12-Step Model for Treating Addiction
Alcoholics Anonymous is the original and best-known example of the 12-Step model, which is a recovery program for people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Twelve-Step programs are an integral part of many treatment programs and help countless people recover from an addiction for the long-term. Here, we look at the history of the 12-Step model, outline the steps and benefits and consider what the research says about 12-Step recovery programs.
The 12-Step Model for Treating Addiction
Benefits for Treating Addiction
A Pathway to Personal Transformation Free From Addiction
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [or drugs], that our lives had become unmanageable.”
The first step of the 12-step model is admitting powerlessness over drugs or alcohol. Addiction doesn’t involve choice, and according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, once an addiction develops, good intentions and willpower are rarely enough to end it for the long-term.1 Addiction is characterized by compulsive substance abuse despite negative consequences, and admitting that you can’t control your drug or alcohol use leaves you willing to “become as open-minded to conviction and as willing to listen as the dying can be,” according to The Big Book.
“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration stresses that hope is the foundation of recovery.2 Step Two is all about hope, which is the belief that it’s possible to overcome challenges and live a healthy, happy life according to your values.
Hope, according to The Big Book, is supported by a greater power than oneself. Having faith that something outside of yourself can help you find the strength and motivation to carry on in sobriety is the basis of Step Two. Your Higher Power may be God, Allah, Yaweh or Jah, or it may be the Universe, Love, Family or your deeper spiritual self. The point is that having faith in something larger than yourself can fill you with the strength and resolve you need to pursue long-term recovery.
“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood him.”
Because your Higher Power accepts you unconditionally and operates with eternal compassion, turning your life and will over to this power helps you release your own negative feelings about yourself and treat yourself with more kindness, patience and compassion. Step Three opens you up to new ways of thinking about yourself and your addiction, and it provides spiritual support as you move forward to meet the challenges of recovery.
“We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Step Four is about responsibility and accountability. During Step Four, a moral inventory is taken, which involves writing a list of all the ways other people were wronged while addicted. This is meant to be a fearless process, because you’ve already turned your life and will over to your forgiving and compassionate Higher Power. Holding steady in the present moment, judgement is meant to be withheld about wrong deeds. This step is also about the understanding that you have the power to make things right moving forward.
“We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongdoings.”
Admitting your wrongdoings to your higher power allows you to experience grace and forgiveness, and admitting them to yourself brings you fully out of denial and ready to move forward with a clear head. Admitting out loud to another person the wrongs perpetrated while addicted helps to break down the barriers you’ve built to hide your shame and guilt. The alternative is isolation and stagnancy.
“We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Guilt, shame, blame, grudges and resentments impede recovery, and when you’re ready to let go of these and other negative states of mind that are holding you back, you’ve mastered Step Six. This step allows for awareness of emotions and the faulty thought and behavior patterns previously followed. This awareness allows for the adjustment of thinking and behavior as needed.
“We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Step Seven is all about the asking. It’s about humility and embracing hope for a better future. When you ask your Higher Power to remove your shortcomings, you commit to continued growth and development as a sober person striving to do what’s right.
“We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step Eight is the first step in the process of repairing the damage done while under the influence of addiction. During this step, a list is written of all of the people harmed while were addicted and notes are made about how you might make it right. Then, you work on becoming ready to make those amends. This begins a process of learning to be honest with yourself and others and forgiving yourself and the people who have hurt you.
“Make direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
With the list from step eight in hand, you set about righting your wrongs wherever possible, and wherever it doesn’t cause more pain. During this step, the last vestiges of guilt, regret and shame fall away, and you no longer feel the need to make excuses. This allows you to move forward in recovery with a clear conscience and a better understanding of how your actions affect others.
“We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
Step Ten finds you in a growth stage. Step Ten has no end point. It’s a lifelong pursuit. During this step, you practice daily vigilance of old patterns, which can easily work their way back into your life while you’re not looking. You continue to become more aware of your emotions, thoughts and behaviors, and you continually assess your state of mind and physical state and make choices that honor your intrinsic values.
“We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Prayer and meditation keep you connected to your Higher Power and your higher spiritual self. Prayer is direct communication with your higher power, and meditation keeps you rooted in the present moment and brings you closer to your deeper self. Both prayer and meditation foster positive changes in your emotions, thoughts and actions.
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
The final step of the 12-Step model is to commit to the goal of helping others recover from addiction. Having worked through the steps, you’ve achieved emotional stability and mastered mindfulness, and you make good decisions that have a positive impact on your life and the lives of others.
This is the point at which you may choose to become a sponsor to someone just beginning the recovery process. A sponsor can easily see others’ destructive patterns and understand the challenges faced in early recovery. Once you reach this stage of recovery, you’re more motivated than ever to stay sober for the long-haul and continue helping others do the same.
Effectiveness of the 12-Step Model for Treating Addiction
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