Rehab Romance: What is 13 Stepping?

Deciding to become clean and sober is personal for everyone. Once that decision has been made, a lot of effort goes into becoming healthy again, and even more effort goes into reconstructing relationships with friends and family.

Once treatment is complete, you are encouraged to utilize 12-step groups or other support groups to continue your healing from active drug or Alcohol addiction into a life of recovery.

These support groups offer invaluable resources for continuing on the path of perpetual sobriety. Coming out of treatment is a vulnerable time, and 12-step support groups will give you the support of others that have been where you are. Unfortunately, once in a while, we run across people that will take advantage of your brand new sobriety and your feelings of insecurity. Being aware of the 13 steppings will help you protect yourself and possibly others.

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What Is the 13th Step?

No, the 13th step is not something added to your 12-step program.

The 13th step, or 13 stepping, is when a more seasoned member of a 12-step group actively seeks a romantic relationship with someone new to the group. 13 stepping is another way for someone in a more powerful position to manipulate someone with less power to capitalize on the perceived benefits the person with less power has to offer.

13th steppers usually have been through the delicate first year of sobriety and have a broad understanding of newer members’ vulnerable state of mind when they arrive. This vulnerability makes a person especially susceptible to advances as they struggle to feel accepted by the group.


How to Spot a 13th Stepper

Being aware of the issue is your first defense against 13 steppers. You can usually spot a 13 stepper by observing their actions and motivations. If you suspect someone is a 13 stepper, look for actions that don’t align with the spirit of the 12-step program. Maybe they only offer rides to and from meetings to attract newcomers. Often, a 13 stepper will discourage you from listening to your sponsor or even trying to make a date with you.

These people are wholly familiar with the precarious mental state of someone newly out of treatment and trying to get their life back on the rails. They’re not nice: they’re preying on someone who needs patience and understanding during a critical time. No one should ever tolerate this behavior.

Too many people have stories that ended in a break-up after the 13-stepper has gotten what they wanted, usually sex or money. Do not fall victim to these people. Avoid this by considering why you’re a part of the group and putting your sobriety first.

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Why 13th Stepping Occurs

The 12-step program has helped countless people come through the worst part of their lives. It works because of what people give of themselves to it. Because 12-step support groups are made up of their participating members, they can only be as good as those who belong to the group. Since people are not perfect, neither are 12-step groups.

As they say, there are bad apples in every bunch. Do not allow this to take away from your experience with the 12-step program. It is still a very important tool in recovery and equips you to achieve the sober life you strive for. However, make sure to be mindful.

The Dangers of 13th Stepping

The first year after completing treatment is about stabilizing your new, healthy lifestyle and establishing a new sense of self. You may live in a sober-living house or continue in an Intensive Outpatient Program to stabilize your recovery. As mentioned above, your energy is better spent securing a strong foundation for your sobriety.

If you focus divides between your sobriety and a new relationship, your progress will suffer. In addition, if the relationship doesn’t work out, you may be tempted to go back to your old ways of dealing with stress and depression. Let’s face it: a relationship with a 13 stepper is not destined for ‘happily ever after.’ Seeing a 13 stepper at meetings after the relationship fails may prove incredibly difficult and could endanger the good habits you have worked so hard to create. A romance created in rehab or shortly after is not likely to be fruitful.

Once you’re comfortable in your sobriety and ready to start dating, your dating pool will expand outside the walls of a 12-step meeting, and finding the right one for you will be more likely. Avoid limiting yourself and your potential for love by putting your sobriety first. In time, you will reap all of the benefits of a sober life, including a healthy, happy, and romantic relationship.

Related Educational Content and Guides

Understanding Rehab Romances
The Difference Between IOP & 12 Step Meetings




Our writers are experienced in everything related to addiction, mental health, rehab and recovery.

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