12-step programme for addiction recovery

How the 12-step philosophy helps millions battling addiction, from initial treatment to securing long-term recovery.

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Page clinically reviewed by Claire Rimmer (BA (Hons), Dip.Psychology, FDAD (NCAC)), Lead Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Altrincham, in September 2022.

Originally outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the 12 steps are a set of guiding principles that help people during addiction treatment and recovery. Initially created for those struggling with alcoholism, the 12 steps have proven such a success that they are now used as the basis for recovery from many substance and behavioural addictions.

Many aspects of addiction treatment at Priory are underpinned by the 12-step model. Read on to find out more about how the model works, and whether engaging with it is right for the good of your recovery.

How does the 12-step model work?

First published in 1939, AA’s ‘Big Book’ outlines the basic principles of the 12-step model and how it works. The technique focuses on your motivation to change your unhealthy thought patterns and addictive behaviours, and also incorporates elements of spirituality within the treatment and recovery process.

The programme doesn’t focus on absolute perfection and dedication to each step. It accepts that, as humans, we're all capable of making mistakes and make progress at our own pace.

During treatment, patients progress through various stages of the 12-step programme, typically in a group therapy format. You’re encouraged to share your progress with peers, receive constructive feedback and develop insight and awareness.

Patients are also able to attend regular AA and other 12-step fellowship meetings, which are held both on and off-site at our Priory hospitals. This allows you to enhance your engagement with the 12-step philosophy and the wider recovery community. Individual therapy, family support sessions, and wellness activities can also be expected during rehab to support the 12-step programme.

The end of treatment does not necessarily mean the end of your 12-step journey. The 12-steps aim to develop a shift in mindset that lasts a lifetime. Many people will continue using the framework to help maintain abstinence in the future, alongside helping others on their journey.

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We recognise that reaching out for help can be daunting. That’s why we offer a free assessment with a Priory expert at your nearest Priory hospital. Call our dedicated team today to arrange an assessment.

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What are the 12 steps?

The 12 steps have been tweaked and adapted over time, but the original basis of each principle remains the same. For instance, in its early years, the idea of a higher power revolved around the term ‘God’. Today, that has broadened out to allow for different types of interpretation, religious or non-religious beliefs.

  • Accept the reality: The first step relates to acceptance for the situation you find yourself in. This involves making an admission of being powerless to what you’re addicted to and that your life has become unmanageable. After what might have been years of denial, you're ready to accept change is needed
  • Have faith in a higher power: A central tenet of the 12 steps revolves around the idea of a higher power that will help you in your journey. Step 2 involves you having faith in this higher power and its ability to heal you
  • Submit to the higher power: Once you’ve completed step 2, you can admit that you can’t do this journey alone. Along your journey, you’ll need the support of your peers and a higher power
  • Embark on some soul-searching: Described as undergoing a “moral inventory” in the Big Book, step 4 involves some self-reflection. Identify your problems and understand how your behaviours have affected you and those around you
  • Admit your failings: Step 5 then sees you admit to these wrongdoings in front of your identified higher power and another person. This step offers a great opportunity for growth and the chance to make a fresh start
  • Be ready to let go: Once you’ve identified and accepted your flaws, step 6 challenges you to let them go. It allows you to fully embrace these damaging traits that are underpinning your difficulties with addiction
  • Show humility: Next, you’ll show humility by admitting you can’t do this alone. Ask the higher power for help, doing something that sheer will and determination can’t achieve
  • Show willingness to make amends: Make a list of people who have been on the receiving end of your damaging behaviour. Fully embrace the idea of making amends to each and every one of them
  • Begin to make amends: Begin to make amends and rebuild relationships at every opportunity
  • Check in with your progress: By step 10, maintaining the spiritual progress you’ve made is essential. Continue soul-searching, admitting your failings and making amends
  • Discover your plan and purpose: Step 11 relates to discovering what plan this higher power has for your life
  • Share the message: The final step involves a commitment to continuing with these principles in all aspects of your life. You’re also challenged to continue spreading the message to other people struggling with addiction

12 step programme step-by-step

How long does it take to go through a 12-step programme?

Recovery from addiction is a lifelong pursuit. While you may typically be in initial treatment for addiction for a matter of weeks, the 12-step philosophy can help develop a long-term mindset for recovery. Some people complete the 12-step element of the process in just a couple of months, whereas others may take years.

Addiction recovery is not a race. Give yourself time to accept what has happened in the past and adopt the new framework you need to ensure long-term recovery.

Types of 12-step anonymous groups

More information on some of the 12-step fellowship meetings that our patients have access to can be seen below:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) - AA is a 12-Step fellowship for those seeking to solve their problem with alcohol and to help others through sharing their experiences and guidance.
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA) - NA is a 12-Step fellowship allowing people to join together to help one another to stay drug-free.
  • Co-dependents Anonymous (CoDa) - CoDa offers regular meetings for individuals with a shared desire for healthy and loving relationships. These meetings are based on the 12-Step model and members share experiences and strength as they work towards recovery.
  • Gamblers Anonymous - Gamblers Anonymous is adapted from AA and offers a 12-Step recovery programme for men and women whose lives have been affected by compulsive gambling and who share a desire to do something about their gambling problem.
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) - SLAA is a 12-Step fellowship adapted from AA, offering support to men and women in dealing with addictive sexual and emotional behaviour.

Treatment for addiction at Priory

Using our network of hospital sites and wellbeing centres, Priory offers effective, evidence-based treatment for addiction. The treatment we provide is informed by the 12-step process and includes access to on and off-site 12-step support groups. Our world class team of consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and other medical professionals deliver the very best treatment to those struggling with addiction every day.

Treatment programmes at Priory can take place on a residential, inpatient basis at one of our leading hospital sites across the UK, allowing you to receive round-the-clock expert treatment. Alternatively, we can treat you on an outpatient or day care basis – allowing you to recover from addiction around your other responsibilities.

We also offer a free addiction assessment, which can help us understand the difficulties you’ve been experiencing and talk through the best course of treatment for your recovery. Use the information below to book your free assessment and start your journey to recovery today.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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