The 12 Step Programme and Alcoholics Anonymous

Anyone can get well from alcohol addiction if they wish to

The 12 Step Programme and Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcohol addiction, alcoholism, alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder, as it is now termed, is a medical condition that is treatable when the individual is willing to change their thinking and behaviour and seek help from someone who is qualified within the field of addiction.  This professional help need not come from a medical background, though initially a doctor would need to oversee a medical alcohol detox using a drug such as Librium on a reducing scale over a period of usually up to 10 days. This would usually be after being admitted to a residential alcohol addiction treatment unit.

Alcoholics have to change their thinking and behaviour to get well

Anyone with an alcohol use disorder who only has a residential alcohol detox and then returns home and maintains their old behavioural pattern will relapse within days.  There needs to be a change with our thinking and this will result in a change of behaviour. As we were unable to stop or cut down our drinking before we had an alcohol detox, we will need the help of others to maintain abstinence following the medicated detox for alcohol

Alcohol rehab and the 12 Step Programme

95% of all alcohol addiction residential rehab units in the UK are based on the modality of the 12 Step Programme and the support groups of Alcoholics Anonymous or AA.  The general recognised admission period is for 28 days and this acts as a break in the addictive cycle and also enables people to get an understanding of the 12 Step Programme during a structured daily therapy programme. The alternative admission period would be for a minimum of 14 days which may be necessary due to financial constraints or even getting time off work. In this case but an even more dedicated commitment for success is required, due to less time in treatment and out of our old environment.

The 12 Step Programme works

The 12 Step Programme has been consistently proven to be a solid foundation for ongoing Recovery from when it was first developed in the 1930s . Its basic concept is based on mutual help from others with the same addiction.  The Steps are guiding principles that outline how to overcome addiction, to avoid triggers and dysfunctional addictive behaviours and live a healthy and productive life.

The 12 Step Programme is not religious

One of the obvious challenges facing a person entering treatment in 2024 is to be confronted with the wording from the 12 Step Programme which has not been changed since it was  first published in America in 1939. The reason the wording has never been modernised is that it works and therefore is considered to not need changing. Over the years, the ongoing working of the Steps has helped millions of people of all ages, race and gender get well and provided the support and guidance needed for long lasting sobriety.  The biggest stumbling block for many is that the word GOD is mentioned four times in the Steps and the immediate response is that this means it is a religious programme.  This is simply not the case: if a religious programme was the answer, we would just be asked to go to a place of worship each week.  Some of us will have tried this but found that it was not enough to get us sober. Some of us will be atheists and therefore inherently resistant to a religious programme being the answer. GOD can stand for “good orderly direction,” which is basically what we were lacking with our addictive behaviour and what we need to move forward.  This is why it is so important to be open minded when coming into treatment. The therapists that will be helping us will usually all be in Recovery and working a 12 Step Programme themselves, so that should reassure us of the fact that if we trust the process, it will work for us.  The other problem is that people will attend AA meetings whilst still drinking, quite possibly having been encouraged by family members to attend with the thought that somehow by attending it will help in stopping drinking.  The issue here is that we will not have a clue what is going on and with the confusion will be the assumption and conclusion that AA “is not for me.”

The First 3 Steps

The Steps are written in a sequence or order and, whilst there are 12, the biggest Steps are probably the first three

  • Step 1 is basically a thinking Step. It requires us to admit we have a problem with alcohol. Not only this but we need to move our thinking from not just admitting there is a problem but to accepting it. One further requirement is that we also now honestly want to do something about it.
  • Step 2 is also a thinking Step. Having accepted the problem, we now realise that we need the help of others in order to get well and that trying to get well on our own does not work. We identify those who can help us. 
  • Step 3 is the action step whereby we have now  decided that the people we have identified in Step 2 who can help us – we will now let them help us.

The importance of honesty

Therefore there needs to be an honesty with ourselves in terms of the low level that our drinking has taken us to, a willingness to change our thinking and behaviour and having an open minded attitude. We need to be willing to trust a programme that is proven to work and has the ability to give us our life back.

The importance of total abstinence

The programme is also abstinence based which some people find hard to come to terms with as they want to be able to drink ‘like normal people’ in a controlled manner. However, for those truly alcohol dependent, it is not about having the odd alcoholic drink. It has been medically proven that if we have a drink again, then with our addiction we will be back drinking what we were before we went into treatment plus more in a matter of weeks.  We couldn’t control our consumption before we had aa alcohol detox so why would we be able to after simply having a detox?  In a way it can be explained more easily if we accept that we now have an allergy to alcohol and anything with alcohol in it we should not now consume.  In all the years, at The Haynes Clinic, no one has ever phoned up and said ‘I have had the most amazing Relapse and I am loving drinking again’!!  However, the mental thought of never drinking again is really too much for many of us. Therefore the very essence of the 12 Step Programme is a very manageable “one day at a time” approach in which we start each day by saying “I will not have an alcoholic drink today.”

Finding a local AA meeting

Having left treatment, local AA meetings can be found by inputting your postcode in to the AA website.

Also, for family members and loved ones, there is support from their own groups called Al-Anon and even for older children, Alateen. Again local groups can be found on their respective websites