The transition back into society after addiction treatment can be challenging, but it can also be a threat to your newly founded sobriety. Outside the confines of treatment lies, temptation and relapse can sometimes be inevitable. It’s an unfortunate part of the reality individuals leaving treatment face, but fortunately, there are options available to them that can help ease their move.

Alumni programs offer a welcoming community of sober friends that can help reduce temptations. An estimate by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of those who attain sobriety will relapse at some point.

The truth of the matter is that addiction treatment requires lifelong maintenance. While relapse is a natural part of the recovery process, someone who struggles with addiction will often follow a lonely path. It does not always have to be this way.

12-step programs have been a refuge for many who seek to protect their sobriety, and it has helped millions of those with drug or alcohol addictions stay on the righteous path of sobriety. The 12-step program has been a staple in addiction treatment, but as the methods have evolved, is the program still effective? Let’s dig a little deeper into how it works, and examine how it has been used for decades to treat addiction.

What are 12-step Programs?

12-step programs are a treatment approach that promotes addiction recovery being achieved with spiritual growth and peer support. The model is directly linked with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is the world’s largest organization for alcohol support groups.

The 12-steps include admitting that you are powerless over a substance, and relinquish control of the addiction to a higher power. With this, you accept help and recognize abstinence, examining your flaws, and past mistakes while seeking to make amends for the mistakes from the past.

The 12-steps were created to overcome an addiction as it affects the three realms of human existence, which is mental, physical, and spiritual aspects. The 12-steps is one of the most commonly used recovery methods worldwide, and can also be used as a support group with additional therapy for those who already have been through treatment and require assistance staying sober.

The History of 12-step Therapy

The group responsible for establishing the 12-step methodology is traced back to Akron, Ohio, in 1935. A Wall Street stockbroker by the name of Bill Wilson and a surgeon Dr. Robert Smith met to discuss the struggles pertaining to alcohol use.

Alcohol cost Wilson his career at this point, and he was hospitalized for his addiction while seeking help from a Christian fellowship named The Oxford Group, which was a religious movement in Europe and the United States in the early 20th century.

The Oxford Group was under the impression that the root of all problems was fear and selfishness. The solution? Surrender your life to God. With the help of a friend, Ebby Thacher, Wilson was able to stop drinking. He started to work with those who applied the group’s standard of purity, honesty, unselfishness, and love to combat their alcohol addiction.

Wilson began sharing what he learned with Smith, and thanks to Wilson’s ideas, Smith was able to get sober and never drink again.

The two men came together to work with people at the Akron hospital, struggling with alcohol addiction. Wilson and Smith helped another patient realize sobriety, and then AA was formed.

How 12-step Programs Work

The 12-step methods are tailored to cover different addictions, but they will all follow the original 12-step outline and traditions devised by Wilson and Smith in the 1930s. In essence, the program’s goal is to build spiritual well-being by connecting you to those who understand what you are going through. The following steps help the members achieve and maintain sobriety.

The Steps

In the “big book,” the 12-steps guide you through a process of acceptance as well as a spiritual awakening. Most of these programs use the same principles as 12-steps down to the exact words. The type of addiction will be the only difference between groups.

The 12-steps for Alcoholics Anonymous go as follows:

  1. We are powerless over alcohol – that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2.  Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn our will and our lives to the care of God as we understand him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitting to God, to ourselves, and to other human beings, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We are entirely ready to have God remove all of our defects of character.
  7. Humbly ask God to receive our shortcomings.
  8. Make a list of all the individuals we have harmed and be willing to make amends to all of them.
  9. Make direct amends to these individuals whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Take a personal inventory, and when we are wrong, promptly admit to it.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understand him, praying for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.
  12. Having a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps.


Meetings are a crucial step to any 12-step program, and they are where members connect with those who empathize with their experiences. Meetings are the space where participants can talk about their addiction challenges and success. It allows members to share stories and shortcomings. There are open meetings that anyone can attend, but there are also closed meetings, which are limited to members.


Only experienced 12-step members will have completed all 12-steps or shown progress throughout the program. By acting as mentors to others, sponsors are fulfilling the 11th and 12th steps by helping members along with their own recovery. Upon entry to a 12-step program, you will have the option to choose a mentor or being recommended one.

A mentor will be there to help through the process, but in addition to helping you through the steps, they can assist in many other needs, such as creating a budget or applying for a job. If you don’t like the current sponsor, programs will allow you to switch at any time.

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