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Reducing Stigmas Surrounding the 12-Step Philosophy

Reducing Stigmas Surrounding the 12-Step Philosophy

“You’re weak — why can’t you figure it out on your own?”  “You must be a bible thumper and a Jesus freak.” “What’s a sponsor? Some type of chaperone?” “Do you get up and stand in front of everyone and say: ‘Hi, my name is,’ like they do in the movies?” 

Despite one in ten Americans having a drug or alcohol use disorder at some point in their lives,  much like above, 12-Step programs have managed to garner a social stigma that’s been roadblocking individuals to recovery. The stigma persists despite the overwhelming evidence of the role social support plays in promoting physical and mental health and coping with stress.

According to the National Association of Addiction treatment, only ten percent of people who need treatment for substance use disorders (SUDs) receive it. These low treatment rates can be incredibly damaging for some, even deadly for others.

Stigmas Surrounding 12-Steps Programs

Much of the stigmas surrounding 12-Step programs stem from Hollywood and mainstream media, as many TV shows, movies, and books have created a perception that is not entirely true.

These preconceived notions span from your situation becoming public to there being strict rules on medication — all of which, in reality, vary by institution. Here are three of the most common misconceptions:

  1. Religious Language and Ideology: While it’s true that most 12-step programs have language often referencing a “higher power,” you do not need to be religious to join or benefit from 12-Step groups.
  2. Talking in Front of a Group: Again, group settings are common practice among 12-step programs but doing so is not a hard and fast rule. You do not have to share details about your story, and participation is entirely voluntary.
  3. You Need a Sponsor: Sponsors provide encouragement, advice and can be a source of strength, but you are not required to be a sponsee to benefit from the experience of other group members.

Instead of succumbing to these preconceived notions, it’s best to get facts about how the 12-Steps work.

The 12-Step Truth

The 12-step philosophy started with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) back when there was little to no assistance to such persons. Eventually, it was adopted by many support groups and advocacy organizations that share similar beliefs about self-accountability and sobriety, establishing the mold for formal substance use treatment in the first part of the 20th century.

The 12-Step ideology has remained relatively unchanged since the mid-1930s. The specifics can vary between groups, but most follow a variation of the following steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

11. 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 that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In a nutshell, 12-step programs highlight three key ideas:

  1. Accept that your life needs to change, and you cannot fully control all aspects of your recovery.
  2. Embrace the vulnerability and strength you find when relying on the support of others.
  3. Take concrete actions to make your life better by improving yourself.

Debunking 12-Step Misconceptions

The truth is that addiction is a chronic, relapse-prone disorder. It really doesn’t matter how strong you are or the willpower you feel you should have. More importantly, you shouldn’t feel shame because SUDs are not your fault.

The National Association of Addiction treatment laid out some essential facts about SUDs that illustrate this perfectly:

  • SUD is a chronic but treatable medical disease
  • The disorder is largely determined by genetics
  • SUDs are often rooted in physical, sexual, and emotional trauma
  • Poverty, racism, and other forms of discrimination are also associated with the development of SUDs
  • Having a SUD can deprive people of housing, employment, insurance, and basic human rights
  • People can make full recoveries and live happy, purposeful, successful lives

Moreover, 12-Step programs work. A 2009 analysis reports that individuals who attended 12-Step meetings achieved long-term abstinence at twice the rate of individuals who did not attend meetings.

Reducing Stigmas Related to Recovery

It’s important to reduce stigmas not only to help your life but to help the lives of others, as they can be altered into more acceptable behaviors. Here are some tips to help combat the debilitating impact of stigma:

  • Be mindful of the language used
  • Understand that although there is no “cure” for SUDs, people can and do get well
  • Listen to and read positive stories of recovery

The decision to adopt sobriety can be a humbling one that requires a great deal of courage. That is why the pathway should be easy and without judgment. Contrary to popular belief, your identity does not have to be compromised; you won’t be considered “weak” for coming, and you don’t have to repeat a corny introduction if you don’t want to. Moreover, even while here at White House Recovery and Detox, there are elements of faith. We’re ultimately here to support and uplift each person, no matter their lifestyle or history. Being that only ten percent of people who need treatment for SUDs receive it, It’s imperative that proper education is available to help combat these misconceptions as lives literally depend on it. If you or a loved one is seeking help for mental health or substance-related issues, please do not hesitate to call us at (800) 510-5393. We’re here for you. 

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