The 12 Step Programme and its role in recovery from addiction

Experiences of the 12 Step Programme differ

steps to recovery

I know a few people who attended their first 12 step fellowship meeting and from that day on did not have another drink or drug. There will also be people who have had a medically assisted detox and then remained abstinent from their drug of choice by simply attending the relevant 12 Step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.  However, there are lots of reasons why this simply does not work for everyone. If we ask people making a telephone enquiry into The Haynes Clinic “have you ever attended a 12 Step Support group?”, the reply is generally the same with everyone, “Yes I tried it, it didn’t work, and it’s not for me !!”

 12 Step Support groups

There are many preconceived ideas about what a 12 Step programme is, such as that it is religious, that ‘people who attend are worse than me’, ‘it’s some sort of sect’, or ‘someone could see me at a meeting that I know’.  An accurate definition would be that it is a powerful peer support group that helps people recover from substance use disorders and behavioural addictions.  Regularly attending 12 Step support groups helps people achieve and maintain abstinence from alcohol and drugs, fostering long term Recovery from addiction.

However, one of the problems is that people, usually encouraged by a family member or loved one, will attend a 12 Step meeting whilst they are still drinking or using drugs, expecting there to be some sort of magic wand which will get them to stop. Or they may attend just to ‘tick the box’ – to show their loved ones that they are doing something to try and help with their addiction – just to get them off their backs. They do not really want to stop at all.  This is a prime example of where someone attends the groups and then decides its not for them.  There needs to be an understanding of the meaning of the Steps and the wording and the reason why they are set out in the order that they are. 

Wording of the 12 Step Programme

The wording of the 12 Steps has not changed since first publication, 70 years ago, back in 1953. The actual wording was conceived by Bill Wilson in 1938 and was used by early groups of Alcoholics Anonymous with great success. Following the publication of the Steps in 1953, Narcotics Anonymous was formed – the same year – and with the same principles as Alcoholics Anonymous.  These are the two largest 12 Step support groups but their ongoing success prompted other groups to be formed such as Gamblers Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous, again using the 12 Step modality.

All these other support groups utilise the same wording of the 12 Steps changing only one word from the first Step to suit the respective support group.  The first Step states “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”  So, that is the wording used in an Alcoholics Anonymous group and – for example – for a Cocaine Anonymous meeting the word alcohol would be changed to the word Cocaine. 

Breaking the addictive cycle requires more than a detox

With so little help within the community for people suffering from an addiction and  both hospitals and GPs not wanting to offer an admission or medications for a medically assisted detox, then the only option for near immediate help would be a private residential detox clinic or addictions rehab. In fact, The Haynes Clinic will not just offer a detox as too often this just results in relapse and a return to addictive behaviour. It is usually a waste of time and money.  Another risk is that with their relapse they will be drinking or drugging more than before the detox. For this reason, at The Haynes Clinic the minimum period of residential treatment is 14 days though the vast majority of people will be admitted to any residential addictions clinic for the recommended period of 28 days. There needs to be time, within a safe environment, to break the addictive cycle.

Most addiction rehabs use the 12 Step Programme because it is successful

Top of the list as a key component of residential addiction treatment has to be a structured daily programme of therapy facilitated by therapists who mostly have been through treatment themselves and are working a programme of Recovery from their addiction.  Approximately 95% of all residential addictions treatment units in the UK use the modality of the 12 Step programme.  It has a very long history of helping many thousands of people to get well and get their lives back free from their addictive thinking and behaviour. 

We need help to get on the lifelong path to recovery

The very first word of the 12 Steps is “We” and that is the essence of the programme. We are asking others for help and recognise that we have struggled on our own for so long and on our own have been unable to make changes that need to be made in order to change our thinking and behaviour.  The Steps are the directions meant to provide a path to lasting sobriety and a substance free life style.  It is important to realise that by going into rehab addiction treatment we have not started a course where our written work is going to be marked and it has a start and end date.  The first day we are admitted into an addictions rehab clinic is the first day that we start on our road to Recovery by starting on a programme of change. 

Will power does not work

The 12 Step programme has been called a simple programme for over complicated people. This recognises another problem – that we will overcomplicate by our very nature and try and exert will power over our addiction and return to “doing it our way again”. If we do this, we will again fail and it will result in a relapse. We need to maintain our admittance and acceptance that there is a problem. We need to recognise who can help us with that problem and then let them help us. That is basically Step 1,2 and 3 in a nutshell.

Attending 12 Step Groups (AA / CA / NA etc) is an important part of recovery

Also, when in residential rehab treatment, part of the structure will be attending 12 Step support groups with others who are also in treatment.  This is very positive as it helps with our gaining an understanding of the support group process. It is also not too intimidating when attending with others.  Our experiences at these meetings and learnings gained from them can then be processed through group therapy the next day.

Engaging with a 12 Step programme will give anyone a sense of hope when previously there seemed to be no hope or way forward to getting a life back.