What is 12-step recovery program?

Howard J. Shaffer, PhD
Addiction Medicine
The 12-step counseling for addiction is rooted in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) philosophy. But while AA is a self-help group run by its members, without substance abuse counselors or other health professionals present, 12-step counseling emphasizes working with a therapist for a limited time while attending AA meetings.

Like AA, 12-step counseling adheres to the following principles:
  • People with addiction have lost the ability to control their use of the substance or behavior.
  • There is no effective cure for addiction. People with addiction must abstain completely.
  • There's hope for recovery if people accept that they don't have control over their addiction and put their faith in a higher power.
For this approach, a client meets with a clinician to identify the problem, define a solution, and establish a treatment plan. A spouse or partner may be included in some of these sessions. During the structured program, the therapist discusses AA—or whichever offshoot of AA is appropriate—with the client, encourages him or her to attend meetings, suggests certain reading materials, and assigns specific recovery tasks, such as making amends for problems resulting from addiction and making a list of one's personal strengths and weaknesses. Once the counselor-guided sessions are done, recovering clients continue to draw support by staying involved in 12-step meetings.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.