What Is The Importance Of 12-Step Meetings For Addiction Recovery?

The basic premise of the 12-step model is that addicted persons can assist one another in achieving and then maintaining abstinence from substances of abuse. There is the insistence on this healing not being possible unless people with addictions completely surrender to a higher power.

The 12-Step movement can be a force for good for many people, but there are some who struggle with what they interpret as an overwhelming religious element of the program. Many addiction treatment programs have alternatives in place to 12-Step methodology for those who prefer a more secular foundation for treatment.

However, it is true that the 12-step program is absolutely phenomenal for most people that try it. Many who criticize its religious slant often end up singing its praises after they've gone through it and embraced it.

The 12-Step Approach to Addiction Treatment

In the 12-step model, you get to sit in meetings with similarly addicted persons. You get to share experiences and explore various avenues of thought. Even more importantly, you work as an unit in helping each other achieve sobriety and maintain it.

In research, as seen in a recent article from the journal Addiction Research and Theory, abstinence practices (as supported by 12-Step programs) may account for high levels of what experts call flourishing, which is positive mental health and can contribute to longer-term recovery. In the study, patients that maintained abstinence were significantly more likely to flourish long-term, with 40.7% flourishing after just 3 months (as compared to 9.3% languishing) and nearly 40% flourishing after 12 months (compared to 12.4% languishing).

Based on the study, persons that abstain altogether from substances - as advised in the 12-Step model - end up having better mental health outcomes compared to those who fail to abstain. The 12-Step model gives patients a framework from which to surrender their addiction, process their addiction experience, and move forward into newer, healthier patterns.

For most people who are looking to get clean and sober, one of the major suggestions usually offered by an addiction treatment provider will be for the person to also attend "outside 12 Step meetings". This may sometimes cause a barrier for the person looking to overcome their addiction or their substance abuse issues. Already, you may be resistant to the 12-step model and the idea of having to sit in meetings with strangers and open up about deeply personal (and troubling) experiences. You are not unique in this:

Many addiction treatment providers run into resistance from the client. The person will often offer a number of reasons or excuses why they should not have to or do not want to attend meetings.

While these reasons may seem like perfectly valid excuses, they are not. Many of them are simply misconceptions or uninformed opinions about 12 Step fellowships and the meetings those within the fellowships attend.

The truth is that most persons are simply uncomfortable the 1st time that they go to a 12 Step meeting. Most of the time they will not know anyone and they are being directed to attend a meeting of persons who have admitted they have an addiction to drugs or alcohol.

It is understandable that you are uncomfortable with the 12-step model. However, few things are as rewarding on so many levels for addicted persons as getting to speak to similar persons in similar circumstances.

Further, there is a high probability that you will go a long way toward maintaining abstinence if you have a couple of accountability partners who are leaning on you just as hard as you are on them. It will be easier to achieve sobriety and maintain it when you are not working alone.

The 12-Step Addiction Recovery Model

Here are the 12 steps of this model. You will need to complete each step on their path to recovery. Often times, you will do so with the help of a sponsor who will help you along each step.

  • Step 1: Admit powerless over alcohol
  • Step 2: Accept that a higher power, in whatever form, will restore your sanity
  • Step 3: Make a decision to turn your will and life over to a higher power
  • Step 4: Make a moral inventory of yourself
  • Step 5: Admit to a higher power, another human, and yourself the nature of your wrongdoings
  • Step 6: Accept that a higher power will remove your character defects
  • Step 7: Humbly request the higher power remove your shortcomings
  • Step 8: List the people that you hurt during your addiction and be willing to make amends
  • Step 9: Make amends to those people unless it would harm them
  • Step 10: Continue to take a personal inventory, and when you're wrong, admit it
  • Step 11: Use prayer and meditation to connect with the higher power
  • Step 12: Carry the message of the model to other addicted persons and continue to practice the principles of the 12 steps in your daily life

Once you are through with the 12-step model, you will be pretty much a sober person with control over your life and over your cravings.

What Happens in a 12-Step Support Group Meeting?

Your first fear may be that you are joining a cult. Well, you are certainly not. You may think you will be forced to hug total strangers. You will not be. You may think you will run into someone you know. You may. But anonymity is the code of conduct and is taken very seriously.

The meetings usually range between 60 to 90 minutes and although agendas can vary and different topics can arise based on the focus for the day, the founding spiritual principles of the 12 steps ring true throughout. This way, anyone, anywhere, can feel at home when they attend.

Meetings will usually open and close with prayer and members may share their own spiritual breakthroughs but everyone's beliefs are respected and there is a judgment-free setting for non-participation in prayer.

Yet another element of 12-step models - though this is dependent on where you go - is written material on persons that completely shed off their addictions through the 12-step model and are now living clean, free lives. Of course, these people will have given their permission to have their examples used. It will help greatly to read through these stories as you may find similarities to your own story, which will in turn help you in your journey.

Do 12-Step Programs Work?

The answer to this question is the crux of everything, and the reason why you are reading this in the first place. Reports show that the majority of people who attend more than one meeting per week and are close to or more than half of people who attend AA and NA meetings have been sober for more than five years.

Other studies have confirmed the value of 12-step meetings on a clinical level. One study, for instance, reported that people that participated in 12-step meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous - who are themselves heavy advocates for the 12-step model - for 27 weeks or more had longer periods of abstinence than people who were not treated.

Meeting attendance has also been associated with improved psychosocial functioning and self-efficacy (belief that you are capable of resisting drug cravings). Indeed, the 12-step model does work. The communal vibe is often a very pleasant surprise for most persons and they are able to handle their addictions that much better owing to having friends who hold them accountable.

The Success Rate of 12-Step Programs

As we made sure to mention earlier, Alcoholics Anonymous are great proponents of the 12-step model. A great reason why they are a great example to analyze is that their database is perhaps the most complete anywhere.

A study conducted by AA in 2014 showed that 27% of the more than 6,000 members who participated in the study were sober for less than a year. In addition, 24% of the participants were sober 1-5 years while 13% were sober 5-10 years. Fourteen percent of the participants were sober 10-20 years, and 22% were sober for 20 or more years.5

Another study on males from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed abstinence rates of those recovering from alcohol abuse at one year and 18 months. Approximately, 20-25% of those who didn't attend a 12-step program, such as AA, or another aftercare program were abstinent from alcohol and drugs after one year.

On the other hand, the abstinence rate was nearly twice as high for those who attended AA or another similar 12-step program without any aftercare. The results were evident that the more meetings people attended and the longer they were in the program, the greater the chances of alcohol and drug abstinence.

Getting Help

The 12-step model is great for recovery from addiction. As evidenced by factual stats, it works very well. What is more - you will get to create lasting friendships and build companionship to help you through your struggles.