12 Step Review - Should I Join a 12 Step Program?

AA Meeting
Alcoholics Anonymous or AA is a type of 12 step program. Power of Forever/Getty Image

The Bottom Line

The main conclusions of the 12 step review are that these groups can be an excellent resource for many people who are working to overcome addictions, or who have family members with addictions. Their foundation principles of accessibility, confidentiality and mutual support link you to a worldwide network of help, as often and when you need it. 12 step groups are so widespread and successful that they are often used as an adjunct to treatment programs, and/or a follow up to prevent relapse.

However, 12 step groups are not for everyone. People with depression or social anxiety may find it hard to function in a group. Choose your group with care.


  • Free and unlimited
  • No wait time
  • Everyone is accepted
  • The other group participants understand the problem through personal experience
  • Structure to the "recovery" process -- the 12 steps


  • May cause more difficulties for people with problems such as depression and social anxiety
  • Other people's stories can be a trigger to relapse
  • Unregulated -- participants' advice may be inaccurate; vulnerability for abuse
  • Some group members may be intolerant of medication use
  • Commitment to the process is hard if you disagree with the 12 steps


  • 12 step groups often have the word "anonymous" in the title, as the philosophy is based on confidentiality.
  • Anyone can join a 12 step group without needing a referral. You just need to find out where there is a meeting and show up.
  • People in the group focus on their own recovery, using the 12 steps as a guide.
  • 12 step groups have sprung up to address many different addictions, including alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, and eating.
  • Debtors Anonymous may be helpful to people who have incurred debt as a consequence of their addictions.
  • There are also 12 step groups for family members, including Al-Anon Family Groups, for the family members of alcoholics.
  • If you decide a 12 step group is right for you, your sponsor is available to support you outside of meetings.
  • 12 step groups are not the only way, or necessarily the best way, to overcome your addiction problems. Explore alternatives.
  • Group participants are only human, and many have severe emotional problems themselves. Avoid outside relationships.
  • Balance your use of 12 step groups with other activities in your life to avoid becoming overly dependent on the group.

Overview and Review - 12 Step Programs

12 step programs began with the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which has grown into a massive worldwide network of self-help groups. This is a boon to people with addictions and family members who require ongoing support: No matter where you go, you can often find a meeting if you want to attend one.

12 step programs are run by group members. Group leaders are not professionals in the addiction field. They are experienced "recovering" addicts or family members, who have worked through the 12 step program themselves. As a new member, you may choose to have a "sponsor," who is another group member who can act as a mentor to help you through the process.

Being run by group members is probably the single greatest strength and the single greatest weakness of 12 step groups. While professionals who work in treatment programs have had years of training and supervision and are well-acquainted with research and developments in the addiction field, people in 12 step groups base their approach on their own experience. They may not be as objective or knowledgeable about addictions as a professional, but they may have a better understanding of how it feels and how difficult it is to live with.

Meeting with other people who understand what you are going through, people who have overcome many challenges and can guide you through it, and who are not part of your life outside, can be a real gift for many people struggling with addictions.

However, for some people, 12 step groups are unhelpful or problematic.

One of the greatest difficulties people have with 12 step groups happens when they do not agree with the fundamental principles on which they are based -- the 12 steps. Difficulties can also arise if you do not gel with the group or with individual members. So if you can, try several groups before deciding on one.