, some people prefer an alternative method of support groups than the AA 12 Step program.

Do the 12 Steps Really Work?

Yes, the 12 Step Program really works. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA) Membership Surveys were conducted about the effectiveness of these free support group programs. Those who utilized the services provided at these support groups managed to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol for 1 to 5 years were 34% (AA), 33% (NA), and 31% (CA). Those who remain 5 years + abstinent from drugs and alcohol were 45% (AA), 55% (NA), and 14% (CA).

Does the 12 step program really work 12 step meetingsFor those who struggle with cravings, triggers, and night terrors about relapsing, those odds are outstanding and more importantly the quality of their lives in sobriety make it all worth it.

What did these people have to do in a 12 Step Program?

Give money, buy into a group, and worship God, not at all. 12 Step program fellowships are free and are available to anyone who has the desire to remain sober free of mind-altering substance.

You do not have to worship any God that you don’t believe in and all they ask of you is that you keep coming back.

So what did these people really have to do?

Live a life of sobriety. Hard to believe, right?

Those people who reported to be 5 years sober attend 12 Step meetings, asked for a sponsor to help them work the 12 steps, practiced humility by getting involved community services and maybe attended outpatient services to continue with therapy sessions if needed. Like the 12 Steps say, “It works if you work it.”

Alternatives to the 12 Steps

For many people an inpatient rehab program introduces the 12 Steps to them. Rehab tends to introduce the routine of going to meetings, finding a sponsor, addressing co-occurring disorders, and developing coping mechanisms from when things get really tough in sobriety. Those who complete a rehab program and like the routine, will look into sober livings that keep up that routine of meetings.  This gives them the framework and support they need for their first year in sobriety.

journey in recovery 12 step programs workNowadays there are so many options other than just the 12 Steps. Perhaps you have tried to get sober and found that the steps are not for you, or maybe the idea of the program isn’t attractive to you.

Some people need science instead of faith and that is okay. Some people need a more specialized support groups because they have co-occurring disorder. Some people struggle with dependency issues because of their history in active addiction.

The great news is that there are support groups for all of those needs and they are all free. All you need is the desire to be sober and live a life in recovery.

For those who do not respond well to faith-based support groups can utilize SMART recovery. Instead of using the 12-steps, SMART Recovery uses techniques from the CRAFT Program (Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training).

There are Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA) for dual-diagnoses addicts as well as their family and friends. DRA understands that dual-diagnosis individuals need support for their addiction as well as other co-occurring mental health disorders.

These are just a few examples of the support available to those who want to put their active addiction behind them.

Disclaimer: ABTRS.com is in no way affiliated with any of the support groups listed above nor do we receive funding from the organization for endorsing their fellowship. Our goal is to educate those in need about aftercare programs that help maintain sobriety and help those struggling with addiction find a meeting. Please attend  a meeting for literature or visit their website for more information.

Susana Spiegel

Susana Spiegel

Susana has experience writing about addiction, treatment, mental health, and recovery. She holds a Bachelors in Arts of Theology from GCU, and has a deep empathy for those who are struggling with addiction, as she is in recovery herself.

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