In Addiction Counseling, Articles, Clearbrook Treatment Centers Massachusetts, Relapse Prevention, Sober Living

12-step programs are international mutual aid programs supporting recovery from substance use disorders, behavioral addictions, and compulsions. The first twelve-step program was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was developed in the 1930s and originally designed to help individuals with alcohol addictions recover. Nowadays, these efforts have been expanded to help individuals addicted to narcotics through Narcotics Anonymous (NA). While this is a method that’s been used in addiction treatment facilities for decades, many still wonder, do 12-step programs work?

How Many 12-Step Programs Are There?

As we previously mentioned, the first twelve-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), was founded in 1935. Eventually, in 1945, the twelve traditions were created, which governed how groups functioned and related to each other. As membership quickly grew at the time, these traditions included the practice of anonymity by only using the person’s first name and the tradition of “singleness of purpose.”

The latter tradition meant that AA would have the primary purpose to “carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” As such, this precluded attendance by anyone who didn’t suffer from alcohol abuse and led to the formation of other 12-step programs. These programs were formed to aid and support people recovering from other addictions aside from alcoholism.

In total, there are thirty-three 12-step programs, including:

  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)
  • Al-Anon/Alateen – for friends and families of alcoholics
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Clutterers Anonymous (CLA)
  • Co-Anon – for friends and family of addicts
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
  • CoDA – Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) – for people working to end patterns of dysfunctional relationships and develop functional and healthy relationships
  • COSA – an auxiliary group of Sex Addicts Anonymous)
  • COSLAA – CoSex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)
  • DA – Debtors Anonymous (DA)
  • EA – Emotions Anonymous (EA) – for recovery from mental and emotional illness
  • Families Anonymous – for relatives and friends of addicts
  • Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA)
  • Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous
  • Gam-Anon/Gam-A-Teen – for friends and family members of problem gamblers
  • Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
  • Heroin Anonymous (HA)
  • Marijuana Anonymous
  • Nar-Anon – for friends and family members of addicts
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Nicotine Anonymous (NicA)
  • Online Gamers Anonymous (OLGA)
  • Overeaters Anonymous (OA)
  • Pills Anonymous – for recovery from prescription pill addiction
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
  • Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
  • Sexual Compulsives Anonymous (SCA)
  • Sexual Recovery Anonymous
  • Survivors of Incest Anonymous (SIA)
  • Underearners Anonymous
  • Workaholics Anonymous

These programs are made available to individuals receiving drug or alcohol treatment at rehab centers such as our Massachusetts inpatient drug rehab.

Are 12-Step Programs Effective?

In 2006 and 2007, an annual average of 5 million people aged 12 or older in the U.S. attended a self-help group as a means of trying to recover from drug or alcohol addiction. Of this number, approximately 45% attended because of alcohol, 22% because of illicit drug use, and 33% because of alcohol and illicit drug use. Additionally, about two-thirds of those in substance abuse treatment within that period also attended a self-help group.1

As of January 2012, there were nearly 64,000 groups with 1.4 million members in the U.S. and Canada and a worldwide estimate of more than 114,000 groups and 2.1 million members.1 Membership has therefore increased throughout the years and has similarly expanded to become an international network of support groups with more than 58,000 weekly meetings in 131 countries.1 This is reinforced by a 2017 study that noted lower drug use after a 6 month follow up as a result of maintaining participation in 12-step programs.4

Involvement in these groups is meant to provide the individual with support for remaining sober, a social network with which to affiliate, and a set of 12 guiding principles to be followed throughout recovery and shared with others. The general guidelines of the 12-step program have been narrowed down to the “six-pack”: don’t drink or use drugs, go to meetings, ask for help, get a sponsor, join a group, and get active.2

While there’s no question concerning their impact, do 12-step programs work? The simple answer is: Like anything, for some people, they do, and for others, they don’t. Research offers interesting data concerning meeting attendance and the length of abstinence.

In conclusion, several studies support that 12-step programs are generally effective. In fact, AA and NA participation is associated with a greater likelihood of abstinence, often for prolonged periods of up to 16 years, as well as improved psychosocial functioning and greater levels of self-efficacy.3 However, it’s also been found that, as with any other kind of commitment, the level of involvement in 12-step efforts has a lot to do with the outcome.

Ultimately, those who are more involved in 12-step programs will see better results. For instance, beginning the 12-step program while in substance abuse treatment is associated with a better recovery outcome. Consistent, early, and frequent attendance in 12-step meetings (attending 3 or more per week) is also associated with better outcomes.1 Respondents of one sample reported attending, on average, 2 to 4 meetings per week.

To sum it up, 12-step programs do work, but their efficacy is dependent on the individual’s involvement. Like anything, the more involved and dedicated you are to the program, the more you’ll learn and grow in recovery.

The Role of the 12-Steps in Relapse Prevention

For those battling addiction, the 12 steps are essential for preventing relapse. These steps offer a methodical framework and direct people as they go through a transformational process of accountability, self-reflection, and personal growth. The first step admits that there is no control over the addiction, and the second step stresses the value of turning to a higher power or other support structure for strength and direction. Individuals take a moral inventory, atone for past wrongs, and pledge to keep improving as they move through the next phases.

By treating both the physiological and psychological elements of addiction, the 12 steps provide a thorough method that can be applied in one’s relapse prevention plan. They encourage people to regularly attend meetings where they may share their experiences, learn from others’ views, and receive encouragement in order to go about building a support network in recovery.

Individuals can gain useful coping skills, form better habits, and create a sense of spirituality or purpose that goes beyond their addiction by actively engaging in the 12-Step program. The steps also encourage continuing self-reflection, enabling people to recognize the situations and patterns of behavior that may trigger relapses while also providing solutions.

The 12 steps also provide people with a sense of community and belonging, which can be helpful, especially in the early, vulnerable stages of recovery. People can find inspiration, encouragement, and helpful counsel by getting in touch with people who have experienced comparable difficulties.

The program’s framework fosters a sense of accountability because participants are urged to frequently assess their development and pursue ongoing personal growth. Through the 12 steps, people are given the power to take charge of their recovery process, understand the effects of their behaviors, and make the necessary adjustments to keep their sobriety.

12-Step Support and Addiction Treatment

Our Massachusetts rehab believes in the efficacy of 12-step programs and offers them to all clients to aid in their recovery. We believe that having the support of others in recovery, the guidance of a sponsor, and a community to lean on can make sustaining sobriety easier.

For more information regarding this program or any of our other Massachusetts drug rehab programs, call Clearbrook Treatment Centers today at 570-536-9621 or send us your contact information, and our team will reach out to you.


  1. NIH – 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An Overview
  2. NIH – Alcoholics Anonymous affiliation during early recovery
  3. NIH – Participation in Treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous: A 16-Year Follow-Up of Initially Untreated Individuals
  4. Campbell Collaboration – 12-step programs for reducing illicit drug use

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