Drug Addiction

Program steps

The Benefits and Drawbacks of 12 Step Programs

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There are many benefits of 12 step programs but there are also some traps and pitfalls that you can fall into if you’re not careful. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of the 12 step program and also consider their corresponding downside:

The benefit: Instant peer support and networking.

This is particularly useful in early recovery, when networking with others is so critical. We need peer support to help us identify with others and know that we are not alone in our journey for recovery. But we also need peer support in early recovery so that we can learn.

We can read books, recovery literature, and websites but there is still huge value beyond those things when it comes to sharing our experience directly with another person in recovery. 12 step programs provide a structure for this “learning through shared experience” to take place. They are not the solution, they are a shortcut to the solution. They provide a medium through which addicts can connect and share with each other. So there is definitely value in meetings and the fellowship, especially in early recovery.

The trap: Dependency on meetings.

I’ve heard it a million times: “I relapsed because I quit going to meetings.” Well if that is the case, then what kind of lousy program were you really working? If meetings are your only lifeline, you might want to expand your horizons a bit and start creating a new life in recovery for yourself. In recovery, you can be addicted to personal growth. That’s about it. Any other addiction will get you into trouble, including an unhealthy dependency on meetings. Does this mean that meetings are bad? Of course not. They just shouldn’t be your only pillar of support.

The benefit: Outline for growth in the 12 steps.

The 12 step program provides a nice framework for spiritual growth, and does lead some people to a spiritual awakening. Following the 12 steps is fairly simple if you work through them with an open mind and a genuine desire to grow from the experience.

The trap: Limited amount of growth, not a holistic approach.

The growth to be had from the 12 steps is basically limited to spiritual growth with some work on relationships thrown in there as well. There is growth to be had outside of these boundaries. A holistic approach to recovery goes beyond spiritual development (while also including it) and that means more opportunities for expansive personal growth. The focus in AA is somewhat narrow compared to an holistic approach that treats addiction as a multi-faceted disease (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social).

The benefit: Extremely focused singleness of purpose.

AA sought to do one thing and do it well: help alcoholics to quit drinking. They wrote their traditions in such a way as to protect this single purpose of theirs, and thus be able to better help other alcoholics.

The trap: Extreme focus allows program members to continue other unhealthy habits and lifestyles.

My best friend in recovery passed away last year because he was overweight and failed to quit smoking cigarettes, even when his doctors told him he had to quit in order to live. What’s most disturbing to me is that the fellowship (in my experience anyway) helps to justify this typical path by focusing too heavily on their singleness of purpose and not enough on a holistic view of health. It makes sense to have extreme focus in early recovery, but many use this focus as an escape route from having to look at their lives and grow in new directions.

What good is recovery if you’re dead? This is why a holistic health model of recovery makes more sense to me. We did not get clean and sober just to shrivel up and die.

Transition, people! Don’t stay stuck in early recovery forever. We need to grow beyond the boundaries of traditional recovery. Embrace the creative life.

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  • lomar

    It’s great to read an objective opinion in regards to the pros and cons of 12 step meetings. I always wondered how many people would actually relapse with the excuse of “I quit going to meetings” if it wasn’t beaten into their heads while attending meetingss that they would probably relapse if they quit going to meetings

  • Jes

    I am a member of a 12 step program & I enjoyed your article, particularly the part on the trap of depending on meetings. there is a tool kit, so it is said, meetings are only a piece. they are a jump-start to recovery, helping me as a reminder of what i should be doing, how i should be thinking & acting-with humility, happiness, gratitude, etc. they are also a reminder of the horrors of active addiction, as newcomers make most meetings up, as the more time you get the more time you need to spend in the life you’ve created for yourself. in the beginning we chase our recovery like our drugs, 24/7 & hard. I agree with you with all of this & found your writing very insightful.

    But when we have some time we need to refocus on not just staying clean but also on our family, being parents, being students, being employees or bosses, etc. But my sponsor taught me this, using 12-step program literature to support her opinions. It is my opinion as well that through learning & reading & being involved that meetings cannot be the be-all end-all & that the GOAL of recovery is to “live and enjoy life freely without the use of drugs” not only to stop using drugs. so your opinion of a ‘holistic approach’ in my opinion is NOT in opposition or versus 12-step program, but that a 12-step program done as it was intended- doing the steps & their spiritual principles then “practicing them in ALL our affairs”- will allow someone to live a holistic life within a 12-step recovery program.