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12-Step Series: 12-Step Programs Are Not All AA

12-Step Series: 12-Step Programs Are Not All AA

The media tends to portray 12-Step programs as being only Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This is due to AA’s longstanding, significant history and popularity among celebrities struggling with addiction. However, there are many other forms of 12-Step programs. 

12-Step programs operate by harnessing a shared experience of problems and solutions. It uses the positive power of group accountability to teach participants how to face their past, overcome their present, and live more meaningfully in their future. Just because you don’t like the stigma associated with AA doesn’t mean 12-Step programs aren’t a good fit for you. 

It can become challenging to break any cycle, whether you’re dealing with an addiction, childhood wounds, or maladaptive behavior. In many cases, 12-Step programs can help. While many 12-Step groups and organizations specialize in helping people with addictions, there are many other support groups for different issues, such as gambling addiction and co-dependency. Many people think that one only goes to those meetings if you have an alcohol or drug addiction. However, this is not the truth.

Looking at the Big Picture of Addiction

Many people struggle with personal shortfalls or maladaptive behaviors. Some of these behaviors or conditions require more assistance beyond quitting. With many stressors and unresolved pain left unaddressed, more and more people continue to turn to addictive behaviors or substances to deal with life. Whether it applies to a dependency on shopping, pornography, video games, gambling, overeating, smoking cigarettes, or abusing drugs and alcohol — data shows more and more people are suffering from their addictions.

Addiction is a process that happens over time within the complex relationships between a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. The disease develops when a person has an intense desire to do something that gives them pleasure or relief from discomfort.

Most addictions begin innocently enough. For some, it started with a simple trip to the store for some chocolate or a few drinks at a bar to unwind after work. We hold no opposition against having little pleasures in life. Most people turn to specific behaviors – like exercise, the internet, watching TV, chatting with friends – to relieve stress. Nonetheless, even one innocent pleasure can turn into an obsession that negatively impacts a person’s life. 

When such matters transpire, take stock of where you are in your life and seek help if needed. Addiction can lead to poor job performance, marital health issues, criminal activity, and even death in extreme cases. To address any addiction issue you might have, you may want to consider a 12-Step program. 

Addiction to Substances vs. Addictive Behaviors

We know about substance addiction. We see it portrayed in movies, read about it in books, and hear about it in the news. It makes sense that we understand and recognize this type of addiction to drugs or alcohol because it is easily definable. 

Behavioral addictions aren’t as easy to identify. Many people engage in unhealthy behaviors. For example, some people gamble as a hobby; others shop heavily, and many often surf the internet. Regardless of their overindulgence in said behaviors, it doesn’t necessarily mean they have an addiction to these behaviors. However, excess in any behavior could lead to an addiction. We only consider them an addiction when the behavior significantly interferes with their lives and becomes a compulsion. 

There are many types of behavioral or process addictions, but some of the most common include:

  • Gambling
  • Shopping
  • Internet use
  • Sex
  • Exercise
  • Eating/food (eating disorders)

A few signs that your behavior may be becoming an addiction include:

  • You feel like you have no control over your actions regardless of how it negatively impacts you or others
  • Experiencing increased stress or pleasure when engaged in the behavior (positive/negative feedback loop)
  • The thought of stopping the behavior makes you anxious because you can’t refrain from the pleasure and gratification of the event
  • You find yourself thinking about the behavior more than usual and have trouble focusing on other tasks at hand; this can affect your job performance or cause you to miss classes or events
  • Increasing the amount of time spent on the behavior or increasing money spent on the behavior
  • You are willing to put yourself in dangerous situations to engage in this behavior
  • Unsuccessful attempts to stop engaging in the behavior
  • Repeated unsuccessful efforts to cut back on behavior
  • Spending more time engaged in the activity than you intended
  • Continuing to engage in the activity despite negative consequences like relationship problems or financial issues
  • Giving up important social or recreational activities because of the activity

The Structure of 12-Step Groups

Many groups have adapted the original Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to cover various habits and compulsive behaviors, including co-dependency. 12-Step programs have based their structure on guiding tenets summarizing a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. 

Created by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the Twelve Steps emphasize the power of spirituality, though it does not subscribe to any religious beliefs. The founders believed that people could stay sober through a spiritual awakening and self-examination guided by another member who has already achieved sobriety. 

12-Step meetings typically involve members discussing their recovery from alcoholism or addiction and the strength it took for them to seek sobriety. Meetings also include opportunities for attendees to share their experiences. Members read material from books approved by the program and discuss it afterward. 

12-Step programs welcome anyone who wants to join. The Third Tradition states, “The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using.” These fellowships usually hold meetings in regular venues such as churches, community centers, and other houses of worship. However, you can also find some meetings held online or on the telephone. 

Top 10 12-Step Programs Born Out of AA

Today, the foundation of AA has expanded into numerous 12-Step groups to assist people with various addictions and addictive behaviors. The top ten of these programs include:

#1. Debtors Anonymous

Debtors Anonymous (DA) helps those that struggle with compulsive debt. Compulsive debting refers to a behavior pattern that involves having an unhealthy relationship with money and material possessions.

Examples of compulsive debting include:

  • Inability to stop charging or spending money beyond one’s means
  • Using credit cards as a crutch
  • Not paying bills on time
  • Being preoccupied with money and finances

DA has been effective in helping people worldwide recover from compulsive debting and become financially healthy. DA’s primary purpose is to “stop incurring new unsecured debt and to help other compulsive debtors achieve solvency.”

#2. Adult Children of Alcoholics

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) is a self-help group that provides members with a forum for sharing experiences, insights, and support as they work to overcome the consequences of being raised in a home with a parent or guardian struggling with alcoholism or otherwise dysfunctional family. 

Unlike other self-help groups, ACA’s focus is not on substance abuse or addictive behaviors but on how childhood experiences affect a person’s ability to live well. ACA members learn how their parents’ drinking or dysfunctional behaviors impacted them, how it affects their relationships today, and how to stop it from getting in the way of having healthy relationships and happy life. ACA helps people break free from the past and move forward with their lives, offering hope and healing to those still suffering.

#3. Al-Anon and Alateen 

Al-Anon and Alateen meetings occur in 130 countries worldwide. These meetings help men, women, teenagers, and children learn how to live with the effects of alcoholism in a family member or friend. Members grapple with feeling angry, hurt, confused, depressed, and lonely. Sometimes guilt or shame consumes them as they wonder if they had done something to cause the problem. 

The Twelve Steps help them identify and change their behaviors that are not helping the situation. The group experience provides a safe place to share personal stories and develop coping strategies.  

Al-Anon is for adults; Alateen is part of Al-Anon and is designed specifically for teens aged 13 to 19. Both groups offer their members relief from the emotional trauma of living with someone struggling with alcoholism. In addition to weekly meetings, both groups provide one-on-one support from other members, literature covering all aspects of dealing with alcoholism, and telephone hotlines for days when they need help outside of a meeting.

#4. Cocaine Anonymous 

Cocaine Anonymous (CA) offers safe, effective recovery from addiction to cocaine and other mind-altering substances through working with others who share their experiences and struggles in coping with drug abuse. The program is based on the 12-Step model, which has been proven effective in helping people recover from many types of addiction. In these meetings, you’ll hear people share their stories of how they were able to escape the cycle of cocaine addiction and stories of those who relapsed and how they managed to get back on track.

#5. Narcotics Anonymous 

Although the original members created Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to support people with narcotic addictions, it has since expanded its membership to include individuals with any type of substance use disorder (SUD). Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process, and sobriety is not achieved after attending a few meetings. Many people continue to attend NA meetings indefinitely to help them stay clean. NA encourages its members to “work the steps” and participate in regular meetings to help them avoid relapse. In NA, you also find a sponsor who is an experienced member and will walk you through the Twelve Steps.

#6. Gam-Anon and Gamateen 

Gam-Anon is a 12-Step program for friends and family members of addicted gamblers. Gam-Anon focuses on recovering from the effects of living with the problem gambler, not on changing the gambler or stopping their gambling. Gamateen is Gam-Anon’s program for young people. The Gamateen program offers hope for teens who have been affected by seeing a family member gamble compulsively or irresponsibly. 

In Gamateen meetings, teens learn that they are not alone, that their problems are not unique, and that there is a solution to their pain. In Gamateen groups, teens (ages 13 to 19) find understanding and encouragement from others experiencing similar frustrations in their own homes.

#7. Nar-Anon 

Nar-Anon is a self-help program and support group for friends and family members of people suffering from drug abuse. Nar-Anon is also somewhat similar to Al-Anon, a support group for friends and family members of alcoholics. Nar-Anon emphasizes harm reduction and focuses on the personal responsibility of the person struggling with addiction. Through sponsors and home groups, members are encouraged to practice principles of good living in all aspects of life. 

#8. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous 

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) is open to anyone who has identified sex, love, romantic obsession, co-dependency, fantasy addiction, or sexual, social, and emotional anorexia as a problem. It encourages members to find a power greater than themselves that will help them on their path to recovery. SLAA encourages members to develop their spiritual program through prayer, meditation, or other practices they choose.

#9. Gamblers Anonymous

For many compulsive gamblers, their addiction starts with a big win at the casino or betting on the horses. Their compulsion to gamble continues to escalate and destroy their lives. People struggling with compulsive gambling often find it hard to stop by themselves. They’re driven to gamble by an uncontrollable urge to take risks in an attempt to win money or prizes. They chase the dopamine fix brought on by chasing the win. 

However, compulsive gamblers can find help through Gamblers Anonymous (GA). GA is a 12-Step program for compulsive gambling issues. It’s patterned after the AA approach. The group offers emotional support, guidance on developing techniques for self-control, and suggestions for dealing with financial and personal problems that may result from gambling. GA reaches out to those with a gambling problem and helps them realize that compulsive gambling is a progressive illness that will get worse without help. 

#10. Overeaters Anonymous

Overeaters Anonymous (OA) is a 12-Step program for people with problems related to food, including, but not limited to, compulsive overeaters and those with binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia. There are many similarities between OA and AA. Both rely on the Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions, and a Higher Power to assist in recovery.

While AA relies on abstinence from alcohol for recovery, OA does not have an official dietary prescription. However, the majority of members practice some form of abstinence from certain foods. The OA literature encourages members to find what works for them as far as dieting goes. 

Nonetheless, the program promotes a “spiritual awakening,” which helps members find a higher purpose in life rather than focusing on food or restricting food. OA offers many different types of meetings, including online, phone, face-to-face, men’s groups, women’s groups, and more. 

Using the Twelve Steps to Solve Your Problems

The Twelve Steps are a systematic method of approaching the problems in your life. The Twelve Steps are a way of life, not just a way of dealing with addiction. The principles outlined in the Twelve Steps can be applied to any problem and any situation that comes up in your life, from addiction to credit card debt or relationship issues. The process of working the steps will help you to achieve personal growth and experience a spiritual awakening.

When we get honest and fearless with ourselves, when we make amends for past behavior and take responsibility for how we’re living now, when we ask for help and surrender, we are set free from our self-centeredness. Then there is room in our hearts to be of service to others. This freedom from self allows us to be happy, joyous, and accessible. And it will enable us to solve any problem that might come our way in the future.

When people think about 12-Step programs, many of them automatically think about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). However, AA is not the only 12-Step group available to those struggling. There are various 12-Step groups — like Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Gamblers Anonymous — that help people recover from not only substance addiction but behavioral addiction and challenging life circumstances. If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, White House Recovery and Detox is here for you. At White House Recovery and Detox, we emphasize the power and effectiveness of the Twelve Steps. However, we also respect those who are not ready to follow these principles. Located in the beautiful foothills of Los Angeles, California, White House Recovery and Detox is prepared to help you heal from addiction through emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical support. Call us today at (800) 510-5393 to learn more about our treatment options and how we can help you heal from addiction.

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