Self-help: 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a self-help program for people who are addicted. Initially, this self-help was intended for alcohol addiction, but nowadays it is also used for other addictions. Central to this program are the twelve steps and the meetings with fellow sufferers and experts. There is generally no professional guidance in the program to get rid of the addiction. The Netherlands has various groups that work according to the 12-step program.

12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous: self-help for alcohol addiction

The 12-step model is one of the possible self-help programs for alcohol addicts . About 6,000 addicts in the Netherlands participate in a self-help program for addiction . In a self-help program, people exchange experiences with fellow sufferers and learn to help themselves. Contact with fellow sufferers is seen as one of the most important effective parts of the self-help program. There is plenty of room in the group to tell your story and to learn from the experiences of others. One also learns to better express one’s own thoughts and feelings. Self-help programs are sometimes supervised by a therapist, but the contributions are mainly from experienced experts.

Self-help program: who participates?

In the Netherlands, mainly middle-aged men participate in the 12-step model of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, when looking at the number of women who are addicted to alcohol, a relatively large number of women also participate in the self-help program. Many alcohol addicts participate in the program for longer than a year, making the program more of a “way of life” than a standalone treatment. People try to adopt a different lifestyle that reduces the chance of relapse. Unfortunately, some of the participants relapse into alcohol use one or more times during the program. The self-help group can also help put the relapse into perspective and provide support in stopping drinking .

Origin of the 12-step model

The 12-step model was developed in 1935 by two addicts in the United States. Originally, the self-help program was intended for alcohol addiction , but today it is also applied to other addictions. About half of all self-help programs use the twelve-step method .
The 12-step program has a Christian evangelical background, but one certainly does not have to be religious to benefit from the program. Although in the United States meetings often begin and end with a prayer, this is not common at meetings in European countries. In Europe the emphasis is not so much on God but on spirituality. If one does not believe in God, one can replace the term God in the 12 steps with, for example, “the group”.

The 12-step model in practice

The 12-step program consists of – as the name suggests – 12 steps. The program generally takes place weekly and has a fixed structure. After a joint opening, there is room to look back on the past week and share this with each other. Then one of the 12 steps is discussed in detail. You can join most groups at any time, there is no fixed start and end to the program. Some people follow the program after admission to a rehab clinic as support. The model can also be combined with psychological treatment for alcohol addiction such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Attending meetings of the 12-step program while following cognitive behavioral therapy appears to strengthen the positive effect of both interventions.

Principles in 12 steps

  1. We recognize that we were powerless against our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  3. We made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
  4. We took a thorough and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
  5. We confessed to God, ourselves, and someone else the true nature of our mistakes
  6. We were perfectly willing to let God remove all these flaws in our character
  7. We humbly asked Him to take away our shortcomings
  8. We made a list of all the people we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all
  9. We made immediate amends to these people whenever possible, except when doing so would harm them or others
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, we immediately admitted it
  11. 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 it out
  12. Having achieved a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to spread this message to addicts and apply these principles in all our actions


Is the 12-step method effective?

There are no controlled studies yet on the effectiveness of the 12-step program. It is therefore not possible to say with certainty whether the program works or not. Literature studies show that the program is effective for some alcohol addicts. The effectiveness increased as more meetings were attended. Only 20% of participants continued attending the meetings after the first month, 80% stopped during the first month.

Where can the 12-step method meetings be found?

Groups can be found throughout the Netherlands that meet according to the principles of the 12-step method. On the AA Netherlands website you can find addresses of various groups and the days and times when they meet. Some self-help groups allow you to join without registering in advance, while other groups prefer to register in advance.

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