San Diego Sober Living believes firmly in the many benefits of attending 12-step meetings. There are so many reasons to go to recovery meetings, especially early in recovery. But why are they important?
As addiction science continues to advance, many people wonder about the effectiveness of 12-Step programs and how they impact an individual’s recovery from substance abuse or process disorders.
The most famous 12-Step program is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), established in 1935. This program is designed to foster “an international fellowship of men and women who have a drinking problem.” The 12-Steps are considered a roadmap to recovery by first recovering from destructive habits and behaviors and then focusing on and helping others:
- Observe aspects of accountability through acknowledgement of a problem; attendance in public or private meetings to encourage mutual support; and recognition of how addiction may have impacted other people
- Develop readily-accessible coping mechanisms for handling recovery challenges in daily life
- Offer solace and guidance in times of desperation, need, or compulsivity
AA’s directives are outlined in what’s known as the Big Book.
Since AA’s founding, dozens of organizations adopted the 12-Step philosophy and structure to address other compulsive and addictive behaviors, including:
- Al-Anon Family Groups
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Debtors Anonymous
- Gamblers Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Overeaters Anonymous
Experts at in-patient rehabilitation facilities often introduce 12-Step programs during treatment and as part of an aftercare plan. For example, at Soledad House in San Diego, residents have the opportunity to use 12-Step recovery material in individual or group therapy sessions; attend 12-Step meetings on campus; and access community resources for meetings and programs for when they return home.
How a 12-Step Program May Help You
In an article for the American Society of Addiction Medicine, Dr. Michael Miller, an addiction psychologist, defined recovery as “a concept that implies not only improvement, but potentially remission…a process as well as a destination.” He stressed that “recovery activities” such as 12-Step programs are not professional treatments, but can “promote recovery just as professional treatment can.” He indicated if there’s an endpoint to addiction, “it’s to change one’s life for the better, to gain stability in one’s life, and to become more functional in one’s family and in one’s community.”
12-Step program provides this type of addiction relief to many people. With a foundation toward achieving this new sense of balance and engagement, these meetings provide a path toward a new life. Too often, individuals suffering from substance abuse disorders associate with others who travel that same road. The simple first step of changing the company you keep to be with people who understand your challenges and now have similar goals of recovery is why many believe in the success of 12-Step processes—placing much of program’s importance on fellowship.
Other advantages include:
- Taking a “moral inventory” of past actions and present life, with or without the influence of spirituality
- Allowing for better examination of personal values
- Providing reliable structure and necessary responsibility
- Offering a no- or low-cost way to uphold abstinence
What Some Scientists Say About 12-Step Effectiveness
While most of the controversy surrounding 12-Step programs involves the concept of spirituality, there’s also a concern that some people with substance abuse problems rely on a program as a form of treatment.
“Most people can’t deal with their addiction, which is deeply driven, by just being in a brotherhood,” said Dr. Lance Dodes, when interviewed by NPR about his book, The Sober Truth, released in 2014. Dodes cited evidence that indicates the success rate of AA and other 12-Step programs is approximately 5–10 percent.
Conversely, in 2011, Scientific American reported studies that stress the recovery rate is much higher among people who attend 12-Step programs while also seeing a therapy professional. Nearly 60 percent of respondents reported long-term sobriety when they did both. Also, one could argue that before the secularization of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, the success rates were more like 90% as stated in its own material. Also, with the introduction of things like court cards for DUI and other mandatory attendance requirements, this was sure to bring down the success rate. 12-step programs depend and a person’s desire to admit they have a problem and the subsequent rigorous honesty that is required.
The continuing quest for effective post-residential treatment support is why some medical professionals offer alternatives to 12-Step processes. One such option is SMART Recovery. Founded in 1994 by mental health experts and based on psychological approaches, the secular organization states its mission is “to empower people to achieve independence from addiction problems with our science-based 4-Point Program.”
The four points center on self-directed approaches such as:
- Improving motivation
- Refusing to act on the compulsion to use
- Developing problem-solving skills without substances
- Creating a healthy and balanced lifestyle
This method addresses a number of substance abuse and process disorders.
In 2018, VeryWell Mind shared some additional details about SMART recovery, as well as how it compares to 12-Step programs. Because the process isn’t as widespread or as well-known as various 12-Step options, its overall effectiveness is hard to quantify. Although online meetings make proximity less of an issue, this convenience may also make it more difficult for some people to develop a sense of accountability and belonging. Although, it should be noted that there is a conundrum produced by a recovery by self-reliance as promoted in SMART programs. If a person is the reason why they become an addict, then surely relying on themselves to recover would seem to present a problem. How can the person who created the problem solve the problem? A question to think about.
In addiction recovery, nothing is more important than individualized treatment. There are numerous techniques that provide an initial approach to quality care. But as the true causation for addiction is revealed through dedicated processes, options for sustaining wellness often vary considerably between each person.
The best way to determine what aftercare program might be beneficial for your needs is to try various options, including different meeting times and locations, to see what you respond to. Keep in mind—a “one and done” approach may not provide all the information necessary to make a quality assessment. You may need to immerse yourself in a program for a couple of months to gain an authentic understanding of the approach and whether it serves you.
San Diego Sober Living is an all woman’s sober living house that is focused on helping women recover, and stay recovered, from drug and alcohol addiction. If you are struggling with addiction, or are looking for a place to continue your recovery, we are here to help.