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What Is the 12-Step Program?

An Explanation of 12-Step Rehab for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

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12-Step Program History & Purpose

The 12-step program was written by Bill Wilson in the 1930s and became the core foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Wilson later developed The Big Book, which outlines each step and contains the personal stories of people who have recovered from addiction using the 12 steps.

The 12-step program has become the most popular method for all types of addiction recovery, including alcohol, drugs and other addictive behaviors. Many groups and organizations have adapted it with slight variations to address certain types of addictions and participants.

The 12 steps outline a recovery process that consists of believing in a power greater than yourself, acknowledging your past mistakes, making amends with those you have harmed and continuing your life with a focus on spiritual growth. Each step is meant to be addressed in sequential order to banish addictive behaviors and achieve overall happiness and wellness in life.

What are the 12 Steps?

  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 a 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 a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Defining Your Own Higher Power

The 12-step program was written for everyone and it does not require that you believe in a God. If you do not have any religious beliefs or convictions, you have the freedom to define your own higher power. Your higher power should be anything that gives you the resolve and strength to continue fighting for your own wellness and recovery.

For some, a higher power may be the strength that comes from the community group. For others, it could be the force of nature or some other spiritual entity that can’t be contained by a religion or church. Your understanding of a higher power is up to you. The key takeaway from the 12 steps is that whatever higher power you choose is bigger than both you and your addiction.

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Key Benefits of the 12-Step Program for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

  • You recognize that you have a problem with addiction and decide to seek help to overcome it.
  • You develop an awareness of the harmful behaviors that caused or contributed to your addiction and you become aware of positive behaviors that promote self-control.
  • You give yourself time to integrate these positive behaviors into your lifestyle, practice them and eventually make them a part of your everyday life.
  • You consistently interact with others who are facing the same struggles, learn to care for them and help each other through life.
  • You learn to embrace your personal strengths and accept yourself for who are you.
  • You gain important tools to continue practicing and implementing a sober lifestyle.
  • You are more likely to achieve and sustain long-term sobriety.

How Long Does the 12-Step Program Take?

The amount of time it takes to work through the 12-Step Program will vary from person to person, as it is a highly individualized process. Clients in Nova’s long-term rehab program (which lasts 90 days) thoroughly work through all 12 steps in the 12-Step Program and are encouraged to continue re-working the steps after rehab with formal aftercare, community support groups, and on their own. Working the steps is an ongoing process that requires continued work, just like the recovery process.

Nova Recovery Center: A 12-Step Rehab Program

At Nova, we have clinical and recovery teams that work together to form our recovery program. This allows us to work with individuals to break down barriers built by a history of trauma, chronic relapse and intense shame. Our drug and alcohol rehab program consists of an assigned recovery specialist, a peer-driven community and groups, and accountability exercises designed to improve communication and raise awareness of behaviors that need to change.

  • Recovery Specialists – Client progression through the 12-step program is led by our recovery specialists who facilitate the 12-step Big Book, spirituality, and awareness groups. They also meet with our clients for individual sessions two times per week throughout their rehab program. The primary role of the recovery specialist is to provide guidance and show clients how to stay sober by living out the twelve principles of recovery found in the steps. Since all our recovery specialists are in recovery themselves, they are actively working through the 12 steps and can provide valuable insight and encouragement based on their own personal experiences.
  • Awereness Groups – Four days a week, you will participate in an awareness group, which is facilitated by our recovery specialists. The purpose of an awareness group is for the community to keep one another accountable for their daily actions. This is achieved by providing honest feedback regarding behaviors, actions or attitudes that someone else may not see or acknowledge within themselves. Awareness groups help each individual in the group gain a deeper understanding of themselves and recognize harmful behaviors in their own lives that could possibly lead them back to active addiction. The language used in this group is in the format of sentence stems, such as:
    • “When I see (insert action or attitude)”
    • “When I hear (insert action or attitude)”
    • “I feel (insert identifying emotion)”

This not only helps the person who is receiving the feedback but also teaches the person who is speaking how to effectively communicate their feelings in their own voice.

  • Big Book Group – In Big Book Group, you will study the principles of the 12-step program, ask questions, and discuss answers. Each group is made up of clients working through the same steps. For example, one group encompasses clients working on steps one through three. Another group is made of up of clients working on steps four through seven, and so on.

We have found that combining these elements fosters a culture of accountability and creates a community in which our clients feel safe and heard, learn a new way of living, and can evaluate themselves in a way that facilitates real and lasting change.

What Is 12-Step Facilitation Therapy?

Twelve-step facilitation therapy is a type of behavioral therapy that promotes long-term abstinence by encouraging and facilitating the active engagement of clients in a 12-step recovery group. It has its basis in 12-step fellowships, and it operates under the assumption that addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that has biological, psychological and spiritual aspects, all of which are addressed as an individual works through the 12 steps.

According to an article published in the journal Recent Developments in Alcoholism, individuals who continuously participate in a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are nearly six times more likely than those who don’t participate to enjoy continuous abstinence for at least a year after treatment ends, and they’re up to five times more likely to still be sober after three years.1

Involvement in this type of peer support group is a critical component of the aftercare plan that’s implemented once treatment is complete. Getting involved in the 12 steps from the beginning offers the opportunity to begin forging relationships with other non-users early on to help improve the chances of long-term recovery.

Twelve-step facilitation therapy is used to treat drug and alcohol addiction by modifying attitudes and behaviors. It incorporates the following three key ideas:

  • Acceptance – Clients come to realize that drug and alcohol addiction is a disease that cannot be controlled. The abuse of addictive substances has caused it to become completely unmanageable and willpower cannot defeat the addiction on its own. Abstinence is the only way to overcome drug and alcohol addiction.
  • Surrender – In order to heal, clients must surrender to their higher power and accept the peer support provided by other addicted individuals in the same situation. Clients must also accept the that adhering to the 12-step program will provide them with the highest opportunity for personal success in sobriety.
  • Active involvement – Another main aspect of 12-step therapy is that clients regularly attend 12-step meetings and participate in all related activities.

Community 12-Step Programs for Continued Recovery After Rehab

After completing rehab or while you’re enrolled in sober living or aftercare, you can continue to be involved in a 12-step community support group. These groups can enhance your personal recovery by helping you establish an active and supportive community of sober peers outside of rehab, maintain accountability in your own sobriety journey, and challenge you to set and achieve sobriety goals as you build a new life for yourself in recovery.

Common 12-Step Programs in the local community include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous
  • Cocaine Anonymous
  • Marijuana Anonymous

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