When a drug addict or alcoholic decides to break their addictive habit and become sober, this decision is the first step in a long, uphill battle against their vice. Selecting an appropriate substance abuse program is critical for an addict because it can very well determine how successful that individual will be in reaching sobriety. One of the most popular forms of treatment is the 12-step program, as it helps you explore spirituality in addiction treatment.
The 12-step program was originally developed in 1935 by Alcoholics Anonymous as a way to treat alcoholism. Over the years, the program has been modified to treat a variety of addictions and behavioral issues, including but not limited to drugs (Narcotics Anonymous), overeating (Overeaters Anonymous), and gambling (Debtors Anonymous). The basic premise of a 12-step program revolves around a common belief that change must come from within on three levels: spiritual, physical, and mental. The addiction itself infects all three areas of the human body, and once each element is free of the addiction, a spiritual awakening occurs, as does recovery.
Reaching this spiritual awakening often involves attending group meetings with individuals facing the same addiction. During these meetings, members are given the opportunity to speak freely and without judgment. This opens the door for addicts to collectively share the challenges they face, as well as to learn acceptance of their actions and those of the other members. New members are encouraged to develop at least one relationship with a sponsor—an experienced member of the 12-step program who helps guide the newcomer throughout the recovery process. Sponsors share their experience, strength, and hope with the sponsee, but they are not therapists and generally don’t give advice. They provide a listening ear to the sponsee, and together they participate in activities designed to lead to spiritual growth.
The main road to recovery follows 12 steps or principles each member should encounter. These principles are meant to work sequentially as a process to rid an individual of their addiction and/or compulsive behavior. The first and often most difficult step is for the addict to admit that they are powerless over their addiction and that their life has become unmanageable. Other steps include recognizing that there is a greater power that can give an individual strength; examining past errors and making amends for these errors; learning how to live a new, sober life based on these new beliefs; and helping others fight their own addictions.
Accompanying the 12 steps are 12 traditions—guidelines for running like-minded support groups. Most 12-step groups, or fellowships as they are commonly called, follow these traditions that focus on the importance of the group as a whole, the autonomy of each group, and personal anonymity.
Although 12-step programs boast a high success rate, some critics argue against the efficacy of the treatment. Since the program endorses anonymity, it is difficult for researchers to track and study the participant’s recovery and relapse rates. Because of this, there are few reliable statistics available on how many individuals are in 12-step programs and how effective the program actually is. Another cause for critics’ concern is the religious undertones embedded within the treatment. Many people argue that medical treatment/therapy and religion should not be linked. Lastly, 12-step programs only offer partial treatment for addiction and do not generally advocate outside medical treatment for its participants.