An Introduction to a Traditional 12-Step Addiction Recovery Program


shutterstock_153019130Traditional 12-step addiction recovery programs have been endorsed by numerous public health organizations, including the U.S. National Institute of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the American Psychiatric Association, and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, as a cost effective approach to addiction treatment and recovery. They have been proven effective to treat both chemical substance addictions and behavioral disorders. Critics of 12-step programs like to compare remission and relapse rates of 12-step participants with addicts who have attempted to break their addictions without external assistance, but in all cases, 12-step programs are the more successful approach. These programs adopt a spiritual philosophy that many people see as a gateway into religious proselytizing. The spiritual element, however, does not mean that 12-step programs are religion or theology-based. 12-step programs do emphasize and encourage recovering addicts to seek a connection to a higher power. That higher power might be “God” or some other external source. These programs do not force an addict to select any specific higher power, but  instead focus on a philosophy that attempts to reconnect a recovering addict with the world around him and to draw him out of the self-centered world that he sank into through the course of his addiction. 12-step programs teach recovering alcoholics and addicts to accept and understand that events may be beyond his or her control and that reliance on and trust in a higher power is an important element of addiction recovery.       


If you are struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction and your treatment counselors recommend a 12-step recovery program, at least initially you may be easily swayed by the criticisms that you will inevitably find regarding 12-step programs. Your reluctance to participate in a 12-step recovery program is as much an element of your addiction as it is a function of natural skepticism. When making any decisions, addicts and non-addicts alike will look at the pros and cons of each option and will select the option with the largest relative amount of pros. An addict’s or an alcoholic’s mind will add an additional and often outsized amount of skepticism as part of the denials that are commonly expressed by addicts. If you are intent on breaking your substance abuse problem, you will need to overcome these denials in order to make an objective and rational decision about a 12-step program.

Each of the 12 steps is designed to give a recovering addict one or more specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound goals. 12-step recovery programs are administered within groups of addicts who develop a mutual environment of feedback and support for themselves and all group participants. Unlike in-patient addiction treatment and recovery centers, 12-step programs are free. The later steps in a 12-step program will ask a recovering addict to act as a resource or sponsor for other recovering addicts, and that action in itself is a key part of addiction recovery. From a broad perspective, 12-step addiction recovery programs ask a recovering drug addict or alcoholic first to acknowledge and correct his own problem, and then to help others on their own paths to recovery as the recovering addict strengthens his own resolve to stay sober.


Substance addictions are chronic diseases. Reports of spontaneous remission and disease cures are not unheard of, but they are always the exception and are never the rule. The brain chemistry of a person who suffers from alcoholism or drug addiction has undergone dramatic changes that preclude almost every attempt by an addict to overcome his addiction without outside assistance. Tragically, some addicts report that they can be away from their substances for years and yet they still do not feel sober. 12-step programs provide invaluable assistance to alcoholics and addicts who continue to experience these cravings. From this perspective, 12-step programs will not have tightly-defined beginnings and endings. 12-step programs are structured in a way that helps an addict to manage his or her addictions while living a normal and productive life.  

If you have questions about 12-step programs or you need assistance with your own drug or alcohol problem, please contact the staff and counselors at the Lead Recovery Center at 1-800-380-0012. We can provide additional information about the benefits of 12-step addiction recovery programs and on how those programs can help you to overcome your own substance abuse problems.