Drug and alcohol addiction are chronic mental health conditions, and joining AA or NA can help you stay on track with your recovery.
Substance use disorder encompasses all types of addiction including:
- Prescription painkillers
Sadly, the current opioid crisis continues to rage on through the US. In Ohio, 55% of opioid overdose deaths involve fentanyl and carfentanyl, synthetic opioids even more addictive than heroin.
Peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are more vital than ever if we want to save our communities from the harmful effects of drug addiction.
Detoxing from a substance use disorder is just the start of a long road to recovery. Throughout this journey, you’ll be forced to deal with difficult thoughts and emotions. Addiction alters chemical balance in the brain and impacts the way you think and feel. Stay on top of these triggers and you’ll remain abstinent. Let your mind get the better of you, and you could end up relapsing.
If you’re new to recovery, you’ve doubtless heard people talk about 12-step programs but what are they and why should you care?
WHAT IS A 12-STEP PROGRAM?
A 12 step program is a course of action to stop an addiction structured into 12 steps that you follow sequentially.
The origins of 12-step programs are found in The Big Book that Bill W authored in 1939.
Bill W decided to write a practical book on how to overcome alcoholism with the help of a friend. The book incorporated solutions into stories with an emphasis on spiritual and social aspects: honesty, purity, unselfishness, and love.
Bill W was originally going to call the book A Way Out, but there were already books with the same title. One of the people that attended their group meetings wished to stay anonymous, so Bill W decided to call it Alcoholics Anonymous instead.
The idea of any 12-step program is to use it like a medicine. It involves some serious soul-searching and absolute honesty. Many people throughout the world have found that the 12 step method is pivotal to maintaining a successful recovery.
So what are these 12 steps and what do they mean?
Well, there are some small but important differences between AA and NA when it comes to the steps you follow. We’ll look at each in turn.
THE 12 STEPS for AA
Here are the 12 steps for Alcoholics Anonymous:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have god remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly ask him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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.
Each step represents a personal and spiritual exercise.
Following these steps helps you to accept you have a problem and provides the tools to reverse some of the damage caused as a result of addiction to alcohol.
So, the steps start logically by acknowledging there is a problem. Denial is a key component of addiction, so an acceptance that things need to change is a powerful starting point.
As you proceed through the steps, an increasing emphasis is placed on turning yourself over to a higher power, a power greater than yourself. Many people have difficulty engaging with the spiritual or religious aspect of these programs. This has attracted a certain amount of criticism. That said, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous continue to emphasize that you’re dealing with “God as you understood Him”, so the interpretation of that higher power is entirely down to you.
Further steps require you to take an honest look at yourself in order to develop your morality and integrity. By honing your moral fiber and strength of character, you become better able to manage withdrawal. You should be in a stronger position to help others to stay clean, too.
THE 12 STEPS for NA
Here are the 12 steps for Narcotics Anonymous:
- We admitted that we were powerless over addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We can believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- We admitted to god, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We were entirely ready to have god remove all these defects of character.
- We humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- We 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.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
A core difference between the AA steps and the NA steps is apparent in the first step. Where the AA mindset involves admitting powerlessness over a substance – alcohol – with NA, you’re admitting you have no power over your addiction. This represents a small but subtle difference. Where alcohol is external, addiction is internal.
In some ways, then, the NA program is more individual-focused than AA.
NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS AND ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Where AA is designed purely for people with alcohol use disorder, NA is a support group for people struggling with various types of substance use disorder.
Both 12-step programs are based on treating addiction as a disease, and the programs view addiction as the consequence of a spiritual malaise.
AA and NA both require complete abstention from drugs and alcohol, and both programs fiercely protect the anonymity of attendees.
Attendees of either program work through each step with the group and then with their sponsor.
THE ROLE OF SPONSORS
Individuals who work through the steps are allocated a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who has successfully completed all 12 steps and reached a point where they no longer feel the need to drink or use drugs.
The twelfth and final step of each program puts the responsibility on you to carry the underlying message of these steps to others in need. Helping others just starting their recovery journey helps to strengthen your own resolve.
HOW SUCCESSFUL ARE 12-STEP PROGRAMS
Research shows that Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous programs can help you to stay free of drugs and alcohol as long as you regularly attend meetings.
The success of these meetings is down to the social aspect. Attending meetings regularly reduces social isolation and gives people a chance to share their stories with others experiencing similar difficulties. Regularly hearing the success stories of others can help to strengthen your resolve.
NA and AA success is also attributed to increased spirituality and association with more people who support sobriety.
The words God, prayer, and meditation are a complete turn-off for many people, and so they refuse to attend any 12 step meetings. That said, many others start attending 12 step programs with the same attitude but change that stance as they find solace in the program.
It’s worth keeping an open mind about the spiritual aspect rather than readily dismissing the 12 steps out of hand based on its spiritual component. 12-step programs have been a vital resource for many people who have recovered successfully. Rather than viewing aspects like the Serenity prayer as religious, see them instead as psychological and behavioral reminders.
It pays to remember the high correlation between attendance at 12 step meetings and abstinent periods. You have the freedom to decide for yourself what constitutes your higher power. This could be your family, your friends, even an object that belonged to a relative, or your inner voice. There’s no need for religion to enter the equation.
Data show that 12 step programs can be effective, but you must be consistent and keep an open mind. The pay-off from staying clean will certainly be worth it.
WHAT TO DO NEXT
If you’re not sure whether you need residential treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, or you might benefit from an intensive outpatient program, get in touch with our friendly team of experts here at Landmark Recovery.