A 12-step program is a set of principles that guides the recovery of those who suffer from addiction or other behavioral problems. 12-step programs often involve meetings, which are gatherings that offer people in recovery an opportunity to express themselves, listen and interact with other recovering individuals.
The therapeutic value of the twelve step program is evident in the sense of empowerment that it instills in its participants. Participation in 12-step recovery encourages its members to practice acceptance, which they say is a key to sobriety and serenity. The collective sharing process acts as a powerful deterrent from destructive behavior and is an effective means of dissolving the impulsiveness and desperation that participants may experience. Studies have shown that alcoholics who continually participate in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) were three times more likely to be alcohol-free following primary treatment, compared to non-participants.
What Are 12-Step Programs?
A 12 step recovery program is usually backed by a non-profit organization and consists of peer groups that offer mutual spiritual and psychological support. These fellowships have proven to assist participants in sustaining recovery and changing unhealthy behaviors.
With the help of 12-step programs, which were modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, millions of people worldwide have changed their lives. An extensive array of 12 step programs is available to the public.
12-Step Programs Include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- National Association for Children of Alcoholics
- Alcoholics Victorious
- Adult Children Anonymous
- Al-Anon (for friends and families of alcoholics)
- Sex Addicts Anonymous
- Sexaholics Anonymous
- Debtors Anonymous
- Dual Recovery Anonymous (for individuals with a dual diagnosis)
- Workaholics Anonymous
- Domestic Violence Anonymous
- Victims of Incest Can Emerge
- Emotions Anonymous
- Spenders Anonymous
- HIV Anonymous
- Codependents of Sex Addicts
- Smokers Anonymous
- Gamblers Anonymous
- Shoplifters Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Codependents Anonymous
- Pills Anonymous
- Parents Anonymous
- Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Incest Survivors Anonymous
- Underearners Anonymous
The Foundations of 12-Step Programs Include:
- Service work
- Twelve traditions
- Twelve steps
- Meetings (typically 60-90 minutes)
The Twelve Steps
The essence of the recovery program rests upon the 12 traditions and 12 steps, the latter being the road map for experiencing a spiritual awakening and building a new life on the foundation of spiritual principles. The principles are spiritual in nature, rather than religious.
Twelve step program members gradually acquire a thorough understanding of the steps and work on implementing the principles in their daily lives. Research has shown that spiritual transformation may encourage changes in behavior that encourage abstinence.
Psychologist Carl Jung describes this spiritual transformation in the basic text of AA, Alcoholic’s Anonymous.
…alcoholics have had what are called vital spiritual experiences. They appear to be in the nature of huge emotional displacements and rearrangements. Ideas, emotions and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of these men are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them.
The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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 main purpose of 12 step meetings is to receive and offer hope that recovery is attainable. The meetings are non-imposing in nature. The ideas put forth in the meetings and books are said to be suggestive only.
Twelve step meetings take place on designated days and times of the week and some are offered more than once a week. By attending the meetings on a regular basis, members progress in their recovery one day at a time. The format of the session varies from group to group. However, the general structure tends to be consistent.
A Typical 12-Step Meeting Includes:
- Reading of the 12 step recovery program’s preamble by the secretary
- Recitation of the Serenity Prayer
- Reading of the 12 traditions and/or 12 steps
- Story-sharing by a regular participant
- Voluntary introduction (by first name only) by newcomers
- Suggestion by the speaker or one of the members of a topic for discussion
- Sharing of stories by willing members who introduce themselves by identifying as an addict
- Recitation of the Serenity Prayer, the Lord’s prayer, or an alternate prayer
- Invitation to “keep coming back”, a signature phrase in 12-step recovery programs.