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Does a 12-Step Program Really Help People?

Updated on April 8, 2017

What is the main premise of a 12-step program?

Since 1935, Alcoholic's Anonymous main focus is on the achievement of sobriety and maintaining sobriety. This is accomplished through the fellowship of other individuals having suffered the effects of Alcoholism. Today, there are various forms of 12-step programs, that have adopted the AA model. However, the main question is, do these steps truly lead someone toward maintaining a healthy and sober lifestyle?

According to the American Addictions Center Website, they report (from SAMHSA) that only about 74% of treatment center's utilize the 12-step based programs in assisting individuals to achieve sobriety. Other agencies have adopted alternate methodologies to the 12-steps.

The article also cites an article in the Addiction Research and Theory that was published in 2015. This research paper reports:

...abstinence practices (as supported by 12-Step programs) can account for high levels of what experts call flourishing, which is positive mental health and can contribute to longer-term recovery. In the study, those who maintained abstinence were more likely to flourish in the long-term, with 40.7 percent flourishing after three months (as compared to 9.3 percent languishing) and nearly 40 percent flourishing after 12 months (compared to 12.4 percent languishing). Based on this study, those who abstain altogether from substances – as advised in the 12-Step model – have better mental health outcomes than those who don’t abstain.

With the understanding and influence community based sober support networks (like Alcoholic Anonymous) has on the long term maintenance of sobriety, one may see the positive impact it has on an individual's sustainability for healthier living. Not all people view 12-steps as being practical, or even beneficial. That is because, 12-step based programs are mere suggestions and recommendations. It is only one component to a healthy recovery program.

Overall, the heart of a 12-step based recovery program focuses more on the transformation of one's mental/emotional, relational, physical and nutritional, financial, and spiritual well-being.

12-Step Snapshot


Recovery is possible

One of the major benefits sober support meetings provide is the hope that recovery is possible. This is because, the appeal of 12-step programs are more fluid and flexible than they are rigid. There is no requirement to subscribe to any specific belief - except the desire and belief recovery is possible.

The other aspect of recovery through a 12-step based program is the fact that it may be person-centered. What this means is that individuals choose how they will go about working through the steps, the length of time they decide to work each specific step, and who they decide to work with.

Each person comes to seek help lifting themselves out of the impoverish and progressive disease of substance use disorder. What may work for one person, may not altogether work for another person. This is the great beauty of a 12-step program.

Answering the question

The 12-step programs are helpful in moving people out of a toxic and progressively debilitating lifestyle. It provides hope, flexible to fit within the defined beliefs and values of that individual, and encourages a person to begin transforming their own lives through recommendations and suggestions. Each person approaches recovery differently. And, while a 12-step program may not be something for everyone, those who have worked a program have provided insights in the way it's changed their lives to where they are now sustaining a more healthier way.


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      17 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Having been involved with a 12-step program previously, the thing that I found most beneficial is that it treated me as a whole person, not just an addict. It brought about the healing of my soul, or my spirit and body together. I was able to find something higher than myself to tap into. This gave me a sense of well-being, a purpose for living, and hope for the future. These are the very things that enabled my long-term abstinence.


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