Do 12 step programs really work?

For years 12-step programs have been heralded as one of the best ways to achieve and maintain abstinence from alcohol or drugs. Originally created as a spiritual awareness program, the program turns off some people who are uncomfortable turning their lives over to a “higher power” in order to stop abusing a substance. The evidence shows, though, that those who do take the 12-step path have had some success, but not necessarily as much success as those who have taken other paths to rehabilitation.

12-Step Statistics12

Per their own surveying, one of the most recognized 12-step programs in the country, AA, has determined the following the success rates amongst those in the program:

  • 36-percent maintain sobriety for more than 10 years
  • 14-percent of those in the program have been sober 5 to 10 years
  • 24-percent have been sober 1 to 5 years
  • 26-percent have been sober less than a year

Prior to joining Alcoholics Anonymous, 64-percent of those in the program had tried other types of treatment and 84-percent of those surveyed stated that AA played a significant role in their recovery from addiction.

Rehab Statistics

Long-term treatment has proven the most effective means of stemming drug or alcohol abuse across all groups. Participation in a rehabilitation program for a minimum of three months has shown to be most effective in producing long-term results and abstinence, while the longer the rehabilitation period, the more effective the treatment.

Residential treatment has also been proven to increase the success rates of rehabilitation, and long-term programs at a residential facility have produced some of the highest success rates in rehabilitation. Women treated at residential facilities for six months or more, for instance, have shown abstinence rates from drugs and alcohol around 70-percent upon completion of the program.

Working in Conjunction

Alcohol and drug addiction go beyond the physical dependence. When alcohol consumption or drug use is used as a coping mechanism, that method of coping becomes a habit, that can be hard for many people to break. That’s what makes long-term treatment so effective. With long-term care, people in the program have the time and the resources they need to form new habits for dealing with stress and disappointments.

Twelve-step programs are long-term programs, designed so that anyone in the program can stay in the program as long as necessary. Some people who participate in 12-step programs may participate for only a year and be able to abstain after their time in the program. Others may go to meetings for five or 10 years to maintain their sobriety. Twelve-step programs are tailored in that individuals can participate in the way that is most effective for them.

There is no reason that traditional rehabilitation in a rehab facility and participation in a 12-step program cannot be used together to create a system of support for a substance abuser who is looking for help. An abuser with a long-term addiction may require detoxification in order to get started on their path to recovery, but may not have the means or the desire to stay in in-patient treatment for months. By combining a short-term rehabilitation stay with the convenience of a 12-step recovery program, someone who needs help overcoming an addiction can gather help from all available resources to create a program that is both long-term and effective.

So is it effective?

Asking if 12-step programs are truly effective is like asking if traditional drug or alcohol rehabilitation is truly effective. The answer is yes and no. For many people, rehabilitation proves effective, while some people have difficulty with recovery no matter which program they attempt to complete. Major factors in the success of a program is whether an abuser chooses to seek help on their own, how much he or she wants to overcome the addiction, and how much effort he or she puts into the completion of the program.

If the statistics are correct, more than one-third of those people who enter AA though successfully maintain sobriety after ten years, and the advantage of a 12-step program is that its tenets are always available and meetings occur regularly. This provides ex-users with a constant system of support, no matter how long it takes them to reach full recovery.


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Finding the Right Drug Rehabilitation Program for You

Drug Treatment Statistics1

Drug abuse kills 200,000 people worldwide each year. However, fewer than one in five people who need treatment actually receive it. Even if drug use does not kill an individual, continued abuse can ruin personal and professional relationships, cause financial devastation, lead to jail time, and ultimately destroy an individual’s life.

Drug abuse costs more than $11 billion in healthcare costs each year and more than $193 billion in over lost productivity, crime, treatment and prevention.

Types of Treatment Programs

There are many types of substance abuse treatment programs, ranging from traditional 12-step programs to programs focused on spirituality and religion:

12-Step Programs

12-step programs are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program in which an individual’s progress through 12 different steps towards recovery. The first step is for an individual to admit that they have an addiction to drugs or alcohol. 12-step programs create a safe, supportive community where individuals can openly share their struggles and relate to others’ struggles as well. The meetings themselves are an important treatment resource; by listening to the experiences of others, individuals better understand the consequences of drug use, how their drug use affects others, and the importance of sobriety. Even after achieving sobriety, individuals continue attending support meetings to remember the consequences of using and stay focused on sobriety.

Religious and Spiritual Treatment Programs

Individuals who feel lost or alone may benefit from a program that incorporates spirituality or religion into treatment. Religious and spiritual programs may incorporate prayer, mediation, or acts of service to give individuals a new sense of purpose and direction in their lives. These programs help to “fill the void” in an individual’s life that may previously have been filled by drugs or alcohol.

Holistic Treatment Programs

Some individuals may first begin abusing drugs to self-medicate depression, anxiety or other psychological problems. Other individuals find themselves dependent on drugs as a way to cope with the loss of a loved one, sexual or physical abuse, or other traumatic experiences. Individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are also at increased risk for drug abuse. For these individuals, simply detoxing from drugs is not enough; a successful treatment program must also address the issues underlying their abuse.

Transitional Living and Life Skills Classes

Many different types of programs incorporate transitional living and life skills classes to help individuals “re-enter” society and get a fresh start. This programs help to bridge the gap between in-patient treatment and re-entering the real world, which can seem like a foreign place after treatment. Transitional living programs also help individuals re-establish productive patterns of behavior that support a sober lifestyle, rather than falling into old patterns of behavior that may lead to relapse.

How to Find the Right Treatment Program

Finding the right treatment program is essential to overcoming drug addiction. Not every program has the same approach to treatment; different approaches may be better to suited to different people. These different approaches are influenced by the reasons why individuals first begin using drugs. Reasons for drug use include:

  • To fit in with a “cool” or “popular” crowd
  • To escape emotional or physical pain
  • To rebel against perceived authority figures
  • To experiment
  • To appear grown up or older
  • To self-medicate mental disorders

Understanding the reasons for drug abuse and addiction are important for a successful treatment. For example, if an individual is suffering from depression or another mental disorder, it is important to choose a program that will address both an individual’s substance abuse as well as the reasons underlying this abuse. With the right program, individuals can successfully live a sober and fulfilling life.

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