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AA and NA: The Benefits of 12-Step Recovery Programs

Jennifer Cousineau MSCP, LPCI, NCC

Medically reviewed by

Jennifer Cousineau, MSCP, LPCI, NCC

February 11, 2019

There are many methods of treatment when it comes to alcohol and drug addiction. One of the most popular ways to seek help for addiction is through 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). These programs allow individuals to build a peer support system to help guide them through the process of recovery.

What Is A 12-Step Program?

In the 1930s, a man commonly known as Bill W. was seeking help with his own alcohol dependency problem. Becoming a member of a fellowship helped him achieve and maintain his own sobriety. But another alcohol dependent known as Dr. Bob S. was not as successful.

When the two men met, they found that as fellow sufferers of alcohol dependency, they shared a unique bond that helped them support each other in their effort to achieve sobriety. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was born.

AA is where the concept of the 12-step program was conceived. Originally faith-based, the 12 steps are principles that help guide the alcohol-dependent through a process known as recovery. The steps are:

  1. Admit you are powerless over alcohol
  2. Believe that a higher power can restore sanity
  3. Turn yourself over to God
  4. Make a personal, moral inventory
  5. Admit to the nature of your wrongs
  6. Allow God to repair personal defects
  7. Ask God’s forgiveness
  8. Make a list of those harmed by your alcoholism and be willing to make amends
  9. Work to make amends to these people so long as doing so doesn’t cause harm
  10. Take a personal inventory and admit wrongs
  11. Seek God’s guidance
  12. Carry the message to others

Since the establishment of AA, other programs have arisen that follow steps or guidelines similar to or are variations of the AA format.

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How Do 12-Step Programs Work?

The basis for 12-step programs is a guideline which, if followed step by step, leads one through a series of practices. These practices are intended to gather knowledge of self, become open to accept help, consciously work to change thoughts and behaviors, and maintain through ongoing efforts. AA calls this “recovery.” Their belief is that one is never really “cured” of alcoholism. Rather, they believe that the alcohol-dependent instead needs to perpetually maintain an effort to remain sober, and progress via awareness of their susceptibility to alcohol abuse.

AA is a faith-based program and they stress giving over oneself to a “higher power” or God. This does not, however, preclude one from benefiting from the program if they are not particularly inclined toward religion. There are ways to still practice the steps so one can “take what they need” from the program and “leave the rest,” as sometimes advised by those familiar with the program. One piece of advice frequently offered is that your “higher power” can be anything, even be sobriety itself.

People of all walks of life and from all over the world have achieved successful, sober lives through AA groups and related groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Regardless if you are rich, poor, religious, or non-religious, the only requirement for membership is a desire and willingness to stop drinking.

12-Step programs are based on community. They bring together groups of people who, no matter what their status or circumstance, have one thing in common – addiction. By listening to the stories of people who have “been in your shoes”, you can hear how they achieved, and continue to maintain alcohol, or drug-free lifestyle through the program. You can share your own story and get positive feedback and guidance that can help you every step of the way, every day of your life in recovery.

What Is The Benefit Of A 12-Step Program

Some believe that groups like AA aren’t actually methods of therapy, but are simply support groups. But the evidence supports this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many people who have successfully achieved lifelong sobriety through groups such as AA.

Many people may realize they have a problem and want to get help, but may not have access to treatment programs. It could be they do not have healthcare coverage that covers addiction treatment, or maybe they don’t have the financial means to pay for treatment themselves. Whatever the reason they don’t seek help through other methods, access to 12-step programs is readily available in almost every part of the world.

Accessibility is a big part of what makes support groups such as AA so beneficial. In almost every community in the United States, there are group meetings available on usually very accommodating schedules. Many areas have meetings available around the clock, seven days a week.

Usually, those who are in the process of going through a program are assigned a sponsor or mentor. Often, these are more experienced people who have gone through the process themselves and can make themselves available around the clock. Addictive cravings don’t always happen at opportune times and it can be very reassuring knowing that whenever you find yourself in need of support, you can ask your mentor anytime.

Once again, being immersed in a community of people who are your peers based on shared struggles with addiction is a valuable benefit you might not get from treatment such as outpatient counseling.

That said, in some cases, 12-step programs are not the only method of treatment a person needs. It is best to discuss treatment alternatives with a substance abuse professional to determine the best way to be treated for your addiction. Sometimes a 12-step program isn’t sufficient in dealing with a very difficult case of dependency but can be a great support system in tandem with other forms of rehabilitation.

12-step programs often have associated groups that are available for family and friends of those struggling with addiction. Al-Anon is such a group. Their meetings are often a haven for those who find themselves not knowing how to deal with being in a relationship with someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. Meetings are often scheduled at the same time as AA meetings.

Is A 12-Step Program Right For Me?

AA and other 12-Step programs have benefited thousands, if not millions of people. Since then, other groups have been established that follow similar methods with similar success rates. Secular-based groups, groups for those with addictions to other things such as overeating and shopping, teen groups, and many other types of step-based support groups exist today. Even within an organization such as AA, there can be meetings available that operate in some unique way that might be suited to your needs. Contact so we can help you determine if a step-based program can benefit your efforts at recovery from addiction.

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