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12-Step Programs have been used to treat addictions and substance abuse since the 1930s when it began with Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Alcoholics Anonymous is the largest of all the 12-step programs, followed by Narcotics Anonymous. 12-step programs are effective and they are free and universally available. Recognizing one’s addiction and overcoming it are two key principles of 12-step programs and why they work so effectively.

The steps are worked sequentially to help the addict overcome specific addictive behaviors and result in growth, happiness and freedom of their behaviors. There are two types of 12-step meetings: Open meetings and Closed meetings. Open meetings are also called “Speaker Meetings.” In these meetings someone recounts their story of addiction and recovery for the group and attendees are not expected to say anything, just listen. Closed meetings are also called “Discussion Meetings” and are more active. Here participants discuss their addiction and what they are feeling emotionally inside. Open meetings are typically a good way to begin and then moving into closed meetings when comfortable sharing is where recovery and progress begin.

There are 3 levels of support in 12-step programs: general support, a temporary sponsor, and a sponsor. General support comes in the way of those that can offer general help such as offering to take you to a meeting, going out to coffee, or just being a friend during the process. A temporary sponsor is someone who can be a sounding board. Often people have more than one temporary sponsor. They can motivate you to go to meetings, explain the formats so you understand them better, and most importantly warn you when you are in the early stages of relapse. Once you have been in recovery for some time, a regular sponsor is the next step. This is someone who has been in recovery for at least 5 years. They become a teacher and resource to guide you through the 12-steps and recovery.

The 12-step program is a model for self-change, not stopping alcohol or drugs. It focuses on creating a new, happier, full-filled life for the addict. The focus is to identify the behavior, let it go and learn something better to replace it. 12-step programs are spiritual in their nature, and if practiced as a way of life can enable the addict to expel their addictive behaviors and become usefully whole.