March 05, 2023 By Leah Malone

What Can I Expect From a 12-Step Program?


There are many effective treatment approaches available for those seeking recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and addiction. One type of intervention that is well-researched for its effectiveness includes 12-Step programs. These programs rely on the valuable Twelve Step framework created by Bill Wilson during the development of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in 1938.

Twelve-Step programming for addiction treatment has become increasingly popular and widely utilized. However, individuals new to treatment may still hesitate when considering participating in these programs. Becoming more familiar with what to expect from a 12-Step program can make all the difference when beginning treatment and recovery.

What Are 12-Step Programs?

individuals attempting to cease substance abuse and other addictive behaviors require professional intervention to establish and maintain long-term sobriety. Twelve-Step programs offer a unique combination of professional and peer support to help individuals accomplish this. These programs are centered around The Twelve Steps, a step-by-step framework that aims to help individuals recover from compulsive behaviors.

According to Social Work in Public Health, the 12-Step philosophy “emphasizes the importance of accepting addiction as a disease that can be arrested but never eliminated, enhancing individual maturity and spiritual growth, minimizing self-centeredness, and providing help to other individuals who are addicted.” The 12-Step philosophy can be incorporated into treatment programs or utilized outside of treatment as a long-term method of aftercare.

Program Duration

Twelve-Step programs vary in duration. Some require more frequent attendance, such as one meeting daily, while other programs meet weekly or may be utilized as needed throughout long-term recovery. The time it takes to “get through” The Twelve Steps is subjective for each person. A participant’s goal should not be to merely get through the Steps, but rather incorporate the Steps into their daily life through habit and routine. Only then will The Twelve Steps leave a lasting, positive impact on an individual’s daily life.

A Higher Power

What is unique about 12-Step programs in comparison to other treatment approaches is that they emphasize that healing cannot be achieved without elements of acceptance and surrender. Twelve-Step programs are often considered a spiritual treatment approach, as they require participants to surrender their worries, struggles, and doubts to a higher power. However, each participant can interpret their higher power in a way that speaks to them. Some may feel called to the traditional Christian God, while others may feel called to Mother Nature, the Universe, or some other power of their choosing.

The Element of Peer Support

Although most treatment facilities encourage participation in group therapy for the purposes of peer support, 12-Step approaches rely on peer support for recovery. Individuals in these programs will attend regular support group meetings throughout treatment and beyond. During these meetings, participants have the opportunity to share their experiences – both positive and negative – with other peers. With time, individuals can foster greater accountability, responsibility, confidence, and self-esteem as a result.

The Twelve Steps

When becoming familiar with 12-Step programs, it is necessary to have a brief understanding of The Twelve Steps. These steps can be used as guiding principles, offering a valuable course of action for behavior change. The Twelve Steps are as follows:

  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.”

The Effectiveness of 12-Step Programs

The aforementioned study explains that regular attendance and participation in 12-Step treatment approaches is “associated with greater likelihood of abstinence, often for prolonged periods up to 16 years, improved psychosocial functioning, and greater levels of self-efficacy.” It is important to note that these benefits are most often experienced through frequent attendance in treatment as well as engagement in other 12-Step group activities.

Beginning a 12-Step Program

Entering a 12-Step program for addiction can seem overwhelming, especially if it is uncharted territory. However, beginning one of these programs can be extremely influential for sobriety. It can be helpful to talk with a doctor, therapist, or staff member from a potential treatment facility to learn more about these programs and understand if they will be a good fit for one’s recovery.

Twelve-Step programs offer a valuable framework for ceasing addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse. It can help to become familiar with The Twelve Steps before beginning a program to better know what to expect. These programs emphasize the importance of surrendering to a higher power as well as utilizing peer support to establish and maintain long-lasting recovery. Grace Recovery recognizes the effectiveness of 12-Step approaches in addiction treatment. In addition to treatment, we offer transitional living homes for women seeking sobriety and recovery. Our program is designed to be highly immersive and involved for all of our clients, encouraging participation in 12 Step meetings regularly. To learn more, call us today at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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