12-Step Programs

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12-step-programs12-step programs are among the most popular and consistently helpful treatment approaches for drug and alcohol addiction. Mutual-help, community-based groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Cocaine Anonymous all provide a highly accessible and readily available treatment option for drug addicts and alcoholics, and have served as a primary source of behavioral change for many who are currently in recovery.

What is the 12-Step Program?

12-step programs follow a philosophy which emphasizes, first and foremost, accepting addiction as a disease that can be controlled but never entirely eliminated. They tend to focus on personal and spiritual growth and on trusting in a higher power. Twelve-Step treatment is also oriented around forming a new social network and actively participating in the 12-Step group.

The 12-Step Process

The 12 steps include the following principles:

1) Admitting powerlessness over alcohol or drugs.

2) Believing that a higher power can help one out of substance abuse.

3) Turning one’s will and one’s life over to God, however one understands God.

4) Taking a moral inventory of one’s life.

5) Admitting wrongdoings to oneself, to others, and to God.

6) Readying oneself to allow God to remove character defects.

7) Humbly asking God to remove these defects and shortcomings.

8) Making a list of all the people in one’s life who have been harmed by one’s alcohol or drug abuse, and being willing to make amends.

9) Making amends with the people on one’s list, unless attempting to do so would cause them harm.

10) Continuing to remain accountable and taking a personal inventory of one’s actions on a regular basis.

11) Seeking to improve contact and communication with God through prayer and other forms of meditation.

12) Coming to a spiritual awakening which spurns one on to help other recovering addicts.

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What are the Benefits?

Following these 12 steps, or variations of these steps provided in different programs is associated with greater abstinence outcomes. Addicts also experience an increased sense of self-efficacy and improved psycho-social functioning. Even better outcomes are associated with beginning a 12-Step program while still in the process or pursuing other treatments.AA Meetings

Active program involvement plays a big role in attending 12-Step groups, and is likewise correlated with better treatment outcomes. Findings have shown that consistent involvement, such as attending meetings several times a week, reading 12-Step literature, and getting a sponsor, can all help decrease the risk for relapse.

Different aspects of 12-Step addiction treatment are beneficial for different people. Some find the most helpful component of attending meetings and taking part in group activities is the sense of community support which helps them feel that they are not alone. Others, particularly people whose faith is important to them, benefit more from the spiritual aspect of the program, such as 12-Step prayers.

Twelve-Step programs seem to be as beneficial for women as they are for men, even though women make up only a third of 12-Step meeting attendees. In order to capitalize on this effectiveness, many 12-Step programs offer women-only groups, which women are more likely to attend than mixed gender groups.

Young people, on the other hand, do not affiliate quite as strongly with 12-Step groups. Only a minority of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous members are under 30 years of age. Though young people as not as likely to participate in 12-Step programs, treatment outcomes nevertheless do improve for those who choose to.

As 12-Step programs are highly accessible and come at no cost, they can provide an effective drug or alcohol treatment avenue for motivated individuals. Evidence shows that early and continued engagement is the best method to take for successful recovery.


  1. Laudet, A. B. (2008). The Impact of Alcoholics Anonymous on other substance abuse related Twelve Step programs. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2613294/
  2. Laudet, A. B. (2003, December). ATTITUDES AND BELIEFS ABOUT 12-STEP GROUPS AMONG ADDICTION TREATMENT CLIENTS AND CLINICIANS: TOWARD IDENTIFYING OBSTACLES TO PARTICIPATION. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1855195/
  3. Donovan, D. M., Ingalsbe, M. H., Benbow, J., & Daley, D. C. (2013). 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An Overview. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753023/
  4. Laudet, A. B., Morgen, K., & White, W. L. (2006). The Role of Social Supports, Spirituality, Religiousness, Life Meaning and Affiliation with 12-Step Fellowships in Quality of Life Satisfaction Among Individuals in Recovery from Alcohol and Drug Problems. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1526775/
  5. Donovan, D. M., Ingalsbe, M. H., Benbow, J., & Daley, D. C. (2013). 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An Overview. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3753023/
  6. Prendergast, M. L., Messina, N. P., Hall, E. A., & Warda, U. S. (2011, June). The Relative Effectiveness of Women-Only and Mixed-Gender Treatment for Substance-Abusing Women. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081899
  7. Sussman, S. (2010, March). A Review of Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous Programs for Teens. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181564/

Last updated on April 6th, 2017 at 09:12 pm

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