The Importance of the 12 Step Programme in Maintaining Recovery From Addiction

Resistance to the 12 Step Programme

There is now more of a general understanding and awareness that a 12 Step Programme plays an important part in someone’s Recovery from their addiction. There is however also a  preconceived idea about what it is and what it consists of.  The risk is that people will attend a 12 Step support group, relative to their addiction, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous and, not understanding anything that is going on in the meeting, make the decision that “it is not for me,” “it is too religious,” or “ I’m not as bad as they are!!”. This can result in anyone wanting to get well and considering being admitted to a residential rehab clinic or alcohol and drug rehab having a mental block towards addiction treatment as 95% of all residential addictions clinics in the UK are based on the principles of the 12 Step programme.

step by step

The world now is a very different place from when the 12 Step programme was conceived in America back in 1935 – when Alcoholics Anonymous was founded. The wording of the 12 Steps has never been changed and some people struggle with understanding this. Back in 1935 it was the time of Prohibition in America and the background was based on the principles of a spiritual organisation.  The only word that has been changed is in Step 3 where the word “God” has been changed to a “Power greater than ourselves,” making it mentally more accessible to everyone regardless of their beliefs or faith. 

Why Does the 12 Step Programme work?

Why does the 12 Step Programme still work after more than 80 years? It is because the Steps encourage the practise of honesty, humility, acceptance, courage, compassion, forgiveness and self-discipline. These are the pathways to positive behavioural change, emotional wellbeing and spiritual growth. Due to their success, the wording of the 12 Steps has been adopted by other addiction support groups such as Cocaine Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous, and from the first AA meeting in London in March 1947, there are now over 4500 AA meetings a week in the UK alone.

Realistically, when going into a residential addiction rehab or detox clinic for the recommended treatment period of 28 days, then work will not be completed around all the 12 Steps.  However, they should always be taken in order or sequence and, as it is not a race to complete each Step, then it is generally the first 3 Steps (possibly 4 and 5) that will be thoroughly covered through a structured daily  addiction treatment residential programme.  As a general guide it is also a fact that should someone relapse back into their old thinking and behaviour and start drinking or drugging again, it is very simply because the person is not actively engaging with these three Steps.

Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

This is a thinking Step. We mentally admit that whatever we try to do, alcohol has beaten us and we have no way of controlling our drinking.  Prior to taking this step, we can stand at a bar proclaiming we have a problem with alcohol, that we need to change. We can admit to the problem. We can accept we have a problem. However we need to want, at last, to do something about it.  At The Haynes Clinic, we have rarely met someone who cannot get well from their addiction but we have quite often met those who choose not to as they have not mentally moved from admitting the problem to accepting the problem to being willing to do something about it.

The word alcohol can be changed to whatever is our addiction, for example, gambling, cocaine, heroin, ketamine or eating.

Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

 The sanity bit is the easy part, doing the same thing each day hoping for a different result could be regarded as insanity but it is where our addiction and our denial takes us.  This is also a thinking Step, where we actually come to believe that something or somebody other than ourselves can help us.  Actually, it is very simple maths, one plus one is two and two is more powerful than one.    The “Came to” could also mean after we have detoxed from our drug of choice and have come round to a more accepting and reasoned way of thinking.  This reasoned approach should be aligned with the facts that we have tried every way we can to control our addiction and that we need to find the humility to accept we need help.

Step 3 – Made a decision to tun our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Whereas the first two Steps are thinking Steps, Step 3 is the action Step. We have now “made a decision,”(decided), to turn, (change), our will, (thinking), and our lives (behaviour).

However, the problem for so many is the first use of the word God, and possibly the easiest way for anyone to grasp this step is to go back to Step 2 where they have started to accept that someone else can help them. For Step 3 to progress it follows on that the person or people that have been identified as being able to help are then allowed to help.  This means to be able to communicate and to get a direct response back from someone. The communication needs to be with someone on this planet that can be either phoned or seen in person, as is the case with the addiction rehab or detox clinic, or with someone else in Recovery who can offer support and help with remaining on the correct path to Recovery.

We must be willing to ask for help

The key to this is really the willingness to ask others for help. As with all change, we initially find it hard to accept that our thinking needs help and direction from others in order for us to maintain a change from our addictive thinking and behaviour.

We must be willing to share how we are feeling

All the Steps are there to be progressed through but the first are critical in preventing a Relapse.  For example, if we feel that we are obsessing about alcohol then we need to communicate our feelings to others or the obsessive thinking will lead to a Relapse.

It is not a race and working through the 12 Steps will be a different time frame for everyone. However it is important that they are all worked through and that we do not just stop half way through.  A clear understanding is important for ongoing Recovery as is the attendance at respective addiction support groups. As we get to understand the meaning of the 12 Steps, we will gain more from attending the addiction support groups.