The 12-Step program came from humble beginnings in Alcoholics Anonymous. Many other support groups have branched off from AA and adopted its 12-Step philosophy. By admitting powerlessness, individuals battling a drug or alcohol addiction can find lasting recovery with the support of their peers and a higher power. Although the 12-step program usually has a strong spiritual and religious element, members can identify their own “higher power” and determine what that means to them. Read more to discover the value of finding a higher power in 12-Step programs for addiction recovery.  

It All Started With Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was formed by two men, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, in 1935. Bill struggled with addiction himself and recorded his ideas and experiences with alcoholism. He noticed that people benefited from sharing their stories with one another. AA was created to help alcoholics “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.” The Twelve Steps, which focused on the core elements of spirituality and character development in recovery, were introduced to the program in 1946 to help it grow. 

And grow it did. Today, AA has more than two million members that hold diverse cultural beliefs and values. Various other programs have emerged that offer support for drug addictions, mental health disorders, and compulsive behaviors. Many were inspired by AA and its 12-Step foundation. Here are just a few examples from a long list of groups:

  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Nar-Anon and AI-Anon 
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics
  • Eating Disorders Anonymous 
  • Neurotics Anonymous
  • Cocaine Anonymous
  • Families Anonymous
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous 

Core Features of the 12-Step Program  

The 12-Step program is literally a twelve-step plan to confront and manage addiction. Participants work the Twelve Steps in meetings, share experiences, and offer support to one another to stay sober. The underlying philosophy is that a person with an addiction can maintain abstinence with the help of others. However, there is a caveat; real recovery and healing are only possible once a person admits their powerlessness and surrenders to a higher power. 

There are three dimensions to the approach that the program takes:  

  1. Unity: fellowship, traditions, and principles of the program
  2. Service: chairing meetings, qualifying, setting up the meeting space
  3. Recovery: “working” the Twelve Steps 

The program depends on members’ willingness to continue learning and interact with the recovery community they create. For example, some encouraged activities include finding a sponsor, sponsoring someone else, communicating and socializing with members outside of meetings, and reading 12-Step or recovery literature.

Finding a Higher Power to Guide Recovery

The 12-Step program was originally inspired by a Christian sensibility. Its spiritual foundation encourages members to rely on and surrender to a power greater than themselves. For some, that higher power is God, although it doesn’t have to be. In fact, no religious affiliation or belief is necessary to join. Nonetheless, some may find comfort and hope in doing a little soul searching. 

A higher power can be described as a being or phenomenon that operates outside of one’s control but brings peace and order to life. Believing in a higher power can manifest a strong connection with one’s internal and external world and establish a sense of meaning, purpose, and direction. An individual struggling with an addiction can find a higher power by being open-minded to exploration and asking questions. 

Meditating and reflecting on one’s beliefs and values can reveal what is really important. Reading the Scriptures and ancient texts of various religions can give insight into other truths about reality that can ignite a spiritual awakening. A higher power can be found in other places like nature, science, love, humanity, and the arts. Ask yourself, “What am I moved by? What pushes me in the direction of where I want to be?”

Do the Twelve Steps Really Work? 

Most research on support groups that use the Twelve Steps has examined the efficacy of AA. One review article sifted through 27 studies containing 10,565 participants and concluded that AA and 12-Step programs were more effective than other treatments (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy) for increasing abstinence. Moreover, affiliation with 12-Step programs has been found to “promote more reliance on behaviorally oriented substance use coping processes” like spending time with sober friends, discussing their alcohol problem, and rewarding themselves for attempts at quitting.

Another study focused on the higher power element and found God, religion, and spirituality to be critical variables in substance abuse treatment and recovery. Individuals that did not value religion were found to be over 1.5 times likelier to use alcohol and cigarettes, over 3 times likelier to binge drink, almost 4 four times likelier to use illicit drugs, and over 6 times likelier to use marijuana compared to individuals who did consider religion as important. Supplemental to receiving treatment, individuals that joined spiritually-based programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were more likely to maintain sobriety than those who didn’t. 

The philosophy and principles of 12-Step programs are utilized in many self-help groups that are geared towards supporting recovery from addiction. Spirituality is a hallmark of the Twelve Steps, whereby members admit their powerlessness to their addiction and surrender to a higher power. Finding your higher power can inspire hope and direction in recovery. Hawaii Island Recovery is a residential treatment facility that offers multiple paths to recovery based on your unique circumstances. We believe that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to treatment. Everyone requires something different, and that may include religion or spirituality. We treat drug and alcohol addictions, eating disorders, and co-occurring mental health conditions. We are dedicated to providing our patients with cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment that heals the mind, body, and spirit. You can participate in group therapies and 12-Step fellowship as a part of our relapse prevention and recovery coaching. Learn more about our programs. Call Hawaii Island Recovery today at (866) 390-5070.

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