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What You Should Know About 12-Step Programs

12 Step Group Meeting

 

According to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 46,5000 people die annually from drug-related deaths and almost 30,000 die each year from alcohol-induced deaths. Contrast those statistics with the almost 35,400 that die annually in motor vehicle accidents from a variety of causes. These drug and alcohol death rates are sobering in comparison, or at least we hope they are to those struggling with an addiction.

For addicts, being in a place to become a recovering addict, instead of becoming another drug or alcohol death statistic, often involves finding a regular source of support and treatment. The 12-Step program is one of these supports and happens to be one of the most recognized and widely accepted form of support for addicts because of its consistent, time-proven success rates in helping addicts become and stay sober.

Additional benefits of the 12-Step treatment program are that the meetings are free for anyone to attend, they have widespread, national group (even international) meeting locations, and lastly, the 12-Steps are not mutually exclusive with medical or facility addiction treatment programs; in fact, they enhance most addiction treatment programs.

What to Expect from Your First 12-Step Meeting

It’s perfectly understandable to be somewhat apprehensive during your first 12-Step meeting. For most 12-Step attendees, the first meeting is more of a “get to know the process” session. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the meeting leaders or other attendees. Try to stay away from making personal judgments about yourself or others in attendance and remember that others are not there to judge you. Instead, you are all there to be helped and help one another, so do your best to leave all judgments at the door.

Keep an open mind and take note of things you have in common with the other group members. Realize that every 12-Step meeting is different because those that lead the group and those that attend, will vary from location to location. Because of this, it is perfectly alright to do some sampling and try different groups before settling on one that feels right for you.

If you want to reduce your anxiety of attending your first meeting, you can also read the AA 12-Steps prior to going to a meeting. This will allow you to be familiar with the process and steps that you will be asked to cover throughout the course of the program.

What Makes a 12-Step Meeting a Good Meeting?

While there is nothing wrong with getting a feeling for the 12-Step process during your first meeting, a good 12-Step meeting will always be one in which you actively participate. You can actively participate by listening and trying to understand your behaviors and thoughts better through what you hear from others, as well as by sharing your experiences with others. You are going to meet people who are in various stages of recovery, so view each meeting as a learning experience for you and for them. Potential benefits of committing to attending regular 12-Step meetings include:

  • A regular source of support beyond what you get from rehab treatment
  • A support group of other recovering addicts and sponsors who understand and empathize with you, and who can help you understand your addiction
  • Practical tips for fighting the urge to return to previous addiction-related behaviors
  • Discovering new, productive ways to focus your energy
  • Finding new friends who are a positive influence in your life and who can compensate for or replace family members, friends, or associates who may have enabled your past habits

Effectiveness of the 12-Step Program

The process of recovering from an addiction to alcohol or drugs isn’t something that can be known or estimated to fit within a set time period. In fact, most addicts feel that fighting their addiction is a moment-to-moment, life-long process. The 12-Step program was created to help ease the burden of the recovery process. It aids addicts in understanding their addiction, connects recovery addicts together, and increases participant’s chances at sobriety. Exact stats on the effectiveness of 12-Step programs vary greatly depending on the source of information. In a report called Outcome Research on 12-Step and Other Self-Help Programs, it says,

A prospective study of individuals with alcohol use disorders showed that a longer duration of attendance in AA in the first year after help seeking was associated with a higher likelihood of 1-year, 8-year, and 16-year abstinence and freedom from drinking problems… In general, the duration of self help group attendance is more strongly related to substance use outcomes than is the frequency of attendance.

The success of the 12-Step form of self-help addiction treatment typically depends on the following factors:

  • Whether or not you are dealing with multiple addictions
  • How committed you are to attending meetings on a regular basis
  • How long you have had an issue with drugs or alcohol
  • How susceptible you are to other outside influences
  • If you are doing the 12-Step in addition to other addiction treatments

Do I Need a 12-Step Program if I’m In Treatment?

There have been findings over time that suggest that when an individual does a 12-Step program while in addiction treatment, the 12-Step program actually increases the impact of treatment, and vice-versa. According to a study called Estimating the Effect of Help-seeking on Achieving Recovery From Alcohol Dependence, that is referenced in the Outcome Research on 12-Step and Other Self-Help Programs,

Many individuals participate in both treatment and self-help groups, in general, these two sources of help appear to strengthen or bolster each other. For example, compared with help-seeking individuals who initially entered only AA, individuals who entered both treatment and AA, participated in AA as much or more in the subsequent 15 years….

findings obtained in a nationwide sample of alcohol dependent individuals showed that those who participated in 12-Step self-help groups in addition to treatment were more than twice as likely to achieve an abstinent recovery as were individuals who obtained formal treatment alone.

Find a 12-Step Meeting and Commit

The locations and times for 12-Step meetings can be found online here, on other 12-Step or AA meeting websites, in brochures available at your primary care doctor’s office or at other AA meetings. You may want to sample a few different meeting times, locations, and groups before settling on one group meeting to consistently attend.

Once you have found a meeting time and location that works for you, personally commit to attending weekly and set that time aside in your calendar. It may even be helpful to let those close to you know that you will be attending weekly meetings at that time and ask them to avoid scheduling or inviting you to competing events during your meeting time.

Keep in mind that location, time of day, and level of commitment, are all indicators of how successful you will be in recovery through the 12-Step meetings. If those pieces don’t fit for you, it will become easier to make excuses not to go to meetings and not going to meetings consistently has the great potential of decreasing the benefits you could get from the 12-Step program.

Whether you’ve just completed rehab or you are looking for group support to start the fight against your addiction, 12-Step programs can be effective if you are committed to making them work for you. At the same time, it is also important to get help from multiple avenues and to view such 12-Step support programs as part of your addiction rehab and treatment process rather than your sole source of recovery.


Are you or someone you love suffering from drug or alcohol addiction? Call our addiction advisors for the guidance you’re looking for: 1-800-259-1361


Sources: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/alcohol.htm, http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/providers/sud/selfhelp/docs/4_moos_timko_chapter.pdf

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