Alcoholics Anonymous is known all over the world for pioneering the 12-step programme. The said programme was replicated in rehabilitation clinics, with a wide range of treatment centres using the 12-step programme for addiction rehab.
The 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous has a basic premise of people helping each other achieve and maintain abstinence and sobriety, specifically former addicts and alcoholics assisting present addicts and alcoholics towards the path of sobriety.
However, while the 12-step approach has proven to be an effective solution for many, it may not be the right tool for everyone. Indeed, the programme has faced heavy criticism, mostly due to its deep religious connections, with many questioning its factual effectiveness.
That said, let’s dive deeper into the subject of 12-step programmes, their effectiveness, potential downsides, and alternatives.
Religious vs Secular 12-Step Programmes
Before we proceed with explaining the twelve-step programme, we’d like to clarify the distinction between the religious and secular approaches to the 12-step model.
Essentially, the 12 steps of AA state that healing cannot come until you surrender yourself to a “higher power” (God as far as the religious are concerned). Or, in a secular sense, find some other positive avenue to fill in the black hole left by addiction (finding a better purpose in your life).
That’s what the 12 steps toward sobriety are all about.
- This article covers both the religious and non-religious 12 step-programme that many rehab centres are following.
- Depending on your religion or belief system, you can achieve abstinence through more religious programmes that involve faith and prayer. However, we won’t cover the outright religious rehab programmes in this guide.
- There’s a growing interest in a more secular approach to 12-step programmes, as many people struggling with addiction aren’t religious and, thus, are looking for less religion-centric methodologies.
What Is a 12-Step Programme?
These 12 principles or steps were originally proposed in 1938 by Bill Wilson (co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous and pastor) as a way to recover from alcohol addiction in a concrete and incremental manner.
These steps were first published in “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism,” which is now known as the Big Book. Interestingly, the book was written as a guide for those unable to attend AA meetings, quickly becoming the baseline for the entire programme and becoming the essence of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The book describes the 12 principles collectively as a step-by-step recovery programme of sorts, with the original twelve steps based heavily on the spiritual and religious approach that sought aid from the Higher Power (God).
Since then, twelve steps have been adopted by numerous organisations, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Heroin Anonymous, proving itself effective across various religious beliefs and interpretations.
The core principles, however, remain the same.
The Original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous
The 12-step model has evolved immensely since its introduction, with numerous programmes introducing their own interpretation.
Here are the original 12 steps of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous model, on which many addiction rehab centres have based their own programmes.
1. Admit That You’re Powerless Over Alcohol and Your Life Has Become Unmanageable
Loads of alcoholics have trouble admitting to themselves that they can’t control their alcohol intake. The first step of any 12-step programme is admitting and accepting that you’ve lost control of your life and you need help becoming sober.
2. You Should Believe that a Power Greater Than Yourself Can Restore Your Sanity
Many secular, non-spiritual, atheistic, agnostic, or non-Christian individuals have issues with Alcoholics Anonymous’s spiritualistic approach towards rehabilitating addicts and alcoholics. Then again, the one who came up with this is a pastor.
If you’re a Christian, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or a believer of Abrahamic religions, then surrendering yourself to religion and God is a way to overcome addiction. Those who don’t believe in a Christian God or believe in other religions can accept reality as the higher power. That your cause and effect has led you astray, and there’s a way out of the addiction loop.
3. Make the Decision to Turn Your Life to the Care of a Higher Power as You Understand It
For the religious, this is all about turning yourself over to God while in addiction rehab. Surrendering yourself to him in order to release your stress and fill in the void in your life with a new purpose.
For the non-religious, or those following a 12-step programme in Thailand, this is instead about turning yourself over to whomever or whatever you consider as a higher power. It can be your family. It can be finding a new purpose in your life that makes you feel worthwhile (which is akin to the role of religion for many).
4. Make a Moral Inventory of Yourself Searching for All Your Faults
Every one of many 12-step programmes out there has a step involving self-examination, whether it’s a 12-step programme for weight loss, drugs, or alcohol addiction. This can be incredibly uncomfortable, but honesty is much more important than egos.
Swallow your pride and acknowledge with complete honesty what drove you to become an addict. What hole or heartache are you filling with drinks and whatnot? It’s time to identify any areas of anger, guilt, embarrassment, or past regret.
5. Admit to Yourself, to Others, and to Your Higher Power the Exact Nature of Your Trespasses
After identifying your wrongdoings, it’s relieving to confess to God, a priest, or your fellow patients the exact nature of your wrongs. Admit your past poor behaviour and tell someone about it.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, this usually involves sharing what they wrote down in Step 4 with their sponsor or fellow addicts as well as any proctors, nurses, caretakers, or therapists. Confessing your trespasses can be quite liberating to the addict.
6. Brace Yourself to Have a Higher Power Remove These Defects of Character
An alcoholic or drug addict is now ready to submit themselves to a higher power like God in order to remove the wrongs they’ve listed in Step 4 right after confessing to them in Step 5.
For agnostics, atheists, and the non-religious, this is their opportunity to pay attention to the shortlist of their defects that most need attention and strive to be better people in light of that shortlist. For the secular, this is like a New Year’s Resolution to be better, but this time around, it’s less half-hearted and more determined.
7. Humbly Ask the Higher Power to Remove Your Shortcomings and Change Your Behaviour
Everyone has defects in their character, whether it’s in the form of negativity, criticism, apathy, anger, or impatience. In order to make the 12-step programme work, the recovering alcoholic should eliminate these defects by giving in to a higher power to do it for him.
Secularly speaking, rather than depending on God to remove your shortcomings, you can also make it a project to minimise one or more of your faults in order to improve your behaviour now that you’re aware of them.
8. Make a List of All the People You’ve Harmed and Become Willing to Make Amends with them All
In Alcoholics Anonymous, you should write down the names of all the people you’ve wronged and what you did to them in order to attempt to make amends with them. These could be small sins or huge sins.
It can involve buying more alcohol by stealing from them or lying about your whereabouts. You can also talk to them about how you talk negatively behind their backs or not being a good friend to them as they were to you. In order to turn a new leaf, you need to acknowledge these wrongdoings and make those you’ve wronged learn that you’re sorry (even if only a few would forgive you for them).
9. Make Direct Amends to People You’ve Sinned Against Wherever Possible, Except When Doing So Would Injure Them or Others
Aside from saying sorry, you should also show that you’re sorry by asking those you’ve sinned against how you could make things up to them. Take a personal inventory when you’re wrong, admit it, ask for forgiveness, and offer (fair) amends (usually involving sitting down with them or writing a letter to them).
This is the step where you go “outside” of yourself and realise how your actions can affect others. It presents an opportunity for you to look outward into the world rather than just inward with self-loathing and self-pity. If the person you have wronged insists that no amends are necessary, that’s okay, too.
10. Continue to Take Personal Inventory and When You’re Wrong, Promptly Admit It
Instead of thinking that confessing your sins one time is enough to get you off the hook, you should start changing your bad behaviour and habits by putting up an inventory of when you’re wrong.
This is the step where you’ll commit yourself to monitoring your personal issues and flaws, particularly those related to your alcohol or drug addiction. The more self-aware you are, the more you’ll avoid doing things that will embarrass you or destroy your relationships. Discipline is the key to success here.
11. Seek Through Prayer (or Meditation and Inward Self-Assessment) the Improvement of Your Way of Life
For the religious, this involves improving your contact and relationship with God or the Higher Power, praying for It to guide you and give you the power needed for you to improve as a human being.
As for the secular context, this step involves going further than admitting your wrong behaviours and monitoring whenever you make a misstep. It involves changing your way of life to something more charitable, better, and inspiring. Do something positive with your life on this penultimate step of the 12-step programme.
12. Have a Spiritual Awakening or a Rebirth in the World of Sobriety as a Result of Following These Steps
In regards to the traditional 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous that has a spiritual and religious bent to them, you as an alcoholic can get over your alcohol addiction by replacing it with spiritualism and faith in God.
To the non-religious, the message of sobriety instead involves piety to a more productive and purpose-driven life. It’s also in the final step of the 12-step addiction rehab programme that you’re encouraged to help others in their recovery. Show them that they can achieve what you’ve achieved by sharing your difficulties, experiences, and pitfalls towards becoming a sober and fully functioning adult.
The Twelve Traditions
The twelve steps outline the path an individual should follow to recover from their addiction. The Twelve Traditions, on the other hand, address the members of Alcoholics Anonymous (or other addiction support groups) as a group, providing guidelines on how the 12-step programme should operate.
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
- For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- An A.A. group ought never to endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain non-professional forever, but our service centres may employ special workers.
- A.A., as such, ought never to be organised, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the A.A. name ought never to be drawn into public controversy.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need to always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Similarly to the twelve steps, these traditions have been adopted and adjusted by other addiction recovery groups, serving as guidelines and principles of the 12-step programme to follow.
The Purpose of 12-Step Programmes
The primary premise of a 12-step programme is to provide people struggling with addiction with tools and practices to help one another achieve and maintain abstinence and sobriety from substances and behaviours they’re addicted to.
Indeed, many members of Alcoholics Anonymous become sponsors to addicts who wish to become sober as well. Instead of losing yourself analysing or creating 12 steps of recovery worksheets, it’s essential for you to understand the content and the meaning of every one of the 12 steps in order to make them work for you.
Even the act of finding a goal to help you towards self-improvement because you haven’t figured out the direction of your life yet (and you don’t think religion is the answer) can fill the psychological cravings for sensation that drug addiction, substance abuse, and alcohol addiction used to fill (as your affordable luxury rehab service will readily point out to you).
Sponsorship in the 12-Step Programme
Your “spiritual awakening” can be religious in nature, like Pastor Bill Wilson intended or more about aspiring for loftier goals and self-improvement as you lead others to the same place of sobriety that you’ve achieved by the end of the 12-step programme for addiction rehab.
Regardless, you won’t get far unless you’re in the hands of a sponsor, who usually is a former member of the programme who’s now volunteering to help out other addicts like him as part of his rehabilitation.
A sponsor in the context of 12-step programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous is a person under the recovery programme who guides the less-experienced aspirants or “sponsees” through the programme’s multiple steps.
Many affordable luxury rehab centres follow the same 12-step modus operandi of using “graduates” of the system as new sponsors for incoming “students”. New members are encouraged to develop relationships with experienced members as part of the programme.
These recovering addicts can teach you how to handle temptations and relapse because they’ve been there and done that. To wit:
- Healing from behavioural problems, compulsion, addiction, and substance abuse is all about changing brain structures (since the root cause of the addiction varies based on the individual) that led to addiction in the first place.
- Your substance abuse problems might be psychological, physical, or both.
- The physical aspect of addiction is typically covered by detoxification and medication-assisted treatment from rehab clinics.
- Psychologists deal with the psychological aspects of addiction while fellow recovering addicts provide peer support and share how they personally overcame their substance abuse tendencies.
- The beauty of the programme is in its community-based or socially-based methods of letting those who’ve endured and beaten addiction show the path towards sobriety to addicts in treatment who wish to get over their illness.
- Some 12-step programmes even include family therapy and counselling in case the family environment itself has driven you to drink, use drugs and whatnot.
- The inclusion of 12 steps also allows the addict to keep track of where they are at the rehab, whether it’s Step 1 or Step 11.
- The 12-step programme and movement is a force of good for many people because it condenses and simplifies rehabilitation in a way that’s easily understood by the addict at a glance.
How Long Is the 12-Step Programme?
How long it takes an individual to complete the 12 steps can vary from one person to another. Usually, 12-step sponsors encourage newcomers and sponsees to follow the 90/90 rule – 90 meetings in 90 days.
However, what’s important to note is that the 12-step programme isn’t about the amount of time it takes you to complete each step but rather about how thoroughly you approach these steps and how you use the lessons learned to improve your life.
Does the 12-Step Model Work?
The 12-step spiritual recovery system of Alcoholics Anonymous is so successful and ubiquitous that secular versions of the same programme have been developed to make it more universal.
According to studies, over 5 million addicts suffering from various addictions and psychological disorders have checked into many affordable luxury rehab centres that include the 12-step programme format all-in-all. Alcoholics Anonymous itself has 60,000 groups, and all maintain they’re a spiritual programme “not allied with any institution, organisation, politics, denomination, or sect”, including religion.
How effective is the 12-step programme? That depends on the data.
For example, according to studies on Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s a 5 to 10 percent newcomer success rate of the programme, with one research claiming that approximately 40% of individuals drop out of the programme in the first year.
In contrast, Alcoholics Anonymous reports a 68 percent of members became sober for more than a year without relapse.
That leads to the question – does the 12-step model work?
Yes, it does, although it heavily depends on the individual approach. The success rate is definitely higher than 5 percent, though, with most addiction specialists believing it to be somewhere between 8 to 12 percent.
Despite these numbers not being overly impressive, 12-step programmes remain incredibly popular and effective ways of fostering long-term sobriety from substance abuse or behavioural addiction.
There are instances, however, where a 12-step programme may prove ineffective, both in the short and long term.
Why the 12-Step Model Doesn’t Work for Everyone
Despite its effectiveness, criticism has been levelled by other affordable luxury rehab services in regard to how scientifically sound or effective the 12-step programme truly is.
They particularly question its overly religious tones, its non-medical approach towards recovery, and the “bad science” of surrendering yourself to God or a “higher power” in “blind faith”.
And while many 12-step programmes take a more secular approach, most people still associate them with religion. That can be a barrier to non-religious people seeking addiction treatment and counselling who don’t want to submit themselves to the Higher Power.
Another problem with 12-step programmes is that they focus solely on addiction, ignoring the underlying issues that might have driven an individual into addiction. These can include mental disorders, such as PTSD or depression, trauma, and genetic predispositions.
12-Step Programme Alternatives
Although the 12-step model is the baseline for many addiction treatment programmes and support groups, there are numerous alternatives to this approach that may prove themselves more effective to some.
At first glance, the SMART recovery programme might resemble the 12-step approach. It’s also a group-based and volunteer-led recovery model that revolves around support meetings.
This is where the similarities end, though. Unlike the 12-step model, which is based on, well, twelve steps, SMART recovery is built around four principles that support self-empowerment, treating addiction as a habit that one can learn how to control.
The SMART recovery is derived from scientifically proven practices, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which focuses on behavioural changes to help patients build motivation, learn coping mechanisms, and adopt healthy habits.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S)
Unlike the 12-step model, which focuses on embracing Higher Power, the S.O.S programme focuses on people’s values, integrity, and beliefs to help them overcome their addictions.
The programme makes sobriety the number one priority, encouraging people to take whatever steps are needed to stay on the path to sobriety.
Inpatient/Residential Addiction Treatment
Inpatient or residential treatment programmes require a patient to admit themselves into a rehab centre, such as The Dawn, to undergo their addiction treatment in a safe and controlled environment.
The massive benefit of such facilities is that they usually include a comprehensive treatment programme that, at least in the case of The Dawn, is tailored to each patient’s specific case and requirements, taking into account possible co-occurring disorders and underlying issues.
It’s usually a blend of different methods, ranging from group and individual therapies to wellness programmes and aftercare support. Furthermore, if you opt for a rehab abroad, e.g., in Thailand, you can also enjoy more privacy and peace of mind that you’re not exposed to triggers that may cause relapse.
Regain Control Over Your Life with The Dawn Rehab
As effective and universal as the 12-step model has proven to be for many struggling with addiction, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. If you or your loved one have already tried twelve steps or you believe the programme isn’t the right fit for you, The Dawn offers the alternative you seek.
As the premier alcohol and drug addiction rehabilitation centre in Thailand, The Dawn Rehab offers quality care that guarantees results. At The Dawn, we combine evidence-based treatment methods with a holistic approach, tailoring each treatment programme to the patient’s unique needs and circumstances.
So, don’t wait or make excuses. Just because the 12-step programme didn’t work in your case doesn’t mean there’s no hope. Contact The Dawn today to get FREE CONSULTATION and begin your journey to recovery in a caring and luxurious environment, free of triggers and stressors.