When people are considering reaching out for help with addiction, their minds often turn to the most well-known support groups Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Both groups are based on the 12 steps to addiction recovery, which is a popularized treatment methodology founded in the 1930s that acknowledges addiction as being something other than a personal choice.
Before 12 step treatment centers existed, attitudes towards addicts were extremely harsh because there was a prevailing belief that people lacked moral fiber if they were unable to stop drinking or taking drugs. When the recovery program was first introduced it was a revelation for many people unable to control their substance abuse to have a structured path towards getting sober.
Although there are distinct advantages to a 12 step rehab program, it isn’t for everyone and it’s important to understand what kind of commitment is expected before taking the first step in joining NA or AA or another 12 step treatment center.
The Pros of 12 Step Recovery
A 12 step recovery program provides a structured framework where members take steps towards acknowledging their addiction, accepting its consequences, finding ways to make amends with those caught in the crossfire and building a support network. The program requires a strong belief in a “higher power.” It is more important that the individual has a clear perception of an entity that is more powerful than themselves because the main thrust of 12 steps is to submit one’s will to that higher power in order to recover from addiction.
The main advantage of 12 step recovery programs is that they are completely free to attend, making them accessible to a wide demographic. Meetings are usually held in public spaces used by the community such as schools or churches and while some may be open, allowing anyone to attend; other groups restrict admission to individuals who have abused substances. 12 steps is an abstinence-based program that expects participants to stop using drugs or alcohol as it is a condition of attendance. Although group meetings are relaxed and informal, there is a strong element of discipline in 12 steps that many people find motivates them towards recovery.
Research has shown that people with addiction issues have better chances of a long-term recovery if they feel supported. Because 12 steps is a faith-based recovery program, it brings together people who all have strong belief systems, even if they are quite different in philosophy. This creates an environment where individuals are bound together by spirituality and they can form close, trust-based relationships providing mutual support in recovery.
Sponsorship is another element of 12 steps that have been shown to be effective in motivating members to work through each step to completion. Sponsors are generally members who have progressed through the steps and as part of their recovery, reach out to newer members to help them succeed. Some AA and NA members remain good friends with their sponsors for years after attending meetings, mainly because of their shared journey from addiction to recovery which creates a good understanding between them.
The Cons of 12 Step Recovery
Although traditional 12 step rehab programs are effective for many people, there are some disadvantages to this type of recovery support. For a start, a 12 step recovery program is addiction treatment and some people with severe addiction or who have been abusing potent drugs may need additional attention the group can’t provide. Aside from that, 12 step rehab centers require belief in a higher power and follow a very structured path, which doesn’t always address the needs of the individual.
In the decades since 12 step recovery programs were founded, other therapies have emerged that many people find more appropriate to modern times and also new attitudes towards addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one example of this and it has been shown to be effective in an addiction treatment context because it seeks to adapt and change negative behaviors. CBT allows patients to discover the negative thought processes driving their addictive behavior and the therapist counsels them to change the way they think to promote a more positive mindset.
12 step recovery programs may not take into account people who are struggling with addiction and another mental illness. These patients are termed “dual diagnosis” and they have very specific treatment needs that 12 steps don’t address. There is a strong correlation between mental illnesses like depression and substance abuse issues, which has on been recognized by the addiction community in recent years. New discoveries about addiction and mental health have continued to emerge since 12 steps were founded, which is why many people find its principles outdated.