12-step programs, which include groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Pills Anonymous, have, for more than half of a century, been the single most popular option for achieving sobriety. These programs rely on a peer support model of recovery, whereby you get the support, education, and assistance you need from other addicts rather than trained professionals. An estimated two million people in the United States are in Alcoholics Anonymous alone, and meetings occur throughout the week and across the nation. If you choose a 12-step program, then, you should have no trouble finding a local group.
What Are 12-Step Programs?
12-step programs rely on a step-based recovery system. Rather than trying to recover according to a specific timeline, recovering addicts work the steps on an as-needed basis, allowing them to recover at their own pace. Even people who are still actively using are welcomed into 12 step programs, which endeavor to meet participants wherever they are. Although most people who attend 12-step programs use the groups as standalone programs, these support groups are so successful that many rehab centers host 12-step meetings.
Though free, 12-step programs encourage members to make a donation to keep the group running. Participants have the option to select a sponsor. A sponsor is a more experienced member of the group upon whom you can call when you have questions, are in crisis, or otherwise need additional support. You can attend as many or as few meetings as you want. While many group members opt to openly share their experiences, you can remain completely silent if you’re uncomfortable speaking to the group. For many addicts, the highly customizable nature of 12-step programs is a part of their appeal.
Is a 12-Step Program Right for Me?
A 12-step program certainly won’t stall your journey toward recovery, but the 12-step model is not right for everyone. 12-step programs make references to a “higher power” that some people interpret to be religious; many groups meet in churches or pray, so these programs might not be right for people who are stridently anti-religious or who are uncomfortable with Christianity. A few organizations, such as SMART Recovery and Secular Organizations for Sobriety, offer peer support groups that don’t rely on the 12-step model.
A 12-step program could be right for you if:
- You’re ready to get sober on your own, and don’t need constant supervision to do so.
- You’re comfortable with vaguely spiritual discussions.
- You’re committed to long-term, permanent sobriety; 12-step programs advocate permanent abstinence from alcohol and drugs.
- You’re prepared to take responsibility for the control alcohol and drugs have over your life, as well as for the ways in which your addiction has harmed loved ones; admitting powerlessness and making amends are key themes in most 12-step programs.
- You do not need medical assistance. People who experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms may need to go through detox first. Likewise, people with a dual diagnosis or untreated health conditions should consult a doctor to ensure they get proper medical care.
- You’re eager to learn from the experience, triumphs, and failures of other addicts.