There are many beliefs surrounding 12-Step programs. Some believe that the 12-Steps are the only way to get and stay sober. Some think that to achieve sobriety, you need to connect with faith or spirituality to heal. This article will explore these themes to help you determine if some of these programs are a good fit for you.
The 12-Step Program Simplified
You’ve most likely heard of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Programs that follow a series of 12-Steps and focus on service and fellowship are under the umbrella of “12-Step Programs.” These programs are the most referred to by social workers, justice systems, and mental health advocates, mainly because they are free and accessible.
According to the AA General Service Office, it’s estimated that there are nearly 64,000 groups in the United States and Canada. The only requirement to join an AA group is “a desire to stop drinking.” The program centers around 12-Steps that focus on admitting powerlessness, taking a moral inventory, making a list of wrong loved ones, and making amends.
It Isn’t Clear if It Works
There is very little proof that 12-Step programs work better than other treatments. The issue is that this outcome is hard to verify due to the anonymity of this type of program. There are no records of who attends meetings and who stops showing up. Additionally, any research data is often controversial because both sides of the argument feel strongly and are susceptible to bias in their interpretation of data.
A popular publication by the Cochrane Review stated that it should be kept in mind that there isn’t enough experimental data to prove that AA is effective. However, a 12-Step scholar named Randy Moos recommends treatment centers refer to 12-Step programs first, based on his own observational studies.
The 12-Step Philosophy
The 12-Step philosophy views addiction as a disease. Those suffering are plagued by a spiritual malady and a lack of power. Page 45 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous states, “Our human resources, as marshalled by the will, were not sufficient; they failed utterly. Lack of power, that was our dilemma. We had to find a power by which we could live, and it had to be a Power greater than ourselves.” The program lays out a spiritual solution to the problem. It cites the malady above as the culprit and the willingness to believe in a Higher Power—of one’s own understanding—the necessary beginning for recovery.
Why It’s Not for Everyone
Even though 12-Step programs are the most recommended, their approach to addiction treatment and recovery isn’t for everyone. One of the most common reasons people turn away from 12-Step programs is the faith aspect. While many 12-Step programs have started to use vague language when talking about a higher power instead of using the word “God,” not every person is interested in connecting to faith as an avenue for recovery.
Another reason it might not work for some is the aspect of focusing on finding power from a higher power instead of finding the power within themselves. Some people are more motivated by self-empowerment. There’s also the factor that some people have experienced trauma from religious institutions that may have fueled their substance use. Those exposed to spiritual trauma might heal in a more secular setting.
12-Step Programs Can Help Some People
It’s not to say that 12-Step programs come without merits. There are plenty of reasons why 12-Step programs do work for some people. One significant benefit of the 12-Step is the support system they offer. Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-Step programs focus on “fellowship” and “brotherhood.” These programs include sponsors who take on the role of mentor. The inclusion of milestones can work great alongside goal-setting, providing structure and motivation to continue with sobriety.
What tends to be the bigger issue is when some 12-Step programs claim that people seeking sobriety don’t need treatment in addition to the Steps. This approach can be damaging because it can ignore addiction’s psychological and biological factors while only paying attention to the behavioral and spiritual side.
Other Alternatives To Consider
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, addiction treatment is covered by insurance companies. This option allows more people to be protected than ever before, allowing more access to different treatments, making it easier to access options other than those free and readily available. If the 12-Step approach isn’t right for you, there are many other alternatives, including:
#1. SMART Recovery – SMART Recovery, also Self-Management And Recovery Training, offers a more secular program for those seeking sobriety. The focus is on finding power from within and learning how to lead fulfilling and balanced lives.
#2. Evidence and Science-Based Treatment – Evidence-based treatment evolves with research. This type of treatment focuses on solutions that are current and clinically proven to work. These treatments can include mental health treatments, as well as medication-based therapies.
#3. Holistic Treatment – This type of treatment covers therapies such as art and music therapy, equine therapy, diet, exercise, and emotional counseling.
Since 12-Step programs are a popular route to recovery, many might falsely believe that it’s the only option. Those who want to recover from addiction might feel pressured to go through the 12-Steps even if they don’t fully believe in it. It’s essential for those seeking treatment to know that there are successful alternatives out there. If you find benefit from a 12-Step program, that is wonderful. However, a person shouldn’t feel like a failure or a lost cause because they were unsuccessful in trying the 12-Step approach or didn’t feel it was the right path. Not everyone is comfortable with a faith-based program, and others might find they need something else to help them become healthy, sober people. Consider looking into the alternatives and seeing what is suitable for you. You might be surprised by the results.
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