Why are 12 step programs so effective in treating alcoholism, drug addiction, and many other addictions? What is it about the 12 steps of AA that have touched the lives of so many in recovery?
Understanding 12 Step Programs and the 12 Steps of AA
The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are the basis of all modern 12 step programs. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, was founded by two alcoholic men who firmly believed that finding a higher power and helping other alcoholics would keep them sober. One of these co-founders, Bill Wilson, was a New York stockbroker who had some business success in the 1920s, but became an unemployable drunk by the early 1930s. The other was Dr. Bob Smith, an Akron proctologist who likewise had destroyed a promising career and was now nearly bankrupt and finished in medicine. The detailed personal stories of each of these co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous can be found in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, known in AA as “The Big Book”, which was published in 1939, and whose primary author was Bill Wilson. The 12 steps of AA were first presented to the world at large upon publication of this remarkable work of literature. AA gives its date of origin as June 10, 1935. This is the date of permanent sobriety of Dr Bob Smith. Note, however, that the sobriety date of Bill Wilson is December 11, 1934 – almost seven months earlier. This is because one of the primary cornerstones of the AA philosophy is that of one alcoholic helping another, and the fellowship that occurs as a result – thus there was no Alcoholics Anonymous until the second member became sober.
What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
- Alcoholics Anonymous is an international society or fellowship of men and women who have struggled with drinking at some point in their lives.
- AA is entirely supported and organized by its members. AA receives no outside funding from any source, public or private. It also is not affiliated with any religious or political groups.
- AA states that “Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety.”
- Anonymity is at the heart of AA – all members remain anonymous. The anonymity removes the social stigma of public recognition and thus provides its members a more comfortable experience in recovery.
- Alcoholics Anonymous is open to all persons regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or any other personal characteristic.
- AA states “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”
Note that there are two types of AA meetings, open and closed. Closed meetings are for those who have a desire to stop drinking only, while open meetings may be attended by anyone, even someone who is uncertain as to whether they have a problem with drinking or not. Here is an official AA resource to help you find an AA meeting.
What are the 12 Steps of AA?
While the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, described above, first detailed the 12 steps of AA and the spiritual program of action based upon them, a second important piece of Alcoholics Anonymous literature was published in 1952. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, also authored primarily by Bill Wilson, consists of individual chapters or essays on each of the 12 steps of AA and each of the 12 traditions of AA. The traditions are a group of principles that apply to the organization or AA group as a whole just as the steps apply to the individual, and allow AA to function at an organizational and group level. In the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions on page 15 is the following statement about the steps – “AA’s Twelve steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, when practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.” Here are the 12 steps of AA as published in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Other 12 Step Programs
Note that all other 12 step programs use some variation of these steps as the basis of their recovery program. For instance in the Steps of Narcotics Anonymous, step one is phrased as follows
- We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
And in the Steps of Gamblers Anonymous, step one is phrased as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over gambling – that our lives had become unmanageable.
Variations of the 12 Steps of AA have now been utilized effectively by over 35 different groups to treat a variety of disorders, from eating disorders (Overeaters Anonymous), to sex addictions (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous), to financial problems (Debtors Anonymous), and many others. These steps have now proven their efficacy across numerous maladies and have transformed and enriched the lives of millions across the globe.
12 Step Programs for Loved Ones of an Alcoholic
The open meeting format described above allows someone who may want to check out AA to not feel threatened. In addition, friends and family members of alcoholics may attend open AA meetings. However, they may not become AA members unless they have a problem with alcohol abuse and have a desire to stop drinking. This facilitated the creation of 12 step programs such as Al-Anon and Alateen. These groups offer support if friends and family are seeking their own recovery from the turmoil created by the drinking problem of a family member, spouse, or some other close individual. These organizations use their own variation of the 12 steps of AA, to provide a program of recovery that helps one to deal with the drinking problem of another. They offer comfort and community support that can help those coping with a loved one’s alcoholism.
12 Step Programs and the 12 Steps in Treatment Centers
So the 12 steps of recovery, in one form or another, have been successfully utilized to treat many addictions. It should not be surprising then, to discover that they are also used by many alcohol and drug treatment centers as one of their treatment methodologies. Some drug and alcohol rehabs use the 12 steps as their primary therapy, but most use them as an adjunct therapeutic method. This is because a variety other effective therapeutic methodologies are available today such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and many others. But since 12 step programs have proven so effective over such a long period of time (since 1935!) it is generally thought to be unwise not to include exposure to these principles in a treatment setting. Another good reason to include exposure to 12 step programs while in treatment or rehab is the high degree of relapse that is seen after treatment. Statistics show that one of the primary ways that people in recovery stay sober after treatment is through regular attendance at some type of 12 step meeting, and active participation in a 12 step program. Thus if the treatment facility provides exposure to 12 step programs it follows that the individual will feel more comfortable staying on this path after leaving treatment. The Oceanfront Recovery Alcohol Treatment Program and the Oceanfront Recovery Substance Abuse Treatment Program both use a variety of therapeutic methods in a highly contemporary approach to alcohol and drug rehab, and the 12 steps of recovery and regular attendance at 12 step meetings are one of these. These steps and programs based on them have proven to be an effective tool in alcohol and drug treatment. However, there are many other tools available as well, and Oceanfront Recovery is passionate about making sure that a variety of effective resources and treatment methodologies are available for our valued clients. Please contact one of our professional and compassionate team at 877-279-1777 today to discuss treatment options for you or your loved one.