Are 12 Step Programs Effective?

12 step programs effectiveness

You have likely heard of programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous. These programs are typically involved with the 12-step approach to addiction recovery. Support groups that use the 12-step approach use faith, humility, and honesty to achieve and maintain sobriety. 12-step programs involve peer-led meetings that are held weekly and are entirely free of charge.

Challenges of an Alcohol Use Disorder

12-step groups are extremely useful for people dealing with or recovering from an alcohol use disorder. An alcohol use disorder is characterized by uncontrollable drinking and is considered a chronic disease. People with emotional and physical dependence on alcohol will continue drinking even while knowing the repercussions.

Severe addictions often require professional treatment since the effects of an alcohol use disorder can create issues entirely throughout the affected person’s life. Symptoms of an alcohol use disorder involve a strong urge to use alcohol. When not using alcohol, the affected person may experience incredibly uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms often encourage people to continue drinking just to avoid feeling sick.

Treatment programs such as detoxification help people initially stop drinking. Following detox, inpatient programs, and behavioral therapies help people make healthy changes in their lives to live a sober and fulfilling life. After the necessary life changes are made, people in recovery transition back to their normal lives, often attending recovery support groups to help prevent relapse.

Recovery Support Groups

Recovery support groups can differ in many aspects. Some support groups are faith-based, while others are not. People that have succeeded in avoiding relapse have often found a support group that works well for them. It is worth noting that support groups do not take the place of rehabilitation. They are a complement to formal treatments that help prevent relapse while encouraging community participation.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international organization of peer groups. These peer groups are scattered across the United States and meet very frequently. Members of AA meet to discuss their concerns or issues they face related to addiction. They are community environments that support each member through all of their triumphs and even relapses. Alcoholics Anonymous is based around a spiritually inclined 12-step program. AA does not have any age or education requirements and is open to any individual that wants to do something about their drinking problem.

How Does AA Work?

Adding sober and healthy people to your social circle has an overwhelming impact on your likelihood of staying sober. 12-step programs like AA work with the use of social support. These groups offer people a positive social network that offers better outcomes and longer periods of sobriety. It is a mixture of group therapy as well as positive peer pressure.

Many programs based around the 12 steps have been historically successful. Many believe this to be because of the mutual-help concept.

The 12 Steps of AA

  1. Admit powerlessness over alcohol
  2. Accept that a higher power, in whatever form, will restore your sanity
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and life over to a higher power
  4. Take a moral inventory of yourself
  5. Admit to a higher power, another human, and yourself the nature of your wrongdoings
  6. Accept that a higher power will remove your character defects
  7. Humbly request the higher power remove your shortcomings
  8. List people you hurt during your addiction and be willing to make amends
  9. Make amends to those people unless it would harm them
  10. Continue to take a personal inventory, and when you’re wrong, admit it
  11. Use prayer and meditation to connect with the higher power
  12. Carry the message of AA to other alcoholics and continue to practice the principles of the 12 steps in your daily life

History of Alcoholics Anonymous

AA was created in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. Creators Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith formed the group around the concept that alcoholism is an illness that can be managed but not controlled. The group was also centered on spirituality and the impact it can have on recovery.

Statistics of Alcoholics Anonymous

A 12-step program’s effectiveness first and foremost depends on the individual. AA has more than 115,000 groups worldwide. An AA survey showed that:

  • 32% of people in AA were introduced to the group by another member
  • 32% of people were introduced to the group by a treatment center
  • 59% of all AA members spent time in some form of addiction treatment or counseling before entering an AA program

Success Rate of Alcoholics Anonymous

Success is difficult to monitor when it comes to individuals in AA programs. Some people in AA never relapse, while others do. It is impossible to come up with a precise number that reflects the success rate of AA. Part of this reason is that many people in AA programs want to remain anonymous. This follows along with the group’s intention. Participation in AA is meant to remain anonymous.

Group members in AA meetings constantly change. More than 40% of people in AA meetings drop out within the first year.

  • Specialists claim the success rate of AA is between 8% and 12%
  • A New York Times article stated that AA claims that around 75% of the group’s members stay sober long-term
  • AA’s “Big Book” claims that AA has a 50% success rate
  • A study on AA and 12 step programs’ effectiveness showed that 27% of the group’s 6,000 members who participated in the study were sober for less than one year. 24% of the study participants were sober between one and five years. 22% were sober for more than 20 years.

12 Step Programs’ Effectiveness

The total number figure of 12 step programs’ effectiveness is difficult to judge because of the anonymity of most groups. So, is it possible to know: “Are 12 step programs effective?” Each group does not take names down for their members or have any sign-in sheets. There is no true way to follow up once an individual leaves the room.

One well-known study found that teens who participate in AA programs are more likely to sustain long-term recovery from alcohol addiction. The study followed over 150 teenagers for eight years after their completion of inpatient treatment.

Another study looked at 3,000 people in recovery. The study separated the 3,000 into three separate groups. One group participated in outpatient treatment, another attended 12-step programs. The final group attended both. The third group had the best outcome, suggesting that the combination of professional treatment and group therapy was best.

Are 12 Step Programs Effective?

Twelve-step programs can be highly effective for participants. It is not only Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous that are successful. Programs like SMART recovery also help people sustain their sobriety. Studies show that SMART recovery programs are found to be as effective as traditional groups like AA.

Benefits of 12 Step Programs

The benefits of 12 step programs help many people maintain their sobriety and live healthy, fulfilling lives. Programs like AA have been around for a long time and have helped many people get sober and stay sober. The following are benefits many people find by participating in 12 step programs:

They are located everywhere

You can find 12 step meetings almost everywhere. Nearly every city in the United States has at least one 12-step meetup.

Finding a sober community is important

One of the most essential benefits of 12 step programs is the community it offers. A sober network is priceless when it comes to recovering from addiction. When struggling with addiction, old friends who still drink or do drugs can have a threatening impact on your long-term sobriety. Sober communities offer new friends and healthy relationships that can give you the support you need when recovering from addiction.

12 step programs provide structure

Unstructured time is not necessarily good while in recovery. By committing to meetings, many days of your week will be filled with meetups and group sessions with similar-minded individuals.

You can help others

Participating in group meetings can be really fulfilling. Volunteering and helping peers can improve your self-esteem and sense of gratitude. Sometimes, when helping other people, it directly helps you.

You can stay committed to recovery

Going to regular meetings is a great way to stay committed to recovery. Recovery is a lifelong journey, and it really helps to keep practicing a sober lifestyle. Attending regular meetings can keep your mindset fresh, and you will constantly be reminded why you are choosing to better your life.

Aftercare in Recovery

BRC Healthcare offers a complete continuum of care and can help you or your loved one recover from addiction. We are committed to providing evidence-based care that can help encourage real change in people’s lives. If you have any questions about aftercare in recovery or would like to speak to an addiction specialist, please give us a call today.

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