Resistance to the 12 Step Programme

What is a 12 Step Programme?

In its simplest form, a 12 Step programme is a Recovery programme to help to overcome addiction, avoid Relapse and live a healthy life free from addictive substances. It should sound amazing to everyone with an addiction that there is a simple programme and a way forward that can keep them free from their addiction, so why is that a percentage of people will choose to either not follow its structure or simply not even give it a “go”  because of their mistaken belief that it is ‘not for them’? This is usually based on misinformation as to what the 12 Step Programme is about.

Resistance to the 12 Step Programme

The problem of language and the ‘GOD’ word

Part of the problem is that the 12 Step programme was conceived in America some 86 years ago. The language is quite outdated – it was written at a time when there was Prohibition in the States and also at the time it was a God-fearing society. So, it is natural for there to be a degree of difficulty in the comprehension and understanding of the wording as it has never been updated or modernised in all of those 86 years. As a result, many people have a reluctance to engage with the programme simply due to their lack of understanding:  many people think and will say that “it’s religious,” “it’s not for me,” “it’s like joining a sect,” “it’s all about GOD.”

These misplaced ideas have created an initial stumbling block for many people and, due to their not accepting this successful approach to Recovery, this has led to many people prolonging their addictive thinking and behaviour. Ultimately this has resulted in their lives spiralling down even further. The rationale “it’s not for me,” is usually given by people who have attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and who are also still drinking or drugging. Many are still reluctant to give up their alcohol or drug crutch, so it is no wonder that, when they are not presented with the hoped for magic wand, they dismiss the 12 Step Programme as not working for them (a well as being religious).

Generally it is better to attend a 12 Step Support meeting either when absolutely desperate to get well (prepared to go to any lengths even if this involved working with the arcane language of the programme) or (ideally and) when the individual has completed a medicated detox from alcohol or drugs within a residential rehab addictions clinic.  The exception to this would be for anyone with a gambling addiction, an eating disorder or even a cocaine addiction where a detox is not required.

Understanding the 12 Step Programme

One of the many benefits of being admitted into private residential addiction treatment such as provided by the Haynes Clinic is that the major part of the time spent in therapy is also in helping to gain an understanding of the meaning and a clarity around the 12 Steps. 

The 12 Step programme has been so successful in helping many thousands of people over the years, that its modality or ethos has been adopted by Gamblers Anonymous, Anorexia and Bulimia support groups, Cocaine Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. The only word that is changed at different support groups is at the end of the first  part of Step 1 which reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable”. At a Cocaine Anonymous support group the word alcohol will be changed to Cocaine which makes it relevant but all other words remain unchanged. That particular word (alcohol) is the only one that needs to be changed for the other addiction fellowships.

If you are admitted into residential addiction treatment you will likely attend 12 Step support groups with others who are in treatment with you, and this will also help “break the ice” rather than the potentially daunting task of attending your first meeting without knowing anyone.   

The 12 Step Programme is like medication that keeps you well

An addiction is classified as a chronic brain disease that can happen to anyone and the 12 Step programme could be classified as being your daily medication to help you keep well. It will help you change your addictive thinking and  behaviour back to a degree of normality.  This is why it is so amazing that there is a proven way forward for everyone and it has often been referred to as a simple programme for overcomplicated people. This is in part due to the fact that its simplicity can also be challenged rather than accepted. This can lead to people thinking “I know what to do now and I can do it my way,” which can very easily lead to a Relapse.

There needs to be an acceptance that whatever we have tried to do in the past to change our behaviour, on our own we have repeatedly failed. These Steps lead us towards humility and to us not only asking for help but also accepting the help given to us by others.  The programme is not a religious one – if it was we would simply ask everyone to attend their respective religious meetings – but it is a spiritual one. At The Haynes Clinic we explain and direct people through the spiritual principles of honesty, willingness to change and being openminded to new ideas.

Total abstinence – one day at a time

For anyone with an addiction, such as to alcohol or drugs, then to get normality back into our lives, total abstinence is the key. However the thought of never being able to have a drink (or drug) again is mentally  a very difficult concept to accept.  The 12 step programme advocates working the programme “one day at a time,” in effect waking up each morning and starting the day by choosing not to have a drink, drug or to gamble or overeat that day. It provides the help of others who are also working the same programme and are able to offer daily support. 

In order for it to work, continued attendance is required at our respective 12 Step meetings. Local meetings can be found by going on AA, CA, NA or GA websites and inputting our postcode.  It is a fact that, at The Haynes Clinic, when we get a telephone call from someone who has had a relapse, it is often the case that they have stopped going to meetings.  The key is not in understanding and knowing the Steps, it is in actually practising them daily. As with all lifestyle changes, they will ultimately  become second nature to us and be part of our daily lives.   

Addiction help for the family

Family members can also benefit from 12 Step support groups through Al-Anon or Alateen for children with a parent with an addiction. These groups guide and support families even if the family member / parent is choosing not to make changes and remains active in their addiction. Family members can still get  help by attending and again local groups can be found by accessing the various websites.