12-Step Drug & Alcohol Recovery Programs

Twelve-Step programs have a well-known reputation as being an effective part of continuing care after rehab. Once a person completes treatment, the support and community they find in 12-Step programs can be a vital part of maintaining their sobriety and sustaining long-term recovery.

Read on to learn more about 12-Step programs, the 12 Steps, and how aftercare can help you or your loved one continue the recovery journey.

What Is a 12-Step Program?

A 12-Step program is a peer support organization or fellowship that follows the 12 Steps to recovery originally created by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to help people struggling with alcohol addiction.

Since AA’s beginnings in 1935, various groups have replicated its model and applied it to other addictions beyond alcohol. Each group is anonymous, free, and does not require a commitment to attend.

People recovering from addiction are often introduced to the 12 Steps during rehab. Many treatment centers incorporate 12-Step and other mutual support groups into their programming, which allows patients in various levels of addiction treatment to participate.

What Are the 12 Steps to Recovery?

The 12 Steps to recovery are the foundation of 12-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, providing a roadmap of action items that people can work through—one by one—on the path to addiction recovery.

The following is a summary of the original 12 Steps as written by AA.1

  1. Admit powerlessness. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
  2. Find hope. “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
  3. Surrender. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
  4. Take inventory. “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
  5. Share inventory. “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
  6. Become ready. “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
  7. Ask God. “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
  8. List amends. “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
  9. Make amends. “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
  10. Continue inventory. “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
  11. Pray and meditate. “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
  12. Help others. “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

The Steps of AA and 12-Step Programs are designed to improve a person’s psychological well‐being and coping and communication skills and to help facilitate lasting recovery.2 They also continue the work of repairing relationships in addiction recovery.

The 12 Steps are not a one-time exercise. They are meant to be practiced regularly, and people may repeat them as needed during different stages or periods in their lives.

What Are the Different Types of 12-Step Programs?

There are many 12-Step programs uniquely tailored for different addictions, behaviors, and mental health disorders. Twelve-Step programs also exist for people who have been affected by a loved one’s addiction.

12-Step Groups for Alcohol and Other Addictions

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)
  • Marijuana Anonymous
  • Heroin Anonymous
  • Cocaine Anonymous

12-Step Groups for Loved Ones

  • Al-Anon, Alateen
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)
  • Nar-Anon
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

12-Step Groups for Behavioral Addictions

  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • Debtors Anonymous
  • Online Gamers Anonymous

What to Expect in a 12-Step Recovery Program

Because they are based on the same principles, the format of each 12-Step program will be somewhat similar. Here’s a general overview of what to expect at a 12-Step meeting:3

  • An opening prayer or meditation.
  • Brief introductions of new members and an acknowledgment of the issue that brought them to the meeting (e.g., alcohol addiction).
  • Reading a selection from the group’s literature, such as the Big Book.
  • Discussion of the reading or other related material.
  • Sharing of personal stories, experiences, or challenges.
  • A closing prayer or meditation.

The order and content of meetings may vary significantly depending on the organization and meeting leaders. After the meetings are over, people often stay and socialize.

Each organization typically offers a variety of weekly meeting times and locations. Meetings usually last 1–1.5 hours and are typically held in rented spaces like churches, office spaces, treatment facilities, and community centers. Some meetings may also take place online or via phone.2,3

It is important to find a group, location, and method that allow you to feel comfortable enough to participate.

New members are encouraged to find “sponsors,” or build relationships with more seasoned members who serve as role models and can provide daily support and accountability. The role of sponsors in recovery can vary widely depending on the progress and individual needs of the sponsee.2,3

How Long Are 12-Step Programs?

There’s no set length of time for participation in a 12-Step program. Some people benefit from 12-Step meetings for an indefinite amount of time and may attend meetings over the course of their lifetimes as it benefits them.

Many members continue to attend meetings because they provide free, readily available, and easy-to-access support that helps sustain long-term addiction recovery.2

Do 12-Step Programs Work?

Twelve-Step addiction recovery programs benefit many people around the world and are generally associated with better recovery outcomes. Evidence shows that abstinence rates may be twice as high in people who attend 12-Step groups compared to those who don’t.4

However, research on their effectiveness is limited and controversial.5 AA is the only program that has been subject to extensive study. Some of these studies assert that 12-Step programs are as effective, if not more effective, than traditional therapeutic approaches for addiction treatment, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), while others make note of their limitations.2,4

At the very least, 12-Step programs meet a need for free, accessible, long-term addiction support, which can be particularly helpful for people who have difficulty paying for rehab. The altruistic nature of the 12th step creates a sustainable program that can be run by group members who have maintained sobriety and matured in their recovery path.

Additionally, 12-Step programs provide a sober community and safe place for those who struggle with substance abuse to find much-needed support from their peers who have faced similar struggles. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), positive social support is one of the 4 major dimensions of recovery.6

There are also alternatives to 12-Step programs that provide mutual support for people struggling with addiction, and although they have not been studied extensively, evidence suggests these alternatives may be as effective as 12-Step programs.7

Alternatives to 12-Step Programs for Addiction

For some, the inherent spiritual aspect of 12-Step programs can be a deterrent. As a result, many non-12-Step alternative groups have formed. These groups tailor themselves to people with particular ideologies or demographics.

Examples of non-12-Step recovery groups include:4,7

  • Women for Sobriety.
  • LifeRing.
  • SMART Recovery.
  • Moderation Management.
  • Celebrate Recovery.

Each program has its own founding principles that guide the meeting structure and how members relate to one another. Though distinct from 12-Step programs by remaining largely secular, they remain free of cost and are often widely accessible across the United States.

How to Find a 12-Step Program

Joining a 12-Step program is an important step in relapse prevention for many people. It can be helpful to try out several meeting times, locations, and programs before deciding which group is best for you.

Residents in the New Jersey TriState area can find meeting times and locations for AA and NA here. Other anonymous groups and times are usually easy to find with a quick internet search. If you are currently a part of an outpatient addiction program, you may also be able to ask staff members or your treatment team for 12-Step meeting suggestions.

Whether you are finishing rehab or just starting your recovery journey, Sunrise Treatment Center is here to help. Our inpatient addiction treatment in New Jersey provides quality, evidence-based addiction treatment in a tranquil setting.

Start treatment by contacting one of our admissions navigators today. They can help you check your insurance coverage for rehab and begin enrollment.

You can also quickly and securely check your insurance benefits by filling out this online form.

No matter what stage of recovery you are in, there is hope, and addiction is treatable. Contact us at today.

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