12-Step Support Groups: What are They and How Can They Help You?

12-Step Support Groups: What are They and How Can They Help You?

The 12-step approach

For 85 years, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been an invaluable resource for people struggling with addiction. It was the first 12-step program that was introduced in the United States and has since branched out to include many different 12-step programs ranging from Overeaters Anonymous to Gamblers Anonymous and beyond. Today, it is estimated that there are over 60,000 AA groups in the United States alone and over 2 million members.

Aside from AA, there are two other Anonymous groups that assist people and their loved ones with substance abuse issues Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Al-Anon. AA was founded by two alcoholic men in Akron, Ohio in 1935. The men (Bob S. and Bill W) saw an opportunity in the up-and-coming field of psychiatry to help treat people with drug and alcohol addiction issues. In the late 1930s, addition wasn’t exactly well understood. Addicts were usually written off as being “crazy,” institutionalized, and given medication that either didn’t help or made things quite worse.

At its inception, Bob and Bill intended for AA to be a spiritual approach to curing addiction – the medical approach was an obvious failure – so they created the 12 steps that are well known and still used today:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Today, there are dozens of Anonymous groups that all follow Bob and Bill’s 12-step program. It’s a bit ironic actually that their model was one rooted in spirituality because as the field of psychology progressed, their model seems to tie right in with the medical disease model of addition. The disease model of addiction treats addiction as a mental health issue rather than a “problem.”

Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-Anon

While there is a lengthy list of different Anonymous groups out there for those who suffer with an addiction, there are three that are specifically related to dealing with substance abuse issues: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Al-anon.

Meetings for each Anonymous group have roughly the same structure – the real difference is the community and the connection that one person has with the rest of the group members.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

AA set the groundwork for Na and Al-Anon. It’s a non-professional approach to addiction recovery that is free of charge and expectation. Anyone may very well go to an AA meeting without ever introducing themselves or giving up booze for good. The only pre-requisite to joining an AA group or sitting in on a meeting is a desire to quit drinking.

What is Narcotics Anonymous?

NA was founded because people who suffered from substance abuse problems – but not alcoholism – felt like the needed their own place to belong. While NA still uses the 12-step program and general framework that AA laid out, it gives people with a more specific addition a place to belong.

In both Anonymous groups, the environment will always:

  • Be judgement-free
  • Promote open communication and honesty
  • A place for group members to learn from one another
  • A support system

What is an AA or NA sponsor?

Eventually, if you stick around an Anonymous meeting for long enough and really try to challenge your addiction, you may meet a sponsor.

Having an AA or NA sponsor is kind of like being in a big/little sibling relationship. Sponsors are people who have completed the 12-step program that are now able to act as mentors to those who are currently in the program. They provide support whenever their sponsee needs it, help in completing each one of the 12-steps, and encourage them to consider addiction recovery from all different angles.

What is Al-Anon?

Al-Anon isn’t an Anonymous group for those suffering with addiction, it’s a group for their friends and families. Al-anon gives people who are close to someone with an addiction a supportive community of people who have gone through or are going through similar experiences. It’s a place for people to cope with the effects the illness has on people other than the afflicted.

Because it is an Anonymous group, Al-non does still practice the 12-steps but in a way that helps members to understand addiction rather than overcome it.

Intrepid Detox Residential

While the 12-step program has and continues to be proven effective, the first step to recovery is always detoxing which can be overwhelming to do on your own. At Intrepid Detox Residential, we believe in taking detox and recovery one day at a time and encourage our patients to stay in the present moment. We educate our patients on the best tools for living a mindful life and coping skills to deal with potential relapse triggers, stressors, and other recovery concerns. Patients who graduate from Intrepid Detox Residential earn 24/7 support that is meant to remind our alumnus that they are never alone.

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