Whether you’re in early or advanced recovery, you may decide to seek ongoing support through a 12-step program. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in 1935, introduced the 12-step model, and any number of other support groups have branched off from AA, inheriting this basic structure. Today there are 12-step groups dedicated to helping addicts recover from drugs, compulsive gambling, overwork, compulsive sex, overeating, overspending and more.
For Wilson and Smith, God was responsible for their successful recovery from alcoholism. As such, Christianity initially permeated all facets of the program. Over the years, however, it has become clear that a more secular 12-step program would help even more people achieve sobriety. Thus, the religious component of the process has gradually weakened over time. Atheists, agnostics and non-Christians can follow the program because in more than one of the steps, when the word God is used it’s followed by the phrase “as we understood Him.” This phrase allows those who aren’t religious to be able to follow the program without believing in a traditional idea of God.
Whether you are agnostic, atheistic or deeply religious, the purpose of any 12-step recovery process is to help people get and stay sober from whatever substance(s) and/or behavior(s) that causes harm and difficulties. This process is founded on 12 consecutive steps (each step builds on the one(s) before it) as well as a network of community and support — addicts helping one another cope with the disease on a day-to-day basis. A 12-step program can be, and typically is, used as an adjunct to counseling and other treatment approaches, including medication and holistic/lifestyle therapies.
The 12-step recovery process is generally administered in a small group setting with no official leader. These support-group meetings don’t cost a penny and they’re nearly universally available. Any major city, small town and even rural communities are likely to have several meetings available every day of the year. Although many people in early recovery find that attending one meeting per week is sufficient to remain sober, others find that they benefit from daily meetings, or even going more than once a day. If you can’t attend an in-person meeting, there are online and phone meetings as well.
Sources: Alcoholics Anonymous; The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry; National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.