Cornerstone of Southern California Drug and Alcohol Rehab
Misconceptions about the 12 Step Program
Author: Cornerstone of Southern California
Published: December 2, 2015

1) You have to be religious for it to work.

It is true that the 12 Steps have many references to a ‘higher power’ or ‘God’, that many meetings do conclude with a Serenity Prayer and that the program did come initially from a Christian viewpoint, but it is also true that the principles at its core have helped millions of addicts who do not believe in spirituality or God. The 12 Steps are open to different interpretations and should be seen as concepts and guidelines not an indoctrination.

Many addicts have trouble abstaining from drugs and alcohol through the force of their own willpower and need a “higher power” in whatever form they may choose to help them change their ways. Remember that a “higher power” can be anything from a God, an outside unknown force, nature or a group seeking common goal. If a certain meeting or group doesn’t fit with your interpretation look for one that you feel more comfortable with.

2) Admitting powerlessness only releases the addict from their personal responsibility.

Yes, the first choice anyone makes to try alcohol of drugs is their own responsibility, but once the psychological or physical dependence begins they lose all control and the cycle of using and becoming ill and using more starts. The physical and psychological urge to use becomes so strong that despite legal issues, financial problems and even losing their employment they continue to seek out and use drugs. Over time extended drug use can change normal brain function and the addict becomes ‘powerless’ to stop.

The idea of an addict admitting they are ‘powerless’ does not mean that they are broken or incapable of change. It also does not mean that they can just sit back and let their ‘higher power’ take care of their problems for them. They must take the power back by using the steps and meetings to regain control of their lives.

3) 12-Step meetings are just a substitute for drugs.

Everyone needs support. Whether it be from family, friends, co-workers or even teammates; all of us need the help of others at one point or another. When it comes to 12 Step Recovery a support system is one of the key elements of working a solid program. It has been shown that extended stays in treatment programs benefit addicts and prevent a higher number of them from experiencing a relapse event.

Meetings can provide the needed support for addicts in recovery and listening to other’s stories of hardship and success are beneficial to creating a sense of community and fellowship between regular meeting attendees while reminding them of where they were and where they want to be. Also, frequent meeting attendance in early recovery does not have to last forever. As a recovering addict gains more time in sobriety they can find support in other ways and, over time, attend less meetings overall.

4) The 12-Step program is just a cult.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid! You may have heard this before but it does not apply in any sense to the 12 Step program. The program has a framework of principles and ethical practices that may look strange to outsiders but no one is forced into participation. Members and attendees can take away anything that seems to work for them and discard those principles that they deem to be unhelpful. The 12 Step community is a group of people with shared heartache and joy, success and failure who have the courage to openly share their victories and defeats with others.

5) There are way too many rules for me.

This is a very common misconception about the 12 Step program. There are a few rules (like don’t use drugs or alcohol) but the program is mostly a set of principles used to guide adherents to making positive choices. The program focuses on areas that have been adversely affected by addiction like one’s empathy, drive and memory. 12 Steppers are able to attend as many or as few meetings as they feel works for them and even if a relapse occurs the other members of this close-knit community will be there willing to accept any who lose focus back into the fold.

6) 12-Steps are for old people, losers and the weak.

Addiction affects all types of people from all types of backgrounds. It is a progressive disease that is chronic and prone to relapse. It is not about how strong one’s willpower is and it is not due to some inherent weakness in anyone. We in the 12 Step community see the act of asking for help as a courageous undertaking that requires strength and internal fortitude. The program attempts to remove the shame and blame from drug addiction and recovery and seeks to empower all those who attend.

7) Twelve-Step programs don’t work.

There are many who attempt to discount the 12 Step program through ‘new’ scientific evidence. The issue with this stance is that, in truth, there have not been enough scientific studies of the program to glean any overarching conclusions about it. Science has long disregarded and dismissed the 12 Step program and there is a lack of accurate information gathered in the 75 years it has been in practice.

Admittedly, the 12 Steps do not work for everyone, but stopping before trying always leads to failure. We in the 12 Step community feel that when given a chance the program will work for those who WORK IT.