Does the 12 Step Program Work for Alcohol Treatment?

Studies have shown that approximately 17.6 million U.S citizens suffer from alcohol addiction. With such a high prevalence, it is not surprising that the incidence of this dependence (or the amount of new cases each year) is on the rise. There are specialised rehab facilities and support groups all over the country that employ the 12 step program to help you overcome your addiction. But just what is the 12 step program and is it really a successful alcohol dependence treatment program?

What is it?
The 12 step program is employed by many groups referred to as ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ or AA and advocated and taught by alcohol treatment facilities and rehabs. It is a process through which those who suffer from alcohol dependence reach sobriety. It is based on the concept of self-help through emotional support and encouragement from people who are going through the same difficulties and those who have overcome dependence, i.e. sponsors or mentors. It was first used in approximately 1938 and has grown massively in popularity, echoing the traditional words and ideation: “Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”

The Twelve Steps
Following is the link to the twelve steps as originally published by W. Bill – one of the two founders of the AA program – in his book, “Chapter 5: How It Works” of the big book “Alcoholics Anonymous” ( The American Psychological Association recognized and summarized the 12 steps including: relinquishing control, recognizing a higher power, examining mistakes and making amends for these, learning to live by a code, and aiming to help those who also suffer from alcohol dependence.

Does It Work?
Although the program has been around for some 77 years, little research has been conducted around the effectiveness of the 12 step program. This lies on the nature of the group itself – anonymity protects its members so very few facts or statistics are recorded. However, many individuals that have chosen to share their experiences with the program or who have taken part in the few scientific studies show that the program is hugely successful in maintaining sobriety.

The Cochrane Review
Cochrane is an international, independent collection of health professionals, researchers and others interested in the world of health care. They basically read, evaluate, and summarize articles and research trials to give you trusted, true evidence to aid in making informed decisions.

They reviewed eight different trials that involved approximately 3417 people. The twelve step program was found to be effective as an alcohol dependence treatment: reducing alcohol consumption and achieving sobriety – and that this in turn had a positive effect on their lives. They also found that there are other self-help and some professionally-led alternative intervention programs that are equally effective.

Why Wouldn’t It Work?
The basis of debunking the 12 step program lies with questions around the individual. It can be because there are those who struggle with alcohol dependence who don’t want to feel powerless, those who maybe do not believe or do not wish to seek a higher power, or those who just don’t see public confession of their sins as relieving. Many look at the factor of personal conviction – inability to attend regularly or keep to the program influence successful, and even the effect of court-ordered enrolment into the twelve step program as a blatant contradiction of the third step of the program itself, the choice to overcome addiction.

Studies that have been conducted, like Project MATCH, have found that it is often individual nature that plays the most important role in determining the success of the program. Finding a method that suits your personality, culture and beliefs would be the recipe for successful alcohol addiction treatment.

Although the AA 12 step program may have its flaws, McClellan of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation says, “AA isn’t for everybody; but what does need to be said – and it’s time for psychologists and other professional people to say it – for those who attend, it works damn well.”

The 12 step program has indeed been a helpful tool for many people to free themselves from addiction and it can help you. Remember that it is never too late and never a sign of weakness to ask for help. Take the first step toward a brighter future. More information and help with the 12 step program and other alcohol addiction treatment programs can be found by contacting alcohol treatment centers like Beachside Rehab.