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Why Twelve-Step Recovery Programs Work

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Twelve is an important number in the drug and alcohol counseling field. There are 12 steps in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and these have been an invaluable tool for many have achieved recovery from hopeless addiction. Participation in a 12-Step Program is only part of a well-rounded recovery program, but a crucial one.

Most people do not realize that recovery is a continual, lifelong process. As people grow in their recovery experience, they may revisit one or more steps of a 12-Step program again. Some may even tackle more than one step at a time.


A Review of the 12 Steps Used by Alcoholics Anonymous

Below is a description of the 12 steps to recovery outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. This first step admits to the use of alcohol (or another drug), that it has taken over the user’s life;
  2. The second step declares that a Greater Power can help the user in his or her goal of overcoming their addiction and restoring their sanity;
  3. The third step involves having the user ‘turn their will’ over to this Higher Power;
  4. The fourth step encourages the user to search themselves morally and face their issues directly;
  5. The fifth step focuses on admitting to God, another person, and themself, the user’s frailties and wrongs;
  6. The sixth step is where the user becomes power to God to remove any defects in character;
  7. The seventh step involves asking God to remove the user’s shortcomings;
  8. The eighth step entails compiling a list of people whom the user has harmed and to whom amends need to be made;
  9. The ninth step involves taking action by making amends to the people harmed by the user’s behavior;
  10. The 10th step covers taking a regular personal inventory and, when wrong, admitting to it immediately;
  11. The 11th step encourages meditation and prayer, so the user can understand their Higher Power’s will better and acknowledge His power to carry it out;
  12. The 12th step is a commitment to sharing the awakening with others who are suffering from addiction.

The reason that 12-step recovery programs work is because it causes the user to face his or her problems directly, take action to address them and the wreckage of the past, and then move on. It is a framework designed to have them seek and benefit from spiritual guidance and direction.

A Forum for People Who Want to Start with a Clean Slate

The 12-Step concept is rooted in the collaboration of members through the 12-Step meetings. The founders of AA observed that individuals can help each other overcome and recover from their addictions by working together. By holding regular meetings where they discuss their experiences, users can reach out for help or offer it.

Abstinence: What the Research Shows

Abstinent recovery refers to avoiding all mind-altering substances. Complete sobriety (as promoted by 12-Step groups) has been shown to support mental health and to aid in long-term recovery.

Studies reveal that abstaining from alcohol for at least three months is associated with a greater likelihood of long-term success. Around 40% of the 12-step participants succeeded who achieved three months of abstinent sobriety were able to maintain recovery for a full year.

People who abstain from all drugs display improved mental health more often than those who try to moderate (but not abuse) their drug of choice, or substitute another substance for their drug of choice (a common example is a user switching to marijuana as a replacement for alcohol or opiates). Following a 12-Step program allows people to surrender to their addiction, work through emotions, and begin down a solid path in life.

Therefore, the 12-Step concept offers a framework for users to give up their addiction, assess themselves, and move into new behavioral patterns. Doing so allows the recovering individual to build transformative practices, emotionally and mentally.

All-Around Better Outcomes

A 12-step program enables those who participate to:

  • Realize and accept that they have a problem with addiction;
  • Come to terms that they were alleviating internal dissonance with external source;
  • Become self-aware of one’s own habits, and adopt those that encourage self-restraint, which are necessary for recovery;
  • Practice self-control with the support of others, which builds confidence and momentum in recovery;
  • Learn self-acceptance;
  • Continue the process by working with others, thus encouraging them to follow the program throughout life.

The 12-Step model allows people from various walks of life to make positive changes behaviorally. It is only part of a well-rounded recovery program, but a crucial one. Anyone who wants to overcome an addiction will be welcomed into a 12-step meeting and given direction for free by others.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for almost 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego.

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