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12-Step Recovery Programs for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Psychologist talking about 12-step program to addicted man during group support meeting

Published: September 27, 2023

When it comes to substance abuse treatment, there are countless program options available, each with unique services. Based on your needs, goals, and your healthcare provider’s suggestions, you may find one kind of treatment in particular to be best suited for you.

One common alcohol and drug addiction rehab program is the 12-step program. There are many kinds of 12-step programs offered across the nation that may have small differences, but for the most part, this rehab program follows a standardized structure.

Keep reading to learn all you need to know about 12-step programs, including what the 12 steps are, what to expect, and benefits of enrolling in a 12-step program.

About 12-Step Programs for Addiction

Twelve-step programs are evidence-based addiction treatment programs that are peer-based and follow a 12-step structure.

The step-based structure is designed to help participants overcome addiction, learn how to cope with stressors in healthier ways and identify triggers, and live a life in addiction recovery.

Originally, the 12 steps were developed specifically to help people with an alcohol addiction, particularly those with a Christian background.

Since then, the 12-step program has been extended to all kinds of substance addiction and the steps have been adjusted to anyone’s spiritual principles. In other words, participants can center their 12-step journey around any higher power they believe in, whether that be God, karma, science, or another.

The 12-step program is a very interactive, social group treatment as it allows participants to share their experiences and journeys with addiction. Twelve-step programs are led by a member of the group, one who has been in recovery for an extended period of time.

Many people in 12-step programs also choose to utilize sponsorship – a sponsor is someone in recovery that can hold you accountable and provide recovery support through the 12-step program.

The Original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Founded by Bill Wilson, the original 12-step program was made for people with alcohol addictions. Many people still know 12-step programs best by the name Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon.

Here are the 12 steps:

  1. Admit you are not in control of your addiction to alcohol.
  2. Believe that Higher Being can help you regain control and recover from addiction.
  3. Make the decision to put your faith in the Higher Power or God for this process.
  4. Take a close look at your morals.
  5. Admit the mistakes you’ve made to your peers and to your Higher Power.
  6. Accept relying on your faith to amend your mistakes.
  7. Ask the Higher Power to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Make a list of people you have wronged.
  9. Make amends to these people.
  10. Continuously take a deep look at your behaviors and admit when you make future mistakes.
  11. Improve your relationship with your faith through meditation, prayer, etc.
  12. Continue to practice these principles and share these steps with other people with alcohol addiction.

Now that there are 12-step programs for many kinds of addiction, you may have also heard of programs like Narcotics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous.

How the 12 Steps Work in Addiction Recovery

Twelve-step programs work by guiding people through 12 general steps aiming toward recovery and abstinence.

It’s important to understand that people move through 12-step programs at different paces. The most important action to take is to fully surrender to your faith and accept your dependency and powerlessness in your addiction.

In order to move from one step to the next, you’ll need to truly embrace integrating this step into your life. Many newcomers are encouraged to attend a meeting every day for 90 days.

Can 12-Step Programs Lead to Lasting Recovery?

Twelve-step programs have shown efficacy in leading to lasting recovery, though mainly with people of strong religious faith.

As a disclaimer, it’s important to note that 12-step programs are often part of a comprehensive recovery journey. In other words, many people will seek out additional treatment services to achieve recovery.

For example, many people find that they need to seek detoxification (detox) with medical professionals prior to starting a 12-step program, because doing so on their own can be dangerous and immensely difficult.

Some people may also find it best to do a 12-step program as a part of an inpatient treatment program, outpatient treatment program, or as an aftercare service.

Types of 12-Step Recovery Programs

There are various kinds of 12-step recovery programs. Scroll on to learn a bit about some of the most common types.

The Twelve Steps in Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are recovery programs that have a structured treatment schedule, but do not require individuals to live in a designated treatment facility throughout the program. They are a step down from inpatient treatment, and people with less severe addictions may start in an outpatient program.

Outpatient programs typically have set days and times during which you’ll travel to a recovery center for your treatment services. This will include a variety of services such as behavioral therapy, counseling, and maybe even alternative therapies.

Twelve-step programs are also often integrated into outpatient care. Most often, your treatment schedule will include specified times you attend a 12-step meeting. This may be once a week, or more frequently depending on your needs and the program.

The Twelve Steps in Inpatient Programs

Inpatient programs are more intensive addiction treatment programs. They are very structured and require individuals to live at a treatment center for the length of the program. Many people start their recovery journey in inpatient treatment.

Inpatient programs typically have very regimented schedules including all of your treatment services, free time, and activities.

Some inpatient programs will include 12-step meetings within this schedule. For example, you may attend a 12-step meeting in between your other treatment services.

12-Step Aftercare Programs

Aftercare programs are programs designed to provide continuing care after an individual completes inpatient or outpatient treatment.

Aftercare programs are less structured than the aforementioned treatment programs and are designed to ease the transition between treatment and daily life as well as encourage long-term recovery.

Many aftercare programs include 12-step meetings as means to extend recovery and allow opportunities to find a support system.

12-Step Support Groups

When most people think of 12-step meetings, they most likely think of 12-step support group meetings. These are support groups that follow a 12-step program.

They are accessible for anyone who wants to start their recovery journey. These 12-step meetings are often held at local churches and have meetings on set days of the week.

What to Expect at a 12-Step Support Group Meeting

If you have never been to a 12-step program, here’s what you can generally expect from all programs, though there may be slight differences from one program to the next.

1. Meetings are Free and Open to the Public

First and foremost, 12-step group meetings are free and open to the public. This is one aspect that makes 12-step programs a unique recovery service, as you don’t have to worry about expenses or being accepted to a facility.

2. Anonymity Is Key

All 12-step meetings are also anonymous outlets. These meetings are a safe space to share your struggles, successes, strategies, and anything else you want concerning your addiction. It is mutually understood by group members that what is discussed in 12-step meetings are private to those meetings and participants remain anonymous.

3. Sharing Is Optional

It is never required that you share during a 12-step meeting. If you feel inclined to share, you are invited to do so, but if you find sitting and listening to be best for your needs, that is absolutely acceptable as well.

4. Giving Advice Is Discouraged

While 12-step programs are all about peer support, giving advice to other members of the group is discouraged. You are welcome to share your own experiences and how they may relate to your peers’ experiences, but you are advised not to tell them what you believe they should do.

5. Not Every Meeting Will Be the Right Fit

Though generally all 12-step programs follow the same structure, they vary in small ways. That being said, you may not find your first 12-step meeting to be the right environment or group for you. It’s important to try out a few 12-step meetings to find one that feels comfortable and supportive for your needs.

6. Show Up on Time and Be Respectful

It is essential when attending 12-step meetings to show up to the meeting on time and be respectful of others. These group meetings can be very vulnerable, so it is important to be prompt, well-mannered, and not speak over others when they are sharing.

7. Abstinence Is the Core Environment of 12-Step Meetings

At the end of the day, the goal of the 12-step program is to become abstinent from addictive substances to remain in recovery. Many people who join 12-step meetings will not be practicing abstinence when they first start attending, but the idea is to get there through the 12 steps.

Benefits of 12-Step Programs in Substance Abuse Recovery

Much like any other substance abuse recovery program, 12-step programs have countless benefits in many areas of your life.

Some common benefits include:

  • Improved physical health
  • Improved mental health
  • Improved relationship to your faith or spiritual awakening
  • New connections and relationships with peers
  • Improved academic and professional life
  • Decreased risk of relapse
  • Increased length of recovery

Find 12-Step Recovery Programs Near You

If you’re entering addiction recovery, 12-step programs are a unique addiction treatment service that can be very beneficial as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan. They are also a fantastic way to connect with people who have been through similar experiences.

If you or your loved one is interested in joining a 12-step program near you, be sure to give our phone number a call today.

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