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7 Reasons 12 Step Programs Are Harmful

Updated on January 23, 2017

It's Time For A Update

In recent years drug abuse has been on the rise and is becoming a more obvious social issue that needs to be addressed. Our old policies on combating the war on drugs and how we treat addiction hasn't changed very much over the last 50 years. If things are getting worse, not better, then it shows signs to flaws in how we currently are dealing with the issue of alcohol and drug abuse. In this list we will look at how 12 step programs play a part in the harm being done and the possible changes needed implicated in order to help, not harm, those who struggle with substance abuse.

Note: How I describe and my views on 12 step programs is meant to be that in a progressive nature. Some of what I say may be misinterpreted as hate towards a program that has been used to help many people. So I want to make something very clear before I continue. I support any help towards someone struggling with drugs and alcohol. This article is meant to be a eye opener for those who do not know much about 12 step programs or perhaps have been stuck in a cycle of them for some time with no success. We should always work to move forward and not backwards. Take what works and leave the rest.

1. The False Disease Concept

You will hear it an any 12 step meeting and in most drug and alcohol treatment centers; Addiction and alcoholism is a disease. The term disease is thrown around freely with no care to what this actually means. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and Addiction(NIDA) itself even defines addiction and alcoholism as a "Chronic relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences." and further states that reasoning behind it being a disease is do to abnormal brain changes.

This would be great information taken from a government agency if it just wasn't plain wrong. The description defining addiction states that the changes due to drug use are abnormal when they are anything but abnormal. Our brains have something called neuroplasticity which can be defined as follows; "The brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment." - (Source)

Basically what is stated is when a new activity, drug use, is introduced to the brain it begins to rewire itself to create a new responses, habitual use, to situations as they appear. What the disease concept argues is addicts and alcoholics no longer have the freedom of choice. However addicts and alcoholics brain activity start to change back to homeostasis by no longer using whatever their drug of choice is. This completely goes against the disease concept and the statement that addicts and alcoholics get worse and never better. Behaviors can be changed and new ways of choosing how to deal with urges can be taught.

2. You Become Stuck In Black & White Thinking

Black and white thinking is something almost everyone is guilty of at some time or another. Its deals with thinking things must be one of two ways. Two quick examples: If I don't like steak I must not like meat. If i'm not good things I must be a bad person. Its easy to see where the flaw in logic fails in the first example. However you can easily become hung up on the second depending on what your personal views are at this current moment.

In therapy this kind of thinking is seen as bad comes mostly from negative core beliefs that we receive as a child. Its treated with cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. In other words when a person perceives that a 12 step program is the only way they can get better and that they have a disease which will never get better, including failed attempts at the 12 step method, their perception of hopelessness is a negative core belief.

3. The Cult Mentality & Ideology

Do you ever run into a group of people that insist that their ideas, way of life, and behaviors are the only right way to do things? Well if you haven't I urge you to go to a 12 step program meeting and educate yourself on what an active cult mentality. From unquestioning believe on the ideology proposed from it's founder, the normal vs addict/alcoholic mentality, excessive shame and guilt put on those do not completely abstain, and the restricted social boundaries set forth make it clear that 12 step programs run off cult ideologies.

Brain scans of subject who stayed abstain from methamphetamine without treatment or 12 step program
Brain scans of subject who stayed abstain from methamphetamine without treatment or 12 step program

4. Innaccurate Relapse & Success Rates

While the literature of 12 step programs boast an impressive near perfect success rate the statistics say something completely different. One 12 step program released a survey of 8,000 North American members in 2007. According to the survey 33% had ten or more years of complete abstinence from alcohol, 12% were alcohol free five to ten years, 24% had not had a drink for one to five years, and 31% were alcohol free less then a year.

Statics from other sources point to the a more accurate success rate of roughly 5% to 10% over varied time. That's an enormous difference in numbers when you compare the two. If 12 step programs feel the need to lie about success rates you have to ask yourself; what is the real reason they are around.

5. It's Harmful To Drug & Alcohol Treatment Centers

Drug and alcohol treatment centers follow a normal clinical criteria for treating addiction. However most of them also incorporate a 12 step program in their treatment plan in order to have a holistic style of treatment. With the average cost of drug and treatment centers falling between $12,000 to $60,000 dollars a month its understandable that holistic treatment is not a bad idea to get the most for your money.

The issue with 12 step programs is they dominate the treatment center industry. There's not much choice for someone who decides to free think for themselves and wants the option of choice. Pushing this style of treatment isn't very surprising when you realize that 12 step meetings as well as the program is free outside of treatment centers. By incorporating 12 steps into the treatment plan saves the rehab money as well as it meets the holistic criteria that is claimed.

So at the end of the day money is what really fuels this problem. Whenever there is a cheaper way to do something and bill insurance for more it's going to be done. Political lobbyist as well as those at the head of treatment centers actively push for this method. Instead of focusing on client care they make their clients failure a issue of not applying to the 12 step program. By blaming someone else other themselves for the clients failed success and well being it helps keep them looking innocent while making money for the cooperation.

6. They Have Outdated Concepts & Ideas

The most popular 12 step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, was formed in 1935 by a narcissistic barely sober stock broker who had failed at nearly all his other endeavor. He had experience in business as well as stocks. After sobering up he formed Alcoholics Anonymous after hearing of certain ideas from the Oxford Group. He turned his focus from drinking to helping his fellow man in order to stay sober. At least that's how the story goes.

Seventy plus years later the same concepts have all but changed and the program remains the exact same. Many different errors include how alcoholism effects women, to women staying with their husband after hell, employers keeping the alcoholic, old school terminology, misunderstandings about the medical science, the conception and use of God, and the general lack of knowledge about how substance abuse is treated.

7. The Science Behind Them Is A Lie

If I help educate you in anything through this entire list I hope that it is this. The people in charge of 12 step programs and drug treatment centers will lie to you to make their way see to be the best. From the disease concept to how it is best treated people are being lied to about what works and what doesn't work. Experts agree that 12 step programs as well as treatment for substance abuse is extremely outdated and doing much more harm then good.

© 2017 Joshua Barnett


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    • BethZSeveran profile image

      Beth Severan 5 weeks ago from Charlotte, NC

      I agree with you about the 12 Step programs. Those for whom the program does not work should not be shamed. There are other options out there but they are hard for people to find.

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