05 Aug 2014
Do 12-Step Programs Work?
The 12 Steps have long been a key element of addiction treatment and recovery. For decades, the majority of treatment programs have used the 12 Steps, while addicts in recovery have attended AA and other 12-Step meetings in order to maintain sobriety. These programs have come under a great deal of scrutiny with some people singing their praises and others discounting them and even calling them dangerous. If you are facing addiction and want to get or stay sober, should you consider joining a 12-Step support group? Do they actually work?
Criticism Of The 12 Steps
There are many who criticize these kinds of programs, including AA, but also any organization that uses the 12-Step philosophy. Addiction experts don’t all agree, but those who do not like the 12-Step philosophy have several arguments. One is that it requires you to admit to being powerless in the face of your addiction. Some would say that the statement is not only false, but also counter-productive. If you are helpless and can’t exert power over your addiction, how can you possibly get better? Others claim that the statistics simply show 12-Step programs don’t work for most people. Success rates have been measured as low as 10 percent.
More serious criticisms come from members who have had bad experiences. Some claim that these support groups are gathering grounds for people with violent tendencies or for predators looking for weak victims. There certainly have been terrible incidents involving addiction support groups. One reason for this is that criminal offenders are often forced to attend meetings as a part of sentencing.
How The 12 Steps Can Help
While there are critics, there are also supporters of 12-Step programs and those who praise the effectiveness of such groups. In fact, recent research has shown that recovering addicts who are deeply involved in a 12-Step group are more likely to avoid relapsing. The study compared recovering addicts leaving treatment and going into a sober living house, a 12-Step program, or simply going home. Those who went to a 12-Step group and really got involved in it were nearly three times more likely to abstain than those who did not. Participants in sober living were the most successful.
One of the most important aspects of the findings is the comparison between the different levels of participation in a 12-Step group. The researchers looked at those who met all criteria for active involvement as well as those who did not. The former were people who engaged in service work, made use of a sponsor, read group literature and called other group members for support. These people were more successful at abstaining than those who simply attended meetings, but didn’t get more involved. The study extended two years beyond treatment and found the same results throughout the two-year period.
The results of the study clearly show that a 12-Step program can help you stay sober if you take the right steps. First, you need to have already completed an addiction treatment program. Simply relying on a 12-Step group to get you sober is not enough. Once you have completed treatment, a 12-Step program can help you stay sober, but only if you get involved. Throw yourself headlong into the support, reach out to others, help others and you can reap the benefits of this decades-long philosophy of sobriety. Join half-heartedly and you may not get all the benefits. The 12-Steps can help you, but you have to do it right.
Find Out If Methadone Users Can Participate In A 12-Step Program
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18 Jun 2014
Abstinence In Addiction Recovery
The prevailing view in addiction treatment and recovery is that abstinence is the best approach. This means that once drugs or alcohol are removed from the body following detox, the addict resolves to totally abstain from using them. The reasoning behind this idea is that an addict is incapable of moderation. Many addicts in recovery believe that they have learned how to partake responsibly and that they can have a drink or two at a party. Is it really possible? Or do you need to abstain for the rest of your life?
Abstinence as a philosophy for addiction treatment has been around for decades. Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the oldest support programs and is one that firmly believes in the importance of abstinence. Another model, similarly based on the 12 steps, is called the Minnesota Model and also calls for total abstinence from drugs and alcohol. For both programs, and any 12-step based program for addiction treatment, the primary goal is lifelong abstinence.
These addiction treatment programs advocate for abstinence because they believe it is the only way that an addict can return to a normal way of life. They claim that an addict in recovery cannot handle having just one drink, or using narcotic prescription painkillers. One small slip-up may lead to a downward spiral and a return to full-blown addiction.
Are There Any Non-Abstinence Treatment Options?
As addiction treatment advances and evolves, experts have developed models and programs that do not necessarily require abstinence. For example, harm reduction is a philosophy of treatment that is gaining ground. Long used for heroin addicts, harm reduction means taking steps to reduce risks and harm caused to addicts. It allows for addicts to reach sobriety on their own terms and in their own time. Heroin addicts being treated in this way are given maintenance drugs like methadone, or clean needles to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, or hepatitis B and C.
Heroin addicts are not the only ones who are experimenting with non-abstinence. Other types of addicts are embracing the idea of moderation. Using alcohol moderately and responsibly is becoming more popular as a way for addicts to re-enter society as a contributing member. One such group advocating this approach, Moderation Management, believes in the possibility of changing behaviors without requiring total abstinence. In particular, they advocate for problem drinkers to learn how to become moderate drinkers.
Is Abstinence Best For Me?
Whether you need to embrace complete abstinence is a personal choice. Some people respond well to a non-abstinence-based approach. They can be successful at learning how to moderate drinking, how to drink socially and how to be responsible about drinking without taking a headfirst dive back into addiction. For others, however, this approach simply doesn’t work and complete abstinence is the only safe way to remain healthy and well.
Making the choice to embrace moderation is not a decision to make alone. If you are already in recovery, talk to your therapist, counselor, mentor, and your closest friends and family members. Getting treatment was not something you could do alone and making this choice isn’t either. If you decide to try drinking in moderation, make sure that the people who support you know about your choice and respect their opinions. If everyone says it’s a bad idea, listen. If you do try to drink and it causes a bad relapse, don’t feel bad. Just get back into your recovery routine, resume therapy sessions, if possible, and recommit to sobriety.
Learn More About 12 Step Treatment Programs – And Break Free From Addiction!
Methadone is an opioid medication sometimes used to treat people addicted to heroin or other powerful opioid drugs. Affected individuals commonly receive this medication on an ongoing basis rather than for a limited period of time. This pattern of usage can potentially create conflicts with participation in self-help support groups called 12-step groups, which typically place a high emphasis on complete drug and alcohol abstinence. In a study published in late 2013 in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, researchers from three U.S. institutions sought to determine how many people receiving methadone also participate in a 12-step program.
What Is Methadone?
While methadone is an opioid substance, it has somewhat different properties than heroin or other opioid drugs of abuse. Those drugs are characterized by their ability to produce the rapid onset of a highly pleasurable state. Methadone, on the other hand, produces effects that build more slowly and result in a relatively low level of euphoric sensation. Doctors can exploit these properties and use methadone as a substitute for opioid drugs of abuse. Although an addict using methadone still has opioids in his or her bloodstream, he or she typically experiences a substantial reduction in the risk of drug-related harm. Although some addicted individuals receive only short-term methadone treatment, others participate in methadone maintenance treatment, an ongoing approach that uses methadone as an opioid drug replacement for extended periods of time.
What Is A 12-Step Program?
Twelve-step programs get their name because they emphasize participation in a series of 12 consecutive “steps” as the key to overcoming a reliance on drugs or alcohol (or certain harmful behaviors). The specific steps undertaken vary from program to program; however, common features of most programs include admitting powerlessness over one’s harm-producing behavior, seeking some sort of spiritual assistance to cope with harm-producing behavior, assuming moral accountability for one’s harmful actions and making amends to people who suffer from one’s harmful actions.
As a rule, 12-step programs emphasize the need to stay substance-free. In order to help group members achieve this goal, they employ a sponsor system that relies on longer-term members to mentor shorter-term members and provide the encouragement needed to remain abstinent from substance use. Two of the most well known 12-step groups in the U.S. are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
How Many Methadone Users Participate In A 12-Step Program?
In the study published in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, researchers from the Institute for Behavior and Health, Chestnut Health Systems and Partners in Drug Abuse Rehabilitation and Counseling investigated the degree of overlap between participation in methadone maintenance treatment and participation in a 12-step program. They conducted this investigation with the help of 322 adults currently participating in methadone programs. These adults were asked to submit information on their involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous during the year prior to the start of the study. The researchers also asked them to detail their level of adherence to these 12-step groups’ program requirements.
The researchers found that fully two-thirds of the adults participating in methadone maintenance treatment also had a history of recent involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or both 12-step groups. Seventy-two percent of these individuals reported receiving important benefits from their involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous, while 77 percent reported receiving benefits from their involvement in Narcotics Anonymous.
Does A 12-Step Program Work For Methadone Users? And Why Are They Hiding Their Methadone Use?
However, the researchers concluded that, compared with 12-step members not using methadone, the methadone patients had a substantially smaller overall level of program involvement. For example, only half of the methadone-using members regularly attended meetings with a single group of 12-step practitioners. Only a quarter of the methadone-using members worked with a sponsor, and only 13 percent of these members ended up acting as sponsors for others. In addition, only 21 percent of the methadone users vigorously pursued the completion of the 12 steps that form the basis of 12-step programs.
The authors of the study published in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery found that roughly a quarter of all the methadone users who attended Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous felt that their status as methadone recipients negatively affected their 12-step experiences. In addition, roughly one-third of all the methadone users actively hid their participation in methadone maintenance treatment from their 12-step peers. Altogether, the study’s findings indicate that methadone users who participate in 12-step programs experience widely varying outcomes from that participation.
Read About The Facts And Myths Of Methadone
If someone you care about is beginning to find recovery in a 12-Step Program, you may find yourself with a lot of questions. Media images of 12-Step Programs are a caricature, and from the outside, we have to admit the practices look a little strange. Is this some sort of cult? Yes, you’re happy the addict is sober and getting help, but is this how it has to be?
What Are The 12 Steps All About?
The 12-Step Program was a program of recovery developed by alcoholics for alcoholics and other addicts. The program is based upon 12 steps that help the addict to come to grips with his or her condition and establish the kind of spiritual life that will be the basis of a solid recovery and sobriety. The program recognizes addiction as a disease—an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) premise is based on the understanding that if someone is addicted to a particular substance or behavior, he or she will never again be able to consume that substance or engage in that behavior in a normal or healthy way. Total abstinence is the only solution.
In most groups, members attend meetings regularly, read and study program literature, call and meet with other addicts or members in recovery and work regularly with a sponsor. Service to other addicts is of highest importance and seen as one of the keys to maintaining lasting sobriety.
Aren’t 12 Step Programs A Little Overzealous?
It would appear that way to the outsider but, quite frankly, addiction is a little overzealous. For the non-addict it may be hard to fathom the prison and the punishment of being under the lash of a life-controlling addiction. As addicts, we have been so dominated by this cruel taskmaster that when we finally hit bottom we become willing to do whatever promises to rescue us.
And that proves to be quite a lot, as we soon find out once we’re in recovery. We believe that a powerful disease requires a powerful solution. In recovery we have to work as hard as the disease was working against us. But after a few years of sobriety many addicts come to see the program as the “easier, softer way,” when compared to the tyranny of addiction. When families see the beneficial results of program membership in their addict loved one, they too often become 12 Step supporters.
What Are The Roles Of Addict’s Loved Ones?
This will, to some degree, depend upon your relationship to the addict. For some recovering addicts, recovery needs to be a personal and private journey. They may not feel comfortable bringing others into their process, at least not in the beginning when they are yet fragile and convalescing. Don’t be offended by this; it isn’t personal. Recovery requires a lot of emotional work and some of us find we can better focus in the company of our program fellows, and perhaps apart from friends and family. Giving the addict the space he or she needs to heal can help to later guarantee closer relationships all around. Patience is needed.
It is wise, however, for the family of an addict to attend Al-Anon to learn more about the disease and how to deal with it. A family member’s addiction leaves scars on everyone. In Al-Anon you will come to better understand addiction, recovery and the 12-Step approach in addition to getting the support you need in healing from the wounds of addiction.
Read More On How 12 Step Programs Are Greatly Benefiting Teens
05 Jun 2013
What Does A Sober Life Look Like?
“When we first came into A.A., a sober life seemed strange. We wondered what life could possibly be like without ever taking a drink. At first, a sober life seemed unnatural. But the longer we’re in A.A., the more natural this way of life seems. And now we know that the life we’re living in A.A., the sobriety, the fellowship, the faith in God, and the trying to help each other, is the most natural way we could possibly live.” (Twenty-Four Hours A Day, January 14)
When practicing addicts hear the word “sober” they immediately think of an eternity of boredom, drudgery, suffering, loneliness, anxiety, or just plain blah. As we stand at the edge of the diving board, trying to decide if we really want to dive into this program, we can’t help thinking of all of the fun nights we won’t be having, the awkward explanations for why we aren’t drinking, the new un-fun persona we imagine we’ll have to assume, and all the friends who will eventually stop calling. This is the reward for giving up booze?
For a while there is no way around it—we’re going to feel a little like fish out of water. Whether we like to admit it or not, we have built our lives around our behaviors and substances of choice. The prospect of a day or night without our fix made us uneasy, apprehensive, and anxious—provoking a feeling of dread. Unwilling to walk through the space of time without our drug of choice, we abandoned our plan to make a go of it sober and headed back to the welcoming arms of our old friend and nemesis.
But there came a day when there was no choice. We couldn’t keep up the drinking game any longer. If we were going to actually live and avoid certain alcoholic death, we were going to have to muster the courage to try sobriety.
But then something interesting happens. What we thought would be drudgery turns out to be delight. This has been true for many people and it can be true for you too.
In sobriety, life becomes something to live—an event for which to be present—not a doom from which we need to escape. Suddenly we find that we enjoy our days without alcohol and that we are seeing and experiencing the world in a new way. It is not boring—it is exhilarating.
New pleasures are discovered. When we drank we only thought of the euphoric rush of getting our fix and escaping even the smallest of irritations and anxieties. But in sobriety we learn how to meet life and how to embrace it—even in the challenges. We notice beauty, we learn new skills, we give our time to new activities, we feel ourselves growing stronger and developing as people. Life is full and rich and soon we don’t even miss alcohol.
Loneliness slips away in favor of real relationships. Though we often drank in the presence of others, our real date was with the booze. It was with alcohol that we felt we could be ourselves—whomever that was. We struggled to form real relationships of mutual trust and love with other people. We feared vulnerability. But in recovery we are learning how to give and take, how to be a friend, how to serve, and how to love. Our life is filling up with people who care about us and we are seeing the joys of authentic relationships—joys which alcohol could never provide.
Sobriety comes first. We never thought we’d say that sobriety and the program were our number one priorities, but we are learning that the new life we are becoming accustomed to, and even beginning to cherish, is utterly dependent upon it. We don’t handle these blessings carelessly. We know we are always just one sip away from where we were, and now we can’t bear the thought of going back.
“I realized that I had to separate my sobriety from everything else that was going on in my life. No matter what happened or didn’t happen, I couldn’t drink. In fact, none of these things that I was going through had anything to do with my sobriety; the tides of life flow endlessly for better or worse, both good and bad, and I cannot allow my sobriety to become dependent on these ups and downs of living. Sobriety must have a life of its own.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, He Only Lived To Drink, 451)
Want to get your Sober Life with the 12 Step Program? Think it’s just for Christians? Read: Recovery Myth-Buster: A.A. Is A Christian Organization
16 Nov 2012
12 Step Programs Help Teens Fight Addiction
Many people may be familiar with the organization Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). They may, however, be less familiar with the strategy which makes AA so successful in helping people live sober for a lifetime.
Known as the 12 Step program, the method was originally designed to address alcoholism. Since the beginning of AA, the 12 Step model has been adapted to help people looking to overcome a variety of addictions. New research shows that the highly successful strategy works equally well for teens and young adults seeking recovery.
Teens Benefiting Greatly From 12 Step Programs
Teens that complete treatment for drug or alcohol use benefit just as much as adults from post-rehab support programs that are based on 12 Step methodology according to a pair of recent studies. Up until now not much research had be done tracking teen and young adult involvement in these programs, but a couple of new investigations show that the programs provide younger participants with a support resource that is often otherwise lacking for them.
Teens and young adults who are working on sobriety often do not have a healthy network of sober friends. The 12 Step program provides a ready-made group of supporters to them.
A recent study lasted one year and followed 300 plus teens and young adults to record their involvement in 12 Step programs and compared that to their use outcomes. On the high end, the youth attended meetings three times per week at the beginning of the year. Attendance dropped to just over one time per week by the end of the year.
Link Between 12 Step Attendance/Sponsor Contact And Sobriety
Researchers found a direct link between attendance and sobriety. The more often the teen/young adult attended support group meetings, the longer they remained sober.
As encouraging as those results were, there was even better news for young people who verbally participated in the group meetings and who kept in contact with their sponsor. For those folks, there was an even stronger tendency to remain drug and alcohol free.
Attending meetings regularly helped to make positive lifestyle changes, but fully investing in the 12 Step program by participating at meetings and staying accountable to the 12 Step group sponsor made that change more secure.
A second study followed 127 teenagers for one year to see how attending a 12 Step meeting influenced their ability to maintain abstinence. In that study only about one-third of teens stayed faithful to the group sessions. However, for those who did, even attending just one meeting per week made a difference in their ability to avoid relapses.
One Harvard medical expert commenting on this study suggested that teens join a group even before they complete their regular rehab treatment. Joining early, he said, improves the likelihood that the teen will stay active with the group once he/she leaves formal rehab.
The bottom line is this: attending a 12 Step group is the best step toward living sober and the more actively involved a person is in that group, the more certain their recovery becomes.