December 6, 2017

12-step programs are not just for individuals with alcohol addiction. Studies have found that persons addicted to alcohol, drugs, or both have better chances of recovery as they attend more 12-step meetings and participate in more 12-step activities. Parts of the 12-step program are especially helpful for those recovering from drug abuse.

  • Service: One of the most beneficial 12-step activities is doing service in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous). The 12-step belief in “giving back” to one’s community through service work can very valuable later in recovery for both drug and alcohol-addicted persons.
  • Support: The supportive social networks provided by 12-step programs are also beneficial for recovery, and can help recovering addicts to surround themselves with a supportive and nonsubstance-using environment.[1]Individuals struggling with addiction may have become socially isolated or only have friends in circles where the temptation to use drugs is high. 12-step meetings’ social support and the opportunity to connect with other people that do not endorse substance use may be very beneficial.
12-Step programs along with other therapies

Patients who choose to attend 12-step meetings may also see a therapist regularly. Therapists may use a method called “12-step facilitation” to help patients get the most out of their separate 12-step meetings.[2] 

12-Step Programs and MAT
Many 12-step programs are not supportive of the use of medication-assisted treatment (methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone). Because these medications are opioids, those who receive help from MAT are often not considered fully abstinent, or “clean,” from drug use. Despite the proven benefits of MAT in helping people recover from opioid addiction, the 12-step model’s understanding of the addiction recovery process isn’t always open to the use of methadone or buprenorphine.

Many 12-step programs teach that addiction is mainly a moral and spiritual failing, best treated by improving one’s behavior and spirituality. In contrast to this way of thinking, methadone and buprenorphine treatment programs are based on a “medical model” of addiction- teaching that biological factors determine addiction. This medical model teaches that addiction is a chronic (long-lasting) disease, similar to life-long diseases like diabetes. In this model, addicts benefit from medical treatment just as diabetics benefit from insulin. Because many 12-step programs are based on the moral-spiritual understanding of drug addiction, and not the medical model, those who find help with MAT may have difficulty reconciling the two views and participating in 12-step programs. The morality-based teachings of 12-Step treatment programs, often shared by patients and their communities, can conflict with the medical model of understanding addiction and can make MAT seem like an illegitimate treatment option, despite its proven benefits.[3]


[1]Witbrodt, J. and L. A. Kaskutas (2005). “Does diagnosis matter? Differential effects of 12-step participation and social networks on abstinence.” Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse 31(4): 685-707.[2] Ries, R. K., Galanter, M., & Tonigan, J. S. (2008). Twelve-Step Facilitation: An Adaptation for Psychiatric Practitioners and Patients. In M. Galanter & H. Kleber (Eds.), Textbook of Substance Abuse and Treatment (4th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.[3]Frank, D. (2011).