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12-Step Support Groups: Part III

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Despite this fact, AA remains a large, international group representing people that have successfully recovered from alcohol dependence (alcoholism). There are also many other 12-step groups, based on the AA model, including Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addictions Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and dozens of other "anonymous" groups. AA, however, remains the largest, and is perhaps larger than all the remaining groups combined. NA is second in size.

serious manWhile AA and similar 12-step groups remain the most popular spiritual recovery programs, there are other formal and informal approaches to spiritual recovery. Some groups are Judeo-Christian groups that have modified the non-denominational 12-step programs to be faith-based, according to the biblical scriptures. For instance, some Christian churches host 12-step groups based on the AA model, such as Celebrate Recovery. Muslims have an approach for addressing addictions, as do Buddhist practitioners. A searchable comprehensive database of support groups is available here.

It is important to note that spiritual support groups, such as 12-step groups, are compatible with other self-empowering support groups. We have repeatedly emphasized that each person attempting recovery from addiction should strive to find the right mix of recovery ingredients. With respect to 12-step groups, there are a number of advantages. This is particularly true of AA, the largest of 12-step groups. These well-known groups tend to be large. Given the size of these groups, you are more likely to find suitable role models. You will also find yourself in a room full of people who understand what you've been through, and are happy to welcome you. Because 12-step meetings are more readily available than self-empowering groups, their availability increases the likelihood that someone will benefit from the powerful effect of social support. The lack of availability, except online, of self-empowering support groups, is probably the biggest barrier to benefiting from them. In a similar manner, because of the public's familiarity with 12-step support groups, family and friends typically support attendance at such groups. Similar support is often lacking for people who attend less well-known, self-empowering support groups.

There are many slogans and ideas in 12-step groups that can benefit anyone in recovery. Many people in recovery have found these slogans helpful as they are simple to remember and easy to recall in times of distress. Here are some examples:

  • "It's the first drink that makes you drunk, not the last." If you focus on abstaining from the first drink, you'll eventually recover.
  • "One day at a time." You achieve recovery by stringing many single days together. View cravings, concerns, and upsets as just one moment in time.
  • "This too shall pass." This reminds us that things, which make us uncomfortable, are temporary. It isn't worth giving up recovery due to fleeting moments of discomfort.
  • "Just for today." Make a commitment not to drink, gamble, overeat, view porn, etc. for just today. Strung together, many such days will result in recovery.
  • "Progress, not perfection." This slogan emphasizes the principles of relapse prevention LINK.
  • "Live and let live." This slogan promotes acceptance of self and others.

Most 12-step groups read the serenity prayer at the beginning or end of the meeting. This prayer contains a kernel of truth that transcends all religions, philosophy, and psychology. "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (other people, situations, events), courage to change the things I can (myself, some situations), and the wisdom to know the difference." Many therapists will attest that most people seem to struggle with that last distinction!

A spiritual approach to addictions recovery encourages people to shift their perspective beyond their own immediate self-centered concerns. This shift in perspective allows people to evaluate their values and beliefs. It doesn't really matter whether or not someone's values and beliefs include a belief in a mystical being, force, or presence. People typically benefit from this exploration because it helps to crystallize the values that make life worth living.