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Recovery is no easy accomplishment, and those seeking sobriety from drugs and alcohol are likely to look for whatever support they can take advantage of. If you’re working towards healing from a substance use disorder, you’ll want to what a 12-step program is and how one can be an effective tool in life-long recovery.

What is a 12-step program?

A 12-step program is a peer-led group that aims to reduce substance use through a series of steps and accountability. These programs are designed to help those first starting out in seeking sobriety after a substance addiction and to maintain recovery for months, years or even decades after their last use.
12-step programs alone are not considered a treatment for a substance use disorder. Most individuals who attend meetings do so after attending inpatient treatment, as a complementary therapy to treatment or as continuing care and community support after completion of treatment.
While the first 12-step program for addiction was developed specifically to help individuals who struggled with alcohol abuse, there are now groups to aid in recovery from other addictions, like Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Pills Anonymous and so forth. There are also 12-step program groups that have been formed to address behavioral addictions, like Sex Addicts Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.
The 12-step program originated with Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 by a group of men who emphasized fellowship and unity as a method of recovery support. The 12 steps include practices like admitting powerlessness over alcohol, believing in a higher power, taking an inventory of personal wrongs and making amends when possible.

Is a 12-step program for addiction effective?

12-step programs for addiction are controversial and sometimes met with skepticism. First, 12-step programs do not claim to provide treatment. As peer-led groups, they are non-clinical by nature and cannot promote specific therapies or medications that may be helpful to those in active recovery. Moreover, 12-step programs often operate following specific religious beliefs, though many secular groups have formed in recent years.
There are other potential drawbacks to attending a 12-step program, such as the social component which may be anxiety-provoking for some, but research shows that the benefits clearly outweigh the drawbacks. A study reports that regular meeting attendance demonstrated longer-term abstinence than those who weren’t regular attendees.
Other studies report that attending AA and other similar groups was associated with better psychosocial functioning and higher levels of self-efficacy. Simultaneous participation in formal treatment and a 12-step program produced better results in terms of abstinence from substance use than treatment alone, and high indicators of sobriety included early, consistent and frequent attendance at 12-step meetings.
In fact, according to Stanford Medicine, in a meta-analysis of 57 studies on AA, zero found that AA was less effective than other forms of treatment or no treatment at all. A study in the review found that individuals who participated in AA experienced an average savings of 10,000$ on substance use/ mental health-related costs. 
The research is clear that 12-step programs for addiction like Alcoholics Anonymous offer clear, consistent and effective aid for those in recovery.

What are the benefits of 12-step programs?

There are many reasons for the effectiveness of peer-support groups for recovery. Here are some of the most commonly touted benefits of 12-step programs.


12-step programs are community-based and widely available. Most meet in community centers or places of worship and operate on varied schedules, making them easily accessible. In many places, a person could attend a meeting every day if he or she wanted to.
Moreover, these groups are available around the world, with Alcoholics Anonymous alone operating over 123,000 groups and literature translated into over 100 languages.


12-step programs for addictions are free to all those who participate, whether a person attends once or regularly. There are no fees, no dues and no cost for materials, which are accessible online. Because these programs are peer-led and require no clinical or trained staff, they are able to operate at a low cost. They also use facilities that offer the space free of charge, which is why groups commonly meet in churches.


12-step programs operate by dependence on those already in the program. They are led by someone who has achieved a certain level of sobriety and often attended by many people who have years of abstinence under their belt. Many individuals create strong, life-long bonds that stem from 12-step meetings. 

Motivation to prevent relapse

One of the best perks of 12-step programs for addiction is the inspiration you’ll find that can help you tackle triggers and avoid relapse. The relationships that grow from 12-step meetings can help hold you accountable, offer tried and true advice and be available for support when a craving feels too strong to conquer. 12 step members often rely on each other to manage tough moments and re-establish a sober lifestyle. 

Getting the support you need

If you’re ready to break free from an addiction, take advantage of the benefits of 12-step programs and live the life you’ve been dreaming of, it’s time to get serious about recovery. The first step in healing from a substance use addiction is getting in touch with professional rehab.