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Are 12-Step Programs Successful?

The success of 12-step programs is difficult to measure. However, Alcoholics Anonymous keeps records of success rates that show success for some. The large number of 12-step programs also points to some degree of success for these programs.

If you are early in your recovery, perhaps freshly out of a treatment center, the biggest question you probably have is, “What now?” Luckily, there are a number of outpatient programs and support groups that can aid you in your recovery. The most frequently promoted organizations that can assist you in recovery maintenance are, by far, 12-step programs. The majority of treatment facilities will either incorporate a 12-step model into their program or endorse a 12-step program for aftercare. There is a reason why. And it is hard to put it into statistics.

Success Rates Can Be Hard to Come By

Twelve-step support groups’ success rates are difficult to identify for a number of different reasons. The most glaring reason that rates and statistics are hard to gauge is that 12-step organizations’ main principle is to remain anonymous. This can make it difficult for a researcher to collect data. Another problem of collecting data is defining what “success” actual means.

Some conclude that success means a lifetime of sobriety. But what about sobriety with instances of relapse? What about individuals who find their life manageable over a period of time and choose to discontinue a 12-step program but, in all regards, are successful with sobriety? These examples are hard to classify. Does it mean the organization failed or succeeded?

After conducting surveys with a sample group of people, some studies conclude that 12-step programs have a very small margin of success. Other studies show a moderate success rate, and still others claim a high success rate.  In any case, success is best determined by the individual who receives the help, not a statistic that is hard to identify. It is indisputable that 12-step programs do help people, a lot of people. There are over 2 million reported active members in Alcoholics Anonymous alone.

Concluding Success Rates of a 12-Step Program

Alcoholics Anonymous, the organization that all 12-step programs are modeled after, do keep a record of their success rates, but in terms of the different lengths of sobriety time amongst its active members, not in statistics that show success versus failure. In 2007, the average length of sobriety was eight years. By all accounts, this is indicative of long-term success. Other statistics include:

Sober less than a year: 31 percent
  • Sober for one to five years: 24 percent
    • Sober for five to 10 years: 12 percent
    • Sober for more than 10 years: 33 percent

    These stats show that it does indeed succeed for some. Another observation that can be made about 12-step programs, and their success, is that there are over 130 different 12-step programs that help specific types of addiction. These programs include:

    • Narcotics Anonymous
    • Overeaters Anonymous
    • Gambling Anonymous
    • Sex Addicts Anonymous
    • Depression Anonymous

    Basically, there are 12-step programs for almost every type of addiction. If the 12-step model did not work, there would be no reason for varying groups, with different needs, to adhere to the same principles.

    Finding What Works for You

    Even though there is a lack of public statistics that deal with 12-step programs, any organization is only going to be as helpful as the effort you put into it. No program will do everything for you. But what 12-step programs do offer is important: support, acceptance, knowledge, compassion and a common goal of sobriety. These are the things that will help you in your recovery.

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