12 Step Treatment Programs—One May Be What You’re Looking For

12 Step treatment rehabs for addiction use the 12 Steps of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) as an integral part of their treatment programs. Since the 12 Steps were created in the 1930’s, they have been widely used in addiction rehab, and ‘borrowed’ by many people affected by addictions other than to alcohol. The 12 Steps are adapted for use by people addicted to any substance, gambling, food, and sex, to name a few. They are used both in rehab programs and in self-help groups that are independent of treatment programs.

12 Step groups independent of treatment programs are self-help, member-run support groups that are free to participants. Treatment programs, on the other hand, that are typically called ’12 Step treatment programs’ are different. The latter are rehab programs that have incorporated 12 Step concepts into their programs as foundational principles. The 12 Steps are used in these treatment programs to understand both an addictive process and the process of successful recovery.

The 12 Steps of AA are:

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.

When used by other groups whose members have other addictions, the Steps are modified, but only in Step One. For example:

  • In Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Step One reads: We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • In Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Step One reads: We admitted we were powerless over gambling– that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • In Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Step One reads: We admitted we were powerless over food– that our lives had become unmanageable.

There are many other such adaptations. Some other addictions that are addressed by 12 Step groups include sex, relationships, emotions, shopping, and cluttering. And, specific substance addictions such as cocaine and heroin have adopted the 12 Steps, adapting Step One to their particular issues.

12 Step Programs as Community Resources and Self-Help Only

Outside of formal addiction treatment settings, the term ’12 Step program’ describes a community recovery resource that is self-help in nature and run by its members. These are the groups that meet regularly that we think of people attending who are in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction, for example. People active in such groups often identify themselves as ‘working the program’. This means they attend meetings, have a sponsor, and are ‘working the 12 Steps’.

The core dynamic of meetings involves people with the same addiction sharing their experiences in order to help each other. Helping another person is seen as a way to help one’s self. Among other things, helping each other alters the self-absorption of people with an addiction. One looks outside self that has been isolated by an addictive process and reconnects with the world. It is seen as one important stage in recovery. Overall, the membership of 12 Step groups is known as a ‘fellowship’, indicating the interpersonal and supportive tone of the groups’ focus.

Working with a sponsor is another core dynamic. A 12 Step sponsor is another member of the group who has ideally been in the program longer and has more recovery experience than the ‘sponsee’. This relationship is worked out between individuals. Perhaps, for example, you attend a meeting in which you hear someone speak that resonates deeply with you. You might then ask that person to ‘sponsor’ you, or to give you one-on-one guidance as you ‘work the Steps’.

‘Working the Steps’ is viewed as the ‘prescription’ for recovery, and seen as occurring in stages as one progresses through exploring each in the sequence of Steps. Some Steps are more internally focused than others. For example, Step One requires an admission or embracing the insight that one’s life is unmanageable, and one is disempowered by the substance of addiction. On the other hand, Step Nine is an action Step. It requires directly making amends with those you have harmed when doing so would not cause further harm to the other person.

12 Step Treatment Programs

A 12 Step treatment program is typically steeped in the principles and concepts of the self-help group it is most aligned with. For example,

many such treatment programs use the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous as primary reference material for their work. Others may primarily use the literature of Narcotics Anonymous similarly. Still, others may use both. The principles of recovery are simply translated in different terms, but basics remain the same. In 12 Step treatment programs geared toward other addictions, the literature used may be specific to say, codependency or gambling, but still using the same principles of recovery as all other 12 Step treatment programs.

Some of the 12 Step concepts and principles a 12 Step treatment program may refer to often and explore in counseling are:

  • Addiction is a disease.
  • Addiction is a symptom of other problems.
  • Complete abstinence is the goal in recovery.
  • Addiction is a physical, mental and spiritual disease.
  • A 12 Step program is a spiritual, but not religious program.
  • A spiritual connection to God or a Higher Power is essential in recovery.

Spiritual Not Religious Principles and Practices

12 Step members say that their programs are spiritual but not religious—that is, the 12 Steps encourage tending to the spiritual side of life, but do not give a specific doctrine or dogma to follow as a religious organization does. For example, Step Eleven contains these words Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him. The concept of God is found throughout the 12 Step literature and talked about frequently in meetings. However, the understanding of God is left up to each individual. It is typically a very private issue, and many people who benefit from the 12 Steps are agnostic or atheist.

Many newcomers to 12 Step philosophy and practice find the spiritual focus unusual and may even have difficulty separating their experience in groups like AA from negative experiences in organized religion. While 12 Step members are free to believe however they believe, they are also encouraged to practice spiritual principles in daily life. They are many spiritual principles you may encounter in both self-help groups and 12 Step treatment programs. Examples are:

  • Honesty–a primary principle in 12 Step recovery is that you need to admit powerlessness over your addiction and that addiction has made your life unmanageable. This is the foundational honesty required for recovery—that you see and admit the problem, embracing it as true in Step One.
  • Openness–recovery requires us to be open to the suggestions of the 12 Steps, to learn from each other, and to be receptive to other possibilities for our daily lives.
  • Willingness–willingness to listen, learn, share, and make changes are just some of the things that further recovery in the 12 Step programs. Willingness is where we meet the recovery process half-way, follow suggestions and take responsibility for our lives.
  • Acceptance–acceptance occurs at various points as we progress through stages of recovery. At first, we accept that there is a problem, for example, and that things are out of control. Later, in the Steps, we accept our shortcomings as human beings, and the wrongs we have done to others, for instance.
  • Hope–the 12 Step program suggests that we openly share recovery stories to share hope with others who seek recovery and that we listen to others to gain hope.
  • Humility–the 12 Step program encourages members to be teachable and to understand that we don’t know everything we need to know, and don’t have all the answers, but that others can help us.

Is a 12 Step Treatment Program for You?

A 12 Step treatment program is not for everyone, but countless people have successfully overcome their addictions by participating in one. When looking for a rehab, the right fit is always a very individualized and personal experience. You need to feel comfortable with the treatment philosophy and methods used so you can immerse yourself in the treatment process.

When considering a 12 Step treatment program, there are many things to consider, and you should keep in mind that not all 12 Step rehabs will be the same, even though their basic philosophies will be. Some of the specifics you will need to inquire about are:

• Whether there is a medically supervised withdrawal and detoxification available.
• What the credentials of the staff are, and do they have expertise in treating your particular addiction?
• If you have a mental health problem, are psychiatric services available?
• What therapies are offered?
• Will loved ones be included in your treatment?
• What is the average length of stay?
• What are the costs?
• Does the program take your insurance coverage?