The 12-Step Program: Examining the Success Rate

The 12-Step Program is a widely used approach to addiction recovery, but what is the success rate of this program? Studies have shown that more than 70% of those who attended a 12-step program weekly for 6 months prior to the two-year follow-up point abstained from alcohol. However, the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is estimated to be between 5 and 10 percent. Critics of the 12-step program, such as Stanton Peele, generally refer to a success rate that exceeds 5%, a figure that is often refuted by organizations such as AA. Addiction specialists cite figures close to 8% to 12% for member sobriety after first year.

A study showed a 35% abstinence rate when participants continued to attend AA meetings for 2-3 years. In addition, estimates indicate that between 40 and 60% of people relapse from sobriety after one year of treatment, similar to relapse rates for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or asthma. Drew Pinsky of “Celebrity Rehab” acknowledged that Sheen's statement had some credibility. But the fact is that it works when people do it. Statistics are available on the viability and success of the program.

The organization has conducted studies every 3 years since 1968 that include findings based on the responses of a collective group of members. Most studies that measured abstinence found that AA was significantly better than other interventions or that there was no intervention. In one study, it was found to be 60% more effective. None of the studies found AA to be less effective. The most important thing to take from these statistics is that the 12-Step Program can play a vital role in the addiction recovery process, but people in recovery may be more likely to achieve sustained sobriety if they also enroll in a formal addiction treatment program. Although court-ordered participation in 12-step programs would eventually be considered unconstitutional (thanks to elements such as Step Six), Dodes states that “judges still refer people to AA as part of sentencing or as a condition of probation.

Over the past few years, reports of Alcoholics Anonymous failures have continued, challenging fundamental 12-step programming. Many people are curious to know how successful 12-step programs are; unfortunately, the nature of not only addiction and relapse, but also the nature of the anonymous, non-organizational programs themselves prevent totally accurate and reliable numbers. Also known as the “12-Step Program”, these 12 steps provide a framework for self-examination and a guide to living a sober lifestyle. Only if one fully commits to the AA program (holding meetings, following the steps, and, after completing the program, finishing the steps, helping others, and maintaining active recovery and participation) can the true success of the program be evaluated. That said, it's impossible to pinpoint accurate numbers on the success rates of 12-step programs, and overall, it's a very biased business. A Cochrane review that combined studies on AA and other 12-step programs found that 12-step programs were no more effective in reducing alcohol abuse compared to other treatments, although researchers found limitations in some of the studies. The basic principles of the scholarship are described in the 12 steps in the “Big Book”, which is the AA literature. It is true that the 12 steps have been drafted in such a way as to suggest a certain amount of freedom in which God (or “higher power) one ultimately surrenders; but AA is a self-identified Christian organization with a significant part of its methodology rooted in prayer.

As a program that focuses on improving character deficits in addition to problems with alcohol use, the 12-Step Program also helps sober people develop productive habits, life skills, and maintain a healthy mindset during recovery. A study on the effectiveness of the 12-step group Crystal Meth Anonymous showed a decrease in sexual partners, as well as in unprotected anal intercourse, decreased by two-thirds. Any program based on or including the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, religious or secular, for any substance use disorder (SUD), mental health problem, or behavior disorder is a 12-step program.