• For 24/7 Treatment Help Call

    (800) 526-5053

  • Many alcohol and drug addiction treatment plans include 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These programs can help people manage cravings, make sober friends, and build healthy lives. 

    However, 12-step recovery is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some people find it ineffective, often due to these five reasons. 

    1. Rigid Structure

    The 12-step model offers a generalized approach to addiction recovery

    In other words, it posits that the 12 steps can help anyone recover from drug/alcohol addiction, regardless of age, personality, or other factors. While many people enjoy this universal approach, others think it’s restrictive. 

    In most twelve-step recovery programs, you must follow the steps in a specific order. For example, the first few steps ask you to:

    • admit powerlessness over alcohol or other drugs
    • believe that a higher power can restore your sanity
    • decide to turn your will and life over to your higher power

    Some people find this structure too rigid. 

    They might want to perform the steps in a different order or skip certain steps altogether. Some 12-step groups let group members make such changes. If not, members can focus on more personalized treatment options, such as individual counseling. 

    2. Pressure To Socialize

    Like other support groups, 12-step groups center on a conversation. Group leaders encourage each member to share their views on recovery-related topics, such as:

    • relationships
    • work
    • triggers (people, places, or other things that make you want to use drugs)
    • relapse
    • coping skills

    These discussions can inspire AA group members to adopt healthy habits and stay sober. They can also boost confidence and foster friendships. 

    However, people with social anxiety may struggle to participate in group discussions. They may then miss out on important insights and relationships. 

    Often, group leaders understand that some people won’t feel comfortable sharing right away. They may remind members that no one has to speak up until they’re ready. Even so, social anxiety causes many 12-step members to drop out.

    3. Potential Triggers

    As mentioned above, 12-step meetings involve discussions about drug use and alcohol use. Ideally, these discussions emphasize the dangers of substance use disorder and encourage long-term recovery. 

    However, some people find descriptions of substance use triggering. 

    For example, a group member may recount a night when they got drunk or high and committed a crime. Although this story highlights how drugs can cause bad behavior, it could also remind a listener how intoxication feels. The listener may then crave those pleasant feelings and relapse. 

    That’s why many group leaders encourage members to avoid describing drug-related memories in a positive way. Still, even neutral or negative descriptions of drug use can cause cravings in some people. 

    4. Emphasis On Spirituality 

    Alcoholics Anonymous, which inspired all other twelve-step programs, was founded by Christians. That’s why some of the 12 steps mention God. For example, the sixth step asks members to “be entirely ready to have God remove all your defects of character.” 

    According to many 12-step members, the term “God” doesn’t necessarily refer to the Christian God. Instead, it can refer to each member’s personal idea of a higher power. 

    For instance, some members see their higher power as a non-Christian religious deity. Others choose a non-religious higher power, such as love, science, or the universe. 

    Still, the mentions of God might make non-Christian or nonreligious group members uncomfortable. In addition, since many 12-step groups consist largely of Christians, people who hold other beliefs might feel left out. 

    As a result, they may switch to nonreligious addiction self-help groups, such as:

    5. Judgment Toward Medication-Assisted Treatment

    Many 12-step members struggle with opioid addiction. When recovering from this disease, some people have been prescribed the following medications:

    • methadone, which can ease opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms
    • buprenorphine, which can ease opioid cravings
    • naltrexone, which can block the pleasant effects of opioids 

    Some 12-step treatment programs discourage members from using these medications. That’s because they can be addictive, and most 12-step approaches promote complete abstinence from addictive substances. 

    A person who feels judged for using certain medications may drop out of an otherwise helpful 12-step program. 

    If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, reach out to an Ark Behavioral Health specialist. Our substance abuse treatment centers offer inpatient and outpatient services, including mental health counseling, 12-step support, medical detox, and medication-assisted treatment.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Alcoholics Anonymous - The Twelve Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous
    Narcotics Anonymous - Narcotics Anonymous and Persons Receiving Medication-Assisted Treatment
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Medication-Assisted Treatment

    Medically Reviewed by
    Kimberly Langdon M.D.
    on May 25, 2022
    Questions About Treatment?

    Ark Behavioral Health offers 100% confidential substance abuse assessment and treatment placement tailored to your individual needs. Achieve long-term recovery.

    100% confidential. We respect your privacy.
    Prefer Texting?

    Our friendly support team is here to chat 24/7. Opt out any time.


    Our Facilities

    Premier Drug Rehab & Mental Health Care Facilities In Massachusetts & Ohio

    Bedrock Recovery

    Canton, MA

    • Medical detox
    • Inpatient & Residential Treatment
    • Primary Mental Health Care
    • Movie Theater & Fitness Center

    Learn More

    Northeast Addictions

    Quincy, MA

    • Day treatment program
    • Intensive Outpatient Program
    • Full-Day Group Therapy
    • Easy Access to Public Transit

    Learn More

    Spring Hill Recovery Center

    Ashby, MA

    • Residential Treatment
    • Gender-Specific Residencies
    • Outdoor Recreation
    • Expansive 70-Acre Campus

    Learn More

    Ohio Recovery Center

    Van Wert, OH

    • Medical Detox
    • Residential Treatment
    • Primary Mental Health Care
    • 55-Acre Campus

    Learn More

    For Immediate Treatment Help Call 800-526-5053