Many different programs and roads to recovery from alcohol and drug addictions are available to help people heal. Arguably the most popular method, known about even by people who have never had a brush with addiction, is the 12-step program.
The 12 steps were first established by Alcoholics Anonymous way back in 1939.
How have the 12 steps not only stood the test of time, still widely used 80 years after their development, but also become so well-known?
Put simply, it’s because they work.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the basics of the 12-step recovery program and find out why they have such success.
What Are the 12 Steps?
The 12 steps are a set of guidelines for overcoming addiction to alcohol or drugs. They emphasize the three dimensions of human structure – physical, mental, and spiritual – and deal with the way addiction manifests itself in each dimension.
There is a heavy emphasis on spirituality, and frequently mention God, but this doesn’t mean the steps are only effective for specific religions. The references to God can be interpreted as any higher power that the participant believes in, and the programs have many Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist participants.
You don’t even have to be religious at all to find success from a 12-step program. A version of the steps has been developed with non-theistic language, meant to appeal to atheists and agnostics.
Why Are 12-Step Programs so Successful?
There are many things the 12 steps get right, so it’s hard to point to one specific reason 12-step programs are so effective. Let’s take a look at what the 12 steps do well.
They recognize the power of spirituality. While individual beliefs differ about whether or not God or another higher power directly intervenes in someone’s life, recent research shows us the brain and body both benefit from spirituality. When dealing with an illness like addiction, mindset is a key component to a better life. Faith, prayer, and meditation can give the participant a sense of peace, gratitude, and hope.
They teach responsibility and coping skills. Of course, each 12-step program has professionals on hand to guide participants through the steps, but the programs place a heavy emphasis on personal responsibility. Each individual is meant to develop an understanding of the root cause of their addiction, and through the program, learns coping tools to prevent or deal with a potential future relapse.
They require an ongoing, active commitment. A key component in taking the personal responsibility to recover from addiction is committing to getting better. Any treatment is more likely to succeed when the participant is dedicated to making a long-lasting change.
They encourage support. 12-step programs focus on each individual, but are typically administered in group meetings. The group environment allows participants to share their wins and their struggles and offers built-in support. Similarly, the sponsorship aspect of the program encourages past participants to mentor current participants, fostering a sense of hope for recovery in the sponsee.