Making a one-size-fits-all claim such as “12-step programs work” will likely always elicit spirited discussion from those who disagree. Few, however, would dare say that 12-step programs never work.
Life at times can get lonely, and exceptionally so if you’re struggling with alcohol or substance abuse. This is one of the main reasons that Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs can make such a difference in the lives of their members: Programs offer support, social context, understanding, and empathy – and sometimes, just a safe place to spend time with those who have been in your shoes.
Specifically, here are some of the benefits you can expect from joining a 12-step program:
You benefit from other members’ experiences.
While not everyone in attendance will have a similar path to sobriety, many go through similar experiences. If you’re feeling angry or confused and don’t know why, share your thoughts. Your peers have likely had the same feelings and are often happy to share what they did to handle their challenges.
You may find like-minded individuals.
Sharing your thoughts and feelings with people who have had similar experiences goes a long way toward making you feel less alone in your struggles. And you’ll often find that you need to spend less time explaining some parts of your life that might not feel familiar to those who haven’t fought addiction.
You get to see what sobriety success looks like.
While ongoing abstinence is the goal, you’ll hear from peers who may have had a relapse but who provide an encouraging example of how to make mistakes but then forgive yourself – and love yourself – enough to recommit to recovery.
You get to experience a judgment-free environment.
Members of 12-step programs have often lived eventful lives. Many of them have seen it all, done it all, and heard it all, so what you’re about to say probably won’t shock anyone in the room. In addition, they understand that addiction is a complicated disease and needs to be treated as such, not dismissed by making negative comments about someone’s motivation or mental health.
They encourage you to overtly ask for help.
Alcohol and substance abuse lead the user to feel embarrassment and shame, which often drives them to isolate themselves from others – which is exactly opposite of the prescribed treatment for addiction. With 12-step programs, however, members understand that life is better when you have a full “support village,” and most are beyond willing to help and happy to see others settle into their newfound sober life.
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs will always have those who steadfastly believe in their effectiveness, as well as those who will likely continue to question their efficacy. While the best recovery path may be one that includes both support groups as well as formal addiction treatment such as an inpatient stay, there are more than a few reasons to integrate a 12-step group into your long-term recovery plan. The human experience isn’t always predictable (and sometimes it’s more challenging than not), but in a 12-step program, you can find a predictable, supportive safe place where you’re accepted and loved just as you are.