A Brief History Of 12 Step Programs And Their Role In Addiction Treatment

12 step program sign

When it comes to recovery from addiction, there have been numerous treatments developed and tried over the years to “cure” addiction. Some of these have been downright frightening and inhumane, and some are still in use today. A few of the more bizarre and often heartbreaking treatments throughout history — some fairly recent —  include frontal lobotomies, LSD, bizarre and dangerous “serum” therapies, aversion therapy, forced sterilization to prevent future addicted generations and of course, institutionalization, which still happens today, when addicts are jailed instead of receiving treatment.

Fortunately, a better way was discovered and has been helping addicts and alcoholics for many years now. That way is the 12 Steps.

These steps came into being slowly. Back in the 1900’s, the Oxford Group had grown into a large, robust group of men who advocated self-examination, prayer, making amends and spreading the message to others who were struggling with drinking. This group began in England and eventually made its way to America. The Oxford Group was where the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W. began his journey of recovery. A successful Wall Street stockbroker, Bill W. was facing ruin as a result of his drinking. One day he got a visitor, a man named Ebby T., a member of the Oxford Group. He became Bill W.’s sponsor of sorts, and introduced him to their group’s precepts:

  • We admitted we were licked.
  • We got honest with ourselves.
  • We talked it over with another person.
  • We made amends to those we had harmed.
  • We tried to carry this message to others with no thought of reward.
  • We prayed to whatever God we thought there was.

For Bill W., this was a turning point in his life. He had thought his situation hopeless, and now he was filled with a deep sense of gratitude and resolve. He wanted to spread this message to his fellow alcoholics, and he devoted the rest of his life to doing so.

The rest, as they say, is history. With co-founder “Dr. Bob”, Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 steps were born. First, of course, came the “Big Book” written by Bill W. with the help of Bob and others. After this, he realized that something more concise, a “program” needed to be developed that would be simple to follow. He wrote the 12 steps and forever changed the way addiction was treated.

Are The 12 Steps The Only Way?

Over the years, people have continued to find ways to treat addiction. Counseling, therapy, medication, and alternative therapies and religion, just to name a few. Treatment centers have sprung up over the years, many advertising a way to cure addiction without the use of the 12 steps.

There are critics of 12 step programs. These are often people who reject the disease model of addiction and who don’t believe that recovery is something that needs to be maintained. Regardless, countless addicts over the years have used these steps and the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and changed their lives for the better.

group of people holding hands in prayer

How Do 12 Step Programs Fit Into Treatment?

So what about rehabs? What about counseling and therapy and other methods of treatment? Inpatient drug and alcohol treatment provide a therapeutic and supportive environment in which to recover from addiction. It is common for treatment centers to integrate 12 step programs into their treatment.

Many health professionals, researchers, law enforcement and mental health agencies recognize that the 12 steps play an important role in recovery and that integrating them with other treatments creates a successful foundation on which to build long-lasting recovery.

The combination of education, counseling, abstinence, life skills training and other therapies are extremely effective in helping addicts get sober. With that said, the sense of community and belonging, and the “therapeutic value of one addict helping another” is what seems to help addicts and alcoholics stay sober for the long haul.

Working the steps has been a life-changing event for countless addicts and alcoholics, and the fact that the program continues to endure as the decades go by and times change is a testament to its effectiveness. At a meeting of AA or NA, you will find “old-timers” with anywhere from twenty to forty years of recovery, right alongside newcomers of all ages, with just a day. The principles of sharing the message and giving back keep the program going, and the fact that it is an organization that is non-professional, non-profit and has no leaders or governing body  and yet continues to thrive just goes to show how solid its foundation is.

For those in treatment, the combination of cutting-edge therapies and 12 step programs only seem to complement each other. A good percentage of treatment centers integrate 12 step programs to one degree or another into their treatment. They may have in-house meetings, or go to outside meetings. They make the literature available and encourage sponsorship and fellowship. Members of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous often into treatment centers to share their experience, strength and hope with the newcomers, and find ways to help support them in their early recovery.

How To Get Help

Addiction affects the lives of over two million people in the United States alone. Thousands die every year, and many more struggle daily with this baffling and powerful disease. If you are one of them, there is hope. Treatment can help you take back your life. You don’t have to continue suffering, and you don’t have to go it alone. Call Recovery Hub at 888-220-4352 to find out more about treatment options in your area.

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