Alcoholics Anonymous: Twelve Step Recovery

Therapies for Addictions Continued: Alcoholics Anonymous:  Twelve Step Recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous is a twelve step program that demands total and complete abstinence from all mind altering substances (alcohol and narcotics), in order to achieve success.  The program is broken down into several components that help foster positive outcomes.  First, admittance of powerlessness and inability to choose wisely when it comes to drinking alcohol or using drugs is paramount in the twelve-step program.  Additionally, 12–step programs subscribe to the “disease concept” with regard to alcohol (and drugs), stating that a certain chemical within the abusers biological or genetic makeup, makes it utterly impossible to quit on one’s own willpower.  “The act of labeling alcoholism as a disease may create a self-fulfilling prophecy: “sick” individuals act according to their prescribed role…The disease label has the potential to hinder, rather than help, many individuals” (Buddie, p. 63).

Step one, “Admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 59), is the first and foremost thing a twelve step program asks one to do.  Steps two and three ask that you develop a relationship with a Higher Power (God or other spiritual being) and that you completely give your will to this higher power.  This is where twelve step programs also lose prospective members.  Atheists and Agnostics struggle with this portion of the program and usually end up subscribing to another form of recovery which will be discussed later.  Steps four and five ask the member to take inventory of their own self, behaviors and attitudes, being as brutally honest as possible, and then dissecting why it is they act in these ways. Steps eight and nine ask the member to make amends to all those he or she had harmed as a result of their addiction.

The first nine steps of a twelve step program can be humbling and therefore difficult.  Steps ten through twelve are the “give it away” steps.  The AA slogan “It’s a selfish program, but you got to give it away to keep it”, encourages the member to pass on what he or she has learned in efforts to stay sober themselves. The most important aspect of the twelve step programs are attendance of twelve step meetings. Here, members share experience, strength and hope with other members to derive some empathy and connectivity.  “This process is illustrated when experimental participants watch a person’s experience of either pain or reward with engagement of neural structures associated with those states.  The process can be predictive of later prosocial behavior. It suggests a way in which shared experience in a setting like an AA meeting can promote behavioral change in a positive direction”, (Galanter, p. 302).  Membership in twelve step meetings is inexpensive (donation only, maybe one to two dollars each meeting and if the member doesn’t have that, it’s still okay to attend without donating).

The problem with twelve step programs as mentioned before require the attendee to a) admit complete defeat over substances, b) completely rely on a type of higher power to remain sober, c) follow a series of steps that bring about humility and sometimes embarrassment and d) attend meetings on a consistent basis while working with other new members of the fellowship.  “However, other research suggests that AA does not work for everyone” (Buddie, p. 63).  For example agnostics and atheists may fair better if they were to choose one of the other options for recovery from addiction.


chrisby Chris Sobel, BHT Primary Therapist

Chris has been part of the Prescott House team since 2005 and an active member in the recovery community in Prescott since 2002. In his work with each client, he brings forthrightness, inspiring life experience, and a commitment to helping men recover from addiction. Chris has many passions including golf and NY Mets baseball, and – most importantly – spending time with his wife and two daughters.
Chris is also an amazing cook! Try some of his recopies:  Easy Posole | Watermelon Salad

  1. Galanter, M. (2014). Alcoholics anonymous and twelve-step recovery: A model based on social and cognitive neuroscience. American Journal On Addictions, 23(3), 300-307.
  2. Buddie, A. M. (2004). Alternatives to twelve-step programs. Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 4(3), 61-70.
  3. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2002). Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: AA World Services.
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