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12 Step Recovery

There are some treatment approaches that are synonymous with addiction recovery. This is due to their long history of use and their presence in society as a viable means of addiction treatment. That association with treatment means that such an approach is often one of the first things that come to mind when a person considers seeking out treatment for their addiction. The method in question: 12-step recovery.

What is Involved in a 12-Step Recovery Plan?

12-step recovery programs have long been used to treat a variety of issues, including addiction. These programs are formatted into twelve steps or stages that participants move through during their recovery, with each involving some kind of task(s) that must be completed. Initially, this format began as a way to treat alcoholism—thus the creation of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program—but it has been adapted to other forms of addiction and some psychological conditions. It has been around since the 1930s and is one of the most popular addiction treatment formats in the U.S.

In a 12-step recovery program, participants learn how to cope with their addiction and address the impact it has had on their lives. This means acknowledging the things that they did while using and the effects that their actions have, with the intent to find forgiveness for themselves and others. It is a very self-reflective approach that requires a person to take a good look at themselves on a regular basis in regards to their addiction. The steps are intended for each individual who uses this format. For everyone in a 12-step group or program, there are the 12-traditions that all members are expected to follow. These are more or less rules of conduct for participants. For example, all members are expected to stop drinking immediately so long as they are a part of a 12-step group and that each group should be autonomous or self-supporting (e.g. no outside help).

The traditional 12-step recovery process, which is still used by AA and its variations today, has a strong spiritual facet. Participants are encouraged to seek out comfort and guidance in whatever spiritual power they believe in. This has sparked some controversy with 12-step recovery, but not all versions of the process have this spiritual element or expect participants to include spirituality or religion in their recovery. Some 12-step recovery programs may have use a variation of the 12-steps and/or the 12-traditions as a result.

The Advantages of 12-Step Recovery

For many, the 12-step format provides structure that is very necessary to the success of their recovery. It’s a linear model that very clearly lays out what a person needs to do in order to advance. This can help provide a person in recovery with a sense of direction, which is often well-welcomed after the chaotic nature of addiction.

12-step programs also offer the benefit of support. The autonomous nature of the format means that help comes from within the group, whose membership is made up of people who are in or have been in the same situation as you or your loved one. This can make it much easier to relate and connect with others, and make a person more open to receiving help. 12-step programs often do this through the usage of sponsors, peers who use their experience to help those who are new to the program and recovery. A sponsor is usually farther in the 12-steps and has spent significantly more time in sobriety than the person they are sponsoring, but it can vary.

While the original 12-step format does have a spiritual or religious tone, there are no membership requirements based on religion. It does not matter who or what you believe in, or even if you don’t believe in anything. The variations of the 12-step format means that there are options available for you or your loved one, regardless of circumstances.

The Disadvantages of 12-Step Recovery

The long history associated with 12-step recovery programs means that format’s faults are well-established. These programs stress to their members that they have little to no control over their actions and are essentially powerless to their addiction. While this is often used as a means of helping members cope with guilt over their addiction, there are some that have abused this feature to dismiss their past actions and avoid taking any responsibility.

Studies have shown that 12-step programs are more effective for men than they are with women. This is likely due to the fact that the original program was made by a man for men, and thus focuses on aspects of addiction that are specific to men. There are different causes for addiction that are attributable to men and women; women, for example, are more likely to use drugs or alcohol to reduce or numb pain and trauma and men are more likely to use to make themselves feel better and stronger.
While 12-step programs do not place any expectations on their members to adhere to any kind of religious beliefs, the format does rely heavily on spiritual faith. For those who are not particularly religious or who are an atheist, a 12-step recovery program or plan might be very uncomfortable.

Another disadvantage with 12-step recovery programs is that they often fail to acknowledge factors of withdrawal and physical recovery, focusing on mental and spiritual elements instead. This means that there isn’t any kind of attention paid to cravings, detox, physical health issues, or damage done to the body from drug use in these programs. In some cases, dual diagnosis isn’t addressed, and conditions like depression or bipolar disorder can worsen in this kind of recovery program.

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At Lionheart Recovery, we will work with you, hand in hand, to ensure you or your loved one finds the personalized care specific to your needs. This service comes at no cost to you or your family. Our addiction specialists are ready to help you begin your journey to achieving long-term, sustainable sobriety. Let’s find a solution, together.
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