Do 12-Step Programs for Addiction Recovery Work?

August 23, 2017 Jami DeLoe

While 12-step programs are the most widely-known programs for addiction recovery, many wonder if they really work for long-lasting recovery.

Twelve-step programs are probably the best-known programs for addiction recovery, but do they work? In my opinion, they can work – but it takes other addiction treatments as well. So, what part do 12-Step programs for addiction recovery play?

The Desire for Addiction Recovery with 12-Step Programs and Otherwise

Addiction is a disease that affects millions of people – if not directly, then indirectly as the family and friends of those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Most of those addicts don’t want to live the way they are, rather they want to be free of addiction and all the negative consequences that it entails. But how do they do that? What is the best way to quit using and learn to live a new way, free of addiction?

Some attempt to go it alone, attempting to get clean and sober with their own willpower and without professional help. Others attend treatment facilities for addiction, either inpatient or outpatient, to begin their recovery. Still, others turn to 12-step programs for their addiction recovery.

What Does a 12-Step Program for Addiction Recovery Do?

Twelve-step programs are designed to help people recover from various types of addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the first 12-step program, founded in the 1930s by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. The AA program has been adapted to help other addictions including Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and many more.

The basic 12-step model operates under the premise that people can help one another attain and sustain abstinence from the substance or behavior to which they are addicted. This is done through meetings where they share their experience, strength, and hope with each other and offer support.

There are no requirements for membership in 12-step programs except that the individual has a desire to stop using, drinking, or practicing harmful behaviors. Meetings are free and there are no leaders, no therapists or other medical professionals, and no accountability for attendance.

Members are encouraged, but not required, to work through the 12 steps of the program with a sponsor (someone with more sobriety who has been through the steps themselves). Only first names are used, so members can remain anonymous if they choose to, and it is forbidden to talk about other members outside of the rooms.

The 12-Step Program for Addiction Recovery Has Pros and Cons

Like any type of treatment or program, there are advantages and disadvantages associated with 12-step programs for addiction recovery. Let’s take a look at the benefits of 12-step programs first:

  • Cost – 12-step programs are free, although they are self-supporting so members can make small donations to cover the cost of coffee if they want to.
  • Sponsorship – It's one of the only program models that uses sponsorship as a recovery tool.
  • Structured meetings – The meetings are on-time and structured to a tee.
  • Accessibility – There are meetings available at all times of the day, in different areas (including internationally), and with different formats, so there is a lot of support available.
  • Fellowship – There is a strong sense of community in 12-step programs, there is usually very little judgment, and most members are helpful and supportive.

Now, let’s look at the drawbacks of the 12-step program:

  • No accountability – Because 12-step programs are anonymous, there is no accountability for not attending.
  • Some members are court-ordered – Many drug courts require offenders to attend 12-step meetings, so they are not always there for the right reasons and they may distract other members from getting what they need out of the meetings.
  • No therapy – There is no therapy, psychiatric care, or medical professionals in 12-step programs.
  • Religious undertones – For those who are not open to religion or spirituality, the religious undertones of some 12-step programs may be off-putting.

Does the 12-Step Model Work for Addiction Recovery?

Because 12-step programs are anonymous and there is no record-keeping of meetings and members, it’s hard to answer this question. Just how many people are able to get and stay clean using 12-step programs would be a guess, at best. However, the prominence of these programs and the stories of success from those in recovery suggest that it is effective.

Probably the most effective way to make good use of 12-step programs is to use them the way that I did, in conjunction with other recovery options. Nearly three-quarters of addiction treatment facilities incorporate the 12-steps into their treatment plans, so when patients complete treatment, it’s likely that they are already familiar with 12-step programs making it easy to continue with them in the future.

If you are considering beginning a 12-step program, give it a try. Keep in mind, effective and successful addiction treatment is unique to each individual. While these programs don’t work for everyone, they do work for many, so why not see if you’re in the latter group?

APA Reference
DeLoe, J. (2017, August 23). Do 12-Step Programs for Addiction Recovery Work?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 18 from

Author: Jami DeLoe

Jami DeLoe is a freelance writer and addiction blogger. She is an advocate for mental health awareness and addiction recovery and is a recovering alcoholic herself. Find Jami DeLoe on her blog, Sober GraceTwitter, and Facebook.

joe j
September, 1 2017 at 2:51 pm

they work drug free 28 plus years

Leave a reply