The 12-Step process is a fundamental part of the modern addiction treatment paradigm. Most addiction rehab facilities rely on this model to help their patients achieve and sustain recovery. Multiple variations of the 12-Step process exist; however, the original iteration of this model developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA or Al-Anon) in 1939 and published in the first edition of their handbook is still the basis for all variations that have followed. The 12 Steps are a series of guidelines meant to address the behavioral fallout and lifestyle ramifications of a person’s prolonged and untreated substance abuse, and are used as a guiding set of principles for those struggling with addiction and multiple other types of behavioral issues.
The American Psychological Association (APA) characterizes the 12-Step process as admitting powerlessness over addiction; finding strength in a higher power; recognizing and rectifying past errors; adopting and implementing a new behavioral code; and helping others suffering similar issues.
Below are the original Al-Anon 12 Steps developed by pioneers of the process:
Since other entities began adopting the 12-Step process, the general guiding principles have remained largely the same; however, the first step is often changed to reflect the values and mission of the specific organization. It’s also common for other organizations to tailor the language to be more inclusive. The 12 Steps for Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are identical to those of AA.
The 12 Steps are accompanied by the 12 Traditions, developed by AA in an effort to standardize a code of ethics and ensure that different AA chapters had a comprehensive operational framework.
The 12 Traditions in AA are:
The 12-Step process is implemented over an extended period of time (often years) through attendance at meetings, the completion of worksheets and the AA Big Book, and more. The process relies heavily on the assistance of sponsors. Sponsors are more experienced practitioners of the 12-Step process who understand the parameters of the program and how best to navigate it. They can help newcomers establish a baseline of expectations, provide emotional support and guidance when thing don’t go as planned, and perhaps most importantly, provide support when followers are particularly vulnerable to relapse. Sponsorship is a cornerstone of the 12-Step process.
There are times when sponsorship during the NA or AA process won’t be available. Participants can continue to work the process on their own by relying on the AA Big Book and leaning on members of their support groups for guidance and compassionate insight. They can also lean on their mental health professionals to guide them toward healthy, proactive, and prudent decision-making. Some proponents of the 12-Step process prefer to work the steps on their own because they feel unencumbered by outside influences; however, having a sponsor can provide a higher level of accountability and support during the more difficult times of early recovery.
12-Step meetings help introduce and reinforce the principles of the process. They are available all over the country through local organizations, and they allow participants to exchange support and solidarity during the recovery process. 12-Step meetings are supplemented with a variety of exercises, including NA and AA 12-Step worksheets and recitation of the AA Big Book. Although NA and AA 12-Step prayers are often an integral part of the process, particularly for those who follow the Christ-centered Celebrate Recovery 12 Steps, it’s easy to find a 12-Step program that is nonreligious, for secular program participants. Meetings are an integral part of the 12-Step process and help patients stay active and present in the treatment dynamic.
While 12-Step programs have endured as a standard treatment model for almost a century, there tends to be a lack of consensus regarding the process’s macro, long-term success rates. Many have criticized AA and NA for having low success rates; however, there is increasingly little justification for this charge. Data from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism indicates that 49 percent of AA participants maintained abstinence from alcohol after eight years. According to a publication released by the National Institutes of Health, the longer people remain in Alcoholics Anonymous, the more positive the outcome in terms of long-term recovery.
One of the fastest ways to locate a 12-Step meeting in your area is by checking the directory on AA or NA affiliate websites. These two organizations rely on a national network of local community meetings to help make the process easier and more accessible for prospective participants. There may be a meeting closer than you or your loved one think. Multiple meetings are available to cater to all schedules, lifestyle needs, and geography. There are even meetings that cater to individuals in specific professions, including lawyers, doctors, aviation professionals, and so on. Find a meeting for you or your loved one today.
The 12-Step process has been a standard in modern addiction recovery for decades primarily because it’s a way to universally contextualize addiction or compulsion and provide a higher level of accountability to yourself or to loved ones. Although each addicted person’s journey is different, the 12-step process has created an all-inclusive means to address the behavioral fallout from active substance use and reclaim one’s life from drugs or alcohol. Whether you or your loved one need to embrace the 12-Step process or any other type of recovery, the most important thing is to get help today. A better and healthier tomorrow is possible.
jamanetwork.com – Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism apa.org – The secret of the 12 step aa.org – Alcoholics Anonymous – This is the Fourth Edition of the Big Book, the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous celebraterecovery.com – Celebrate Recovery 12 Steps and Biblical Comparisons pubs.niaaa.nih.gov – The Role of Mutual-Help Groups in Extending the Framework of Treatment ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science aa-intergroup.org na.org – Local NA Helplines & Websites
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