12-Step Programs for Drug & Alcohol Addiction

Fighting drug and alcohol addiction is a difficult battle. Mutual support groups can provide healing, encouragement, and other benefits. Many people find motivation for recovery during and after treatment through 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Each of the 12 steps can bring members closer to regaining control over their lives and promoting long-term recovery.1 Continue reading to learn more about 12-step programs, their benefits, and how they work.

What is a 12-Step Program?

A 12-step program is a fellowship where people support each other in fighting substance use disorder (SUD) and maintaining sobriety.1 By “working the steps,” people gain the tools to improve their lives by accepting addiction as a disease and developing personal and spiritual growth.2

Achieving sobriety through belief in a higher power and mutual understanding between peers are at the core of most 12-step programs.3

Types of 12-Step Programs

AA was the first 12-step program, established in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, by a New York stockbroker and an Akron surgeon, who were both struggling with alcohol addiction.3 AA served as the blueprint that expanded into multiple types of 12-step programs, which help people struggling with many different addictions.

Here are some of the various types of 12-step programs available nationwide:

Mutual support groups are also available for the families and loved ones of those struggling with SUD. The following are some friends and family support groups:

What Are the 12 Steps?

Each step is a platform for finding growth in recovery. From steps 1 through 12, members study and apply the guidelines outlined in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (also referred to as the Big Book) to release themselves from addiction and build a new life in sobriety. The Big Book lists the 12-Steps as:4

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

How Do 12-Step Meetings Work?

12-step meetings can have several formats but are often similar. The purpose of 12-step meetings is to share experience, strength, and hope to encourage long-term sobriety in themselves and others.5

Most meetings involve members sitting together and discussing their experiences with SUD and how it has affected their lives and loved ones. People also share how they accomplished sobriety. Some meetings are open to both people struggling with addiction and observers who aren’t. Others are specifically for those who have a desire to stop using drugs or alcohol.5

Daily meeting formats can differ but may include the following within a given week:5

  • Discussion meetings. Discussion meetings start with a group leader opening the meeting and selecting a topic for discussion.
  • Speaker meetings. In speaker meetings, the group chooses one or more members to share their experiences with addiction and recovery.
  • Beginner meetings. Beginner meetings are especially geared toward those just starting in AA. A group member who has been sober for a while leads beginner meetings to help newcomers adjust.
  • Step, traditions, or Big Book meetings. In this meeting format, the group pays special attention to one or several of the 12 steps. It is common for attendees to begin the meetings by reading passages from the Big Book or other relevant texts.

The chair typically opens the meeting in the same format, often with few remarks, a moment of silence, or the Serenity Prayer. The group then welcomes newcomers to introduce themselves. Members often have a moment of silence followed by a prayer at the end of each meeting.5

You can find in-person 12-step meetings in many settings throughout your community, like office buildings, churches, treatment centers, and recreation/community centers. Many chapters offer online meetings as well.5

Are All 12-Step Programs Religious?

Although 12-step programs heavily involve spirituality, most don’t require belonging to a specific religion. Rather, belief in a higher power of one’s choice is essential; one does not need to adhere to another’s conception of God.6

Secular alternative peer support programs are also available. Addiction recovery programs—like SMART Recovery and LifeRing—provide support groups focused on achieving sobriety through self-empowerment without incorporating spirituality.7,8 Some people choose to participate in both 12-step programs and secular programs.7

Benefits of 12-Step Programs

Many people find countless benefits from participating in 12-step programs. For one, simply having a space where you can connect with others and feel heard can make reaching sobriety feel more attainable.

Empirical benefits of 12-step programs include:2

  • Increased rates of drug and alcohol abstinence among members.
  • Improved overall behavioral and social functioning.
  • Increasing member’s levels of self-efficacy (control over their motivation, behavior, and social environment).

12-Step Programs at AdCare

Starting your journey to sobriety is a potentially life-changing step. A 12-step program can be a great source of healing and connection.

AdCare Treatment Center—with locations in Rhode Island and Massachusetts—provides evidence-based addiction treatment, which includes 12-step facilitation, behavioral therapy, medical detox, and more. Addiction specialists at AdCare tailor treatment to patient’s specific needs and adjust as these needs evolve.

If you’re ready to get admitted to rehab or want to learn more, contact our admissions navigators at . From understanding your insurance coverage for addiction treatment to learning about different levels of care, we’re here to help you embark on the road to recovery.


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