16 March 2017

The Modern 12-Step Therapy Programme Debate

In the past decade, there has been quite a debate rising over the efficacy of 12-step therapy programmes in the treatment of those who struggle with their addictions. While many who say the 12-step model does not work or is only effective for 5-8% of the population who can ‘buy into’ them, there are countless numbers of recovering addicts who give testimony to the effectiveness of such a programme in their own rehab process.

How Do 12-Step Programmes Work?

The basic premise of a 12-step therapy programme is to give those who struggle with addiction a method of learning to understand and manage their substance or habit abuse. Additionally, through this type of programme, a social support system is established with others who are currently struggling, or have struggled, with addiction themselves. Group meetings with other recovering addicts guide members through the 12-step therapy process similar to those originally developed by the creators of the American Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) programme.

What Are The 12 Steps?

As defined by Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain, the twelve steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Put plainly, 12-step therapy programmes encourage participants to accept responsibility for their role in their addiction. They are forced to admit that their choices, decisions, and actions are what resulted in their addictive behaviour. Each step builds upon the last, and ultimately participants emerge with a new ability to manage their thought patterns, which is based on accepting individual responsibility for one’s actions.

Do These Programmes Really Work?

There are advocates both for, and against them, but according to many participants of the 12-step therapy model, ‘it works if you work it’. Meaning, participants get out of it what they put into it. Those who are genuinely motivated and committed to overcoming their addictions are more likely to find and maintain sobriety than those have not fully embraced the gravity of their addictive behaviours.

Further, many individuals who are instructed to attend these types of programmes per a directive of the justice system are more incentivised and so are also more likely to be successful with this kind of therapy programme.

There are a group of sceptics who believe that the religious foundation of a 12-step therapy programme is a deterrent for those who do not adhere to Christian principles. However, a study quoted in the American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment points out that “when they do become involved in SHGs [self-help groups], less religious individuals appear to derive as much or more benefit from them as more religious individuals do.”


The same study also found that:

  • people who maintained regular attendance in SHGs were more likely to achieve long-term recovery
  • participation in these groups educates people on the benefits of a comprehensive treatment programme
  • women and older adults are more likely to be engaged and benefit from these groups.


So, it can be concluded that there is merit to the 12-step therapy model. Between those individuals who have found success with this type of treatment, and several studies, including that cited herein, those who find success are those who are the most committed to making the programme work and engage in other treatment programmes concurrently with their involvement in the 12-step therapy.

Additionally, those who remain involved as aftercare following their primary rehab treatment benefit from the reinforcement of lessons learned while in formal treatment. Overall, ongoing research indicates that these types of programmes are beneficial as part of a more holistic and comprehensive treatment programme comprised of detox, different therapy types, and aftercare, and include treatments and therapies tailored to each person’s specific needs.

Due to its proven value and because our therapy programmes are founded upon empowering individuals to make the necessary changes for betterment in their lives, we are proud to provide the 12-step therapy program for clients who struggle with any substance or behaviour addiction. Contact us today for more information on how we can help your situation.



  1. 12-step.org
  2. Self Help (Mental Health)
  3. AA Advocates and Critics: Debate on the 12 Step Model (Teh Fix)
  4. Do Treatments Rely Too Much on the 12 Steps?

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Our brand promise

If you successfully complete our 90-day inpatient treatment programme but experience a relapse within 30 days of leaving, we will welcome you back for complimentary 30 days of treatment.*

* Click here to learn more or contact UKAT directly for rehab availability.

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