Which 12-Step Addiction Program Is Right for You?
Recovery is not an overnight process, nor should it be. You can’t just snap your fingers and become sober unless you want your success to be similarly short-lived. Great achievements take time, but here’s the great news: they also get better with age.
Sober living is the ultimate goal, and it requires an approach that is as complex and comprehensive as you are. Treatment is essential, and it may pair perfectly with a 12-step program that helps you establish, maintain and sustain the benefits that you experience at a recovery community.
But which 12-step program is right for you? The answer may hinge on the substance that drove you to seek help in the first place, or it might be more dependent on your personality and goals. Let’s start by assessing the most popular organizations in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation realm and then dive deeper into the recovery that best suits you.
AA vs. NA: What’s the Difference?
While many people are familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), they may be less acquainted with its offspring, Narcotics Anonymous (NA). A stockbroker and a surgeon founded AA in the year 1935. They relied on one another as a support system, through which they could codify and structure a process of tackling what seemed impossible: alcohol dependence.
Over the next four years, AA developed its core 12 steps and published them for other individuals struggling with addiction. But that raises an interesting point: the word “addiction” did not appear in the text of AA’s original 12 steps. The steps were primarily focused on alcoholism, but other specialized programs would soon pick up the baton and create systems for substance users across a broad spectrum.
NA was founded in 1953 with the specified intent to include a plethora of potentially addictive substances under its umbrella. Their mission page expressly states that they make “no distinction between drugs, including alcohol.” The result is a message of acceptance and inclusion. Although most AA meetings don’t mind if you use substances, they typically limit in-meeting sharing to the topic of alcohol alone. No matter which substance you may be trying to remove from your life, you can speak freely about it in an NA meeting.
Both NA and AA subscribe to 12-step programs that work with various treatment approaches. Treatment and the 12 steps do not need to be mutually exclusive; they may both be vital components to your recovery, so rely on them as you see fit.
The 12 Steps and What They Mean
The following is a hybrid of the 12 steps offered by AA and NA. The parenthetical asides indicate how NA has updated the initial text written by the founders of AA.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (our addiction)–that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to 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 a 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 the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics (addicts) and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
As you can see, NA updated the verbiage to take the emphasis off alcohol and place it on addictive behavior. This may sound like a simple swap, but it has profound ramifications. Alcohol is an inanimate liquid. It has no power over you. Addiction, on the other hand, is ingrained in one’s behavioral patterns and physiology.
Addiction is a disease, and it must be regarded as such through our language and our response to it. That is why the first three steps focus on relinquishing control. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, there are forces at work that you cannot fully master. By acknowledging a sense of powerlessness to addiction, you can then find what you CAN control.
In steps four through eight, you take stock of your resentments as well as where you wronged others. From there, they can progress onto the more proactive phase of the 12-step journey.
In phase nine, those in recovery reach out to loved ones and others they have wronged in an attempt to make amends. This may seem difficult at first, but through the experience, strength, and hope of others in the meetings, you’ll see that it’s possible and how freeing this step can be. To maintain your sobriety, you’ll continue to step ten, which is a daily reflection to ensure you’re not creating new situations where you’ll need to make another amends.
The scope of the 12-step program broadens in the final two beats. Participants are invited to meditate on their accomplishments. After all, if we can’t harness the positivity of sober living, we may become vulnerable to the negativity that preceded it. The last step invites people to share their enlightenment with the recovery community at large. This may be our favorite of the 12 steps due to the collaborative nature of sober living. We are social animals, so our recovery must entail our surroundings and the people in our lives.
Find the Right Steps for You
Since the advent of NA, more variations of group programs have emerged. Associations like Cocaine Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous are positioned to address the unique needs of certain substance users. However, history may be folding back on itself. The very reason why NA differentiated itself from AA was to be more inclusive of all types of addictive behavior. By compartmentalizing 12-step programs by substance, we may be falling into the same limitations that once encumbered AA.
Clearly, there are no easy answers. Different drugs may be triggers for alcohol abuse and vice versa. By treating the addiction rather than the substance, we get a better grasp of the person at the center of it all: you.
You dictate your recovery. Everyone else is just here to help. Contact Ethos and learn if we are the recovery community that will help you 12-step all the way from addiction to sobriety.
Author – Chris Howard
Chris Howard is the Founder and Director of Ethos Recovery. He has a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA and has served as a community advocate/mentor for men and women in recovery since 2010.