While there are many different programs, philosophies, and approaches to addiction treatment and recovery, the 12-Step model is the oldest and one of the best-regarded.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2017 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services, 12-Step programs/Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are hosted, at least occasionally, at 73% of treatment centers nationwide.
Organizations that use the 12-Step model include:
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Codependent Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Heroin Anonymous
- Dual-Recovery Anonymous
- Gamblers Anonymous
- Celebrate Recovery
What Is The 12-Step Model?
The 12-Step model originated in the United States in 1938 when Bill Wilson, a founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA or Al-Anon) wrote down a set of ideas and principles gleaned from his experience with alcohol dependence and recovery.
These ideas were refined and reprinted and eventually became known as the Big Book, which is still used to this day.
How The 12-Step Model Works
At its core, the 12-Step model aims to bring people with similar treatment goals together for mutual support. It establishes a spiritual foundation for personal recovery and restoration.
Accordingly, the program requires that participants acknowledge and surrender to a higher power in order to achieve sobriety.
While 12-Step programs have roots in Christian tradition, diverse interpretations of a higher power are possible and many agnostic or nonreligious participants have found 12-Step self-help groups to be extremely useful and supportive.
Note that 12-Step fellowships focus on achieving abstinence from drug or alcohol use, not moderating drug abuse or alcohol abuse or tapering down use over time.
What Are The 12 Steps?
The 12 Steps, as defined by AA, are as follows:
- Honesty, admitting powerlessness over your addiction and acknowledging that your life has become unmanageable
- Faith, believing that a higher power (in any form) can help you
- Surrender, deciding to turn control over to your higher power
- Soul Searching, taking a personal and moral inventory
- Integrity, admitting to your higher power, to yourself, and to others the wrongs you have done
- Acceptance, being ready to have the higher power correct any shortcomings in your character
- Humility, asking your higher power to remove your shortcomings
- Willingness, making a list of wrongs you have done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs
- Forgiveness, contacting those you have hurt, unless doing so would cause them harm
- Maintenance, continually taking moral inventory and admitting when you are wrong
- Making contact, seeking connection with your higher power via prayer and meditation
- Service, spreading the message of the 12 steps to others in need
Steps 1-3 in particular are considered the foundation of the 12-Step program, and those working through their recovery are encouraged to practice these three steps daily.
And while the steps do provide a roadmap for recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, they can also be a guide towards an honest and spiritually open way of life.
What To Expect From A 12-Step Program
There are plenty of misconceptions or assumptions regarding 12-Step facilitation (TSF), including:
- that you’ll be required to state well-known “I am an alcoholic” line (though many do)
- that you’ll be required to pray
- that you’ll be required to join in group hugs
Instead, you should expect to meet in a building, typically with some connection to a church, community center, or treatment center. The number of individuals present can vary, and coffee is typically available.
Facilitators and participants will begin by reading the AA preamble (or a similar document), the “Serenity Prayer,” “How it Works,” the “Twelve Traditions,” and “The Promises.”
After this, newcomers may be recognized and the discussion will often turn to one of the 12 Steps, with readings followed by stories of different experiences by those in attendance.
The meeting may or may not end in a prayer, after which attendees may socialize or leave at their preference.
Newcomers at 12-Step meetings may be paired with a mentor or sponsor. This sponsor, who must have completed a 12-Step program previously, is expected to always be on-call and ready to help if you find yourself struggling with cravings and need support or reassurance.
12-Step Programs Rules
The only set of rules 12-Step programs typically are:
- try to be on time
- no smoking
- no cross-talking over others
- court vouchers are to be signed at the end of a meeting, not the beginning
Alternatives To 12-Step Programs
While it’s long proven an effective treatment, twelve-step facilitation therapy isn’t for everyone.
Accordingly, there are many different variations on the 12-Step program as well as alternative peer-sharing recovery options like SMART Recovery or Moderation Management, which focus on building control over drug use during recovery rather than surrender.
Personalized inpatient or outpatient treatment programs may also use psychotherapies including motivational enhancement therapy (MET) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with or without active participation in a 12-Step program.
If you or a loved one struggles with substance use disorder, or are interested in learning more about how our team uses the 12-Step model of recovery in our treatment programs, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today.
12-Step Program FAQs
Do 12-Step Programs Work For Those Who Don’t Believe God?
Atheists, agnostics, and others can certainly benefit from the 12-Step approach and the mutual support, encouragement, and accountability that these meetings foster.
While many 12-Step programs like AA do use spiritual language and may include religious elements in their meetings, participants are never required to engage with any spiritual components of the program.
Are The 12-Steps Christian?
Although the 12-steps are rooted in Christian tradition, the principles and teachings of AA are open to interpretation. While some groups may emphasize the 12-step’s Christian roots, others focus on fellowship, hope, and other secular or non religious points of view.