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What is a 12-Step Program and Does it Work?

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Most people have heard of some of the popular 12-Step programs used in addiction recovery; however, not everyone knows what these programs are really about. A 12-step program is made up of a set of guiding principles that define a course of action for handling problems such as drug addiction and alcoholism. The 12 steps have been proven to be an effective complement to standard addiction treatment, and most recovery programs encourage clients to take part in a 12-step group during and after rehab.\

Understanding the 12 Steps

For participants in a 12-step program, the first step in the process is to admit you are powerless over a substance. If you’re not ready to admit you have a problem, you may not be ready to seek the help you need and overcome your addiction. A few other steps include:

    • Admitting the exact nature of your wrongs to yourself and to others
    • Coming to believe that a higher power can restore you to a healthy state
    • Turning your will and life over to a higher power
    • Taking a moral inventory of yourself and acknowledging your faults
    • Making a list of people you have harmed and trying to make amends

Positive Outcomes

Studies have consistently shown that 12-step programs help participants stay sober after treatment. The results of one study revealed that patients who attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings more frequently in each 3-month period after treatment were more likely to abstain from alcohol during that period.

Similar findings have been reported in other studies: patients who attended weekly Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were more likely to stay sober than individuals who attended less frequently or didn’t attend at all. Although less research has been done on other groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, the effectiveness of these programs has shown to be comparable.

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The Power of the Program

What makes the 12 steps so effective? A number of factors contribute to the success rate of the program. The sense of community at meetings is powerful – participants have the chance to meet others who share the same goals and struggles, and they can avoid the sense of isolation that often leads to relapse.

At meetings, members can ask each other how they handle certain situations and share relapse-prevention techniques. The process of “working the steps” is empowering for participants, and members gain strength by acknowledging their personal accountability to themselves and the group.

Recovery isn’t just about stopping your drug or alcohol use, it’s about learning a whole new way of life. For many recovering individuals, 12-Step programs provide the structure and support they need to get started on this unfamiliar journey. Like any approach to addiction treatment, the 12 steps may not be the right choice for everyone. However, the payoff can be great for people who are willing to give it a chance.

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