Despite the stereotype of dingy church basements and stale donuts, there is no question that 12-step meetings help keep us connected and sober on the road to recovery. Mutual support groups for addiction have been around for the better part of a century. Millions of people all around the world have benefited from the support and connection offered by these 12-step meetings.
What Are 12-Step Meetings?
What kinds of support groups are considered 12-step meetings? In basic terms, a 12-step meeting is any kind of group focused on recovery through some variation of the twelve steps originally outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous. That does not mean that 12-step meetings are only for those struggling with alcoholism. There are similar support meetings for people of all backgrounds struggling with all forms of substance abuse. What these meetings all have in common is a commitment to recovery through connection and abstinence. Some of the most common twelve-step support groups include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Pills Anonymous
- Cocaine Anonymous
- A-Anon (for the family of addicts)
In a phrase, 12-step meetings keep us connected and sober by offering a space for relationship and honesty. In this post, we present the details of how mutual support groups offer this to their members.
#1: 12-Step Meetings Are Readily Available
More than anything, 12-step meetings keep us connected and sober simply by being available. For example, AA now has two million members around the world. There are an estimated 118,305 AA meetings each week globally. That’s an average of more than 600 meetings in each and every country. 12-step meetings like AA are represented in nearly every city in the world. These meetings are free and community-based. Mutual support meetings connect you with other people in the community with a similar story of substance abuse. Support groups help you get to know people that you may not otherwise know are there. Almost ten percent of adults in the US have attended an AA meeting. This number is most likely much higher when accounting for all types of 12-step programs and mutual support meetings. Even if you aren’t ready or able to attend a more official addiction treatment program, 12-step meetings are readily available to give you the help that you need.
#2: AA and NA Meetings Open the Floor to Honesty
Honesty is the best policy in any situation, but especially on the road to recovery. Often, especially when first starting treatment and the recovery process, it can be difficult to open up to friends and family close to you. While this is important, 12-step meetings allow you to be honest even when you are uncomfortable. Anonymous meetings (like AA or NA) allow you to be honest with your progress, your setbacks, your triggers, and your struggles. In a mutual support group there is no worry of judgment or repercussion in being honest about these struggles since everybody there has been through the same thing. Recovery from addiction is not straightforward – relapse is common, especially in the early days. Support groups allow you to be honest when you relapse, and members can help you get back going again. 12-step meetings keep us sober by keeping us connected, and they keep us connected by keeping us honest.
#3: Mutual Support Groups Keep Us Accountable
On the other side of the honesty coin is accountability. It can be extremely difficult to stay sober without being able to stay accountable to someone else. This is where the sponsor comes in during 12-step programs. A sponsor is someone that you can rely on throughout your recovery. When you are facing a trigger or difficult situation, you can call them and tell them exactly how you are feeling. They will help you walk through it. The expectation with 12-step meetings is that you will have to face the group each week (or even several times each week) to talk about your struggles – and even your relapse. Especially in the early days of recovery, creating accountability is maybe the most important thing you can do for yourself. 12-step groups and sponsors keep us connected by keeping us accountable.
#4: The Twelve Steps Keep Us Sober Step by Step
While the group support and community are fantastic elements of twelve-step programs, at the core of the program are the steps themselves. These vary slightly depending on the group and focus, but they are generally organized around the same principles. The twelve steps take us from admitting that we are powerless over our addiction and bring us all the way to the point of having the true self that we want – not to mention helping others go through the same process. There are three major elements to these steps: facing the problem of addiction, surrendering ourselves to help, and becoming self-aware of how we can become better selves. Going through these stages may be possible on your own, but it is much more difficult. Attending mutual support meetings keep us accountable for these twelve steps, and therefore keeps us sober.
#5: Twelve-Step Support Groups Keep Us Connected for the Long-Term
Drug or alcohol rehab is crucial for recovery in the early days – especially for those who have struggled with addiction for a long time. There are elements of intensive outpatient programs and medical detox, for example, which you simply cannot find even in the best of mutual support groups. But what happens after you leave these rehab and detox programs? How can we stay accountable, connected and sober? Addiction is something that stays with us for life, after all. To stay sober as a recovered addict or alcoholic, it is important to remain connected, committed, and accountable. AA and NA meetings have a different function than drug rehab: they offer us continued mutual support for many years to come. When you finish with the support system and professional help of drug rehab, mutual support groups offer continued connection – and a better hope of continued sobriety. Of course, the other benefit of 12-step meetings is that you can also turn it around and become a sponsor yourself.
The Takeaway: 12-Step Meetings Are a Crucial Part of Sobriety
Attending twelve-step meetings is just one element of becoming and staying sober. Other options include residential drug rehab, intensive outpatient programs, medical detox from drugs and alcohol, and one-on-one therapy for addictive behaviors. When these are inaccessible or a non-option for whatever reason, 12-step meetings are a great example of addiction resources available to those who need help.
“There are many paths to recovery from alcohol and substance use disorders, and one that has been traveled by many and is associated with positive long-term outcomes is involvement in 12-step and mutual support groups.”
~ Dr. Dennis M. Donovan
For those who have struggled with addiction or alcoholism for multiple years, 12-step meetings may not be enough on their own. However, these mutual support groups often work alongside more formal drug rehab programs to support individuals in their recovery process. If you have more questions about how 12-step programs work to keep us connected and sober, or if you are interested in participating in a mutual support group, do not hesitate to contact us today.