12 Step Program Myths and Types

12 Step Program Myths and Types

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The first 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, started in 1935. There are now many types of 12-step programs worldwide, all based on the same 12 steps of recovery. 

Are you wondering what a 12-step program is? Some people find 12-step programs and traditions mystifying.

If you’re feeling in the dark about AA or other 12-step programs, keep reading this guide. We’ll share some of the common myths and how a 12-step program can help you or a loved one. 

Alcohol Addiction 

In the United States, 261 people die every day from excessive use of alcohol, and 10% of deaths in the 15-49-year-old age range are alcohol-related. The recent Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated alcohol use for some people.

The mental stress of the pandemic also made it harder for people with addictions to stay sober. That’s where 12-step programs come in. 

The Origins of the 12-Step Program

Bill W. was a stockbroker in New York, and he had a heavy drinking problem. He met an old friend, Ebby, who, having put his drinking behind him, was now sober.

Ebby’s sobriety was the result of getting help through a nonalcoholic fellowship. That fellowship was the Oxford Group.

The Oxford Group put an emphasis on living daily life with universal spiritual values. With Ebby’s help and the help of the group, Bill W. also found sobriety. He then helped a doctor, Dr. Bob, to get sober too, and the two of them worked with alcoholics at a nearby hospital. 

This was the beginning of what we now call Alcoholics Anonymous. 

What Are the 12 Steps?

The 12 steps begin with admitting that your life is unmanageable because of powerlessness over alcohol. The rest of the steps involve making a change, submitting to a higher power, and taking a fearless and personal moral inventory. 

The steps also include making a list of the people you’ve harmed due to alcoholism and doing your best to make amends. An integral part of the 12 steps is taking them into every aspect of your life. You can read the 12 steps in full here.

What Are the 12 Traditions?

The traditions involve the common welfare and unity of the AA group. The primary purpose of all AA groups is to carry the message of sobriety to any and all suffering alcoholics.

The traditions also include a few rules about how the group operates. AA is nonprofessional, non-political, and avoids public controversy.

Another AA and 12-step tradition is anonymity. Participants don’t use last names and never reveal other members outside of the program. Read the 12 traditions here

Types of 12-Step Programs

The 12-steps of AA are so successful that the model is used for other types of addiction treatment programs. There’s also a successful sister program to AA called Al-Anon. Al-Anon helps non-addicted people learn to cope with substance-abusing family members and friends.

The 12-step model branched into Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), and Overeaters Anonymous (OA). There are many other similar groups based on the original 12-step program of AA. 

The groups all use the 12 steps and 12 traditions to help people struggling with addiction. 

Common 12-Step Program Myths 

AA and other 12-step programs work because they’re anonymous. Whatever happens in a 12-step group stays in the group. This sometimes adds to the mystique and myth-making surrounding the programs. 

Myth: The 12-Step Programs Don’t Work Because They’re Not Science-Based

Studies show the 12-step program model is as effective as other treatment modalities. Many prestigious organizations endorse the 12-step program model.

Some of the organizations include:

  • The National Institute of Health (NIH)
  • The American Psychiatric Association (APA)
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System (VAHCS) 

The 12-step program is an effective method for reaching and maintaining sobriety. Most hospital addiction programs include 12-step programs. 

Myth: The 12-Step Programs Don’t Encourage Access to Care

Many people suffering from addiction need a combination of treatments. These include outpatient clinics, residential, and day programs. These are expensive programs not always covered by health insurance. 

AA and other 12-step programs are free. They’re available in most cities and countries. AA is also available on many holidays, weekends, and evenings when other types of care aren’t available. 

Myth: The 12-Step Treatment Programs Are Religious Programs Reinforcing Helplessness and Powerlessness

In working the 12-step model, you’re asked to admit that you’re powerless over your addiction. This is a commonly misunderstood part of the 12-step model. 

The original 12-step members knew they couldn’t change their addictive behaviors without finding help from others. This is true of many diseases, such as cancer. Addiction causes a loss of impulse control regardless of the often severe consequences of the behavior. 

To admit powerlessness over addiction is to face the fact that addiction is an illness. Some choose to rely on their perception of a higher power for help. 

Believing in God or a higher power  is not a prerequisite for attending AA or other 12-step groups.  

By attending 12-step meetings, you take personal responsibility and accountability to the group and yourself as well as a sponsor. The group fosters social networks that increase an individual’s ability to cope with the demands of sobriety. 

Myth: Addiction Isn’t a Disease and Genetics Play No Role

While the environment is critical for developing an addiction, genetics also play a role. Some people are genetically predisposed to addiction. Their environment and experiences can trigger the addiction. 

Many people suffering from addiction may also have other mental health issues. These issues also play a role in addiction. 

AA and Other 12-Step Programs Help Treat People With Addiction Issues

AA and other 12-step programs are helpful tools when dealing with many types of addictions. If you or a loved one deals with addiction issues, a 12-step program may help. 

Are you interested in helping others who have addiction issues? Why not get an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) Degree in Substance Abuse Disorder? The AAS may help you get one step closer to an entry-level job as an Alcohol and Drug Counselor! 

Contact us now for more information. 

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