When it comes to recovery, we tend to focus on addiction treatment, but support groups were one of the first resources available for recovery. Even so, they remain a popular supplement to clinical treatment programs today, especially twelve-step support groups. In short, twelve-step programs are peer-led recovery fellowships designed to give individuals in recovery from addiction a network of supportive peers who are both sympathetic to and experienced in addiction recovery.
If you’re looking to begin the recovery process or researching recovery options for a loved one, it’s important to know that there are many different twelve-step support programs available. Typically, you choose the twelve-step program that corresponds to the specific addiction for which you or your loved one need support.
These are some of the most well-known and widely-available twelve-step programs.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
The first twelve-step program — and one that remains the most popularly, and widely-recognized program today — is Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, Alcoholics Anonymous was conceptualized as a journey of spiritual and character-focused addiction recovery.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, the so-called “Big Book” is the primary text, containing guidelines for membership and participation as well as an overview of the renowned “Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.” The Twelve Steps are largely the same across all twelve-step programs and provide a sort of blueprint for recovery. In particular, Alcoholics Anonymous members who are “working the steps” begin by admitting their helplessness to the addictive power of alcohol. Subsequent steps take members through the process of accepting personal responsibility for their actions, becoming acutely aware of behavioral and character defects that have put themselves and others in harm, and “making amends” for the wrongs they’ve committed.
By the end of the Twelve Steps, members should have reached a point where they can consistently and confidently remain abstinent from alcohol. The Twelve Steps ends with the individual becoming a mentor to newer members, ensuring that the steps help others to achieve similar respite from the throes of alcoholism.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
Although Alcoholics Anonymous remains the largest of all twelve-step programs, Narcotics Anonymous has the second-largest membership, making it another popular choice for individuals looking for recovery fellowships. It originated in the 1950s in the Los Angeles area of California, started by an individual named Jimmy Kinnon.
Narcotics Anonymous was created to be a more inclusive version of Alcoholics Anonymous, targeting individuals battling addictions with substances other than alcohol. In the 1940s, it was becoming an issue since more Alcoholics Anonymous groups were hosting “closed” meetings, meaning that only individuals who were actively battling alcohol addiction were allowed to attend those meetings. For individuals wrestling with other forms of addiction, “closed” Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weren’t an option.
It’s important to note that, aside from some small adaptations that have been made, the same Twelve Steps that are central to Alcoholics Anonymous are employed by members of Narcotics Anonymous. If Alcoholics Anonymous is for people who suffer from alcoholism and alcohol abuse disorders, Narcotics Anonymous is intended for individuals who suffer from addictions to one of several common narcotic drugs, including heroin, opioid painkillers, and cocaine.
Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) And The ‘S Group’ Programs
There have been twelve-step programs dedicated to helping individuals overcome compulsive sexual behavior since the 1970s. The first official twelve-step group for overcoming compulsive sexuality was Sexaholics Anonymous, created by an individual known as Roy K. But due to the divisive and non-inclusive views that Roy instituted for Sexaholics Anonymous — in particular, Roy’s belief that relations between same-sex couples and heterosexual couples in long-term unmarried relationships be considered abnormal or deviant sexual behavior — several groups left Sexaholics Anonymous to form their own, more inclusive groups: Sexual Recovery Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous.
Although the particulars vary between the groups, the consensus seems to be that individuals are allowed to engage in sexual acts with consenting partners, spouses, and individuals with whom they’re in long-term relationships. The harmful sexual behaviors are ones that are non-consensual, result in harm caused to one or both parties, or otherwise, put one’s long-term health at risk. In other words, these ‘S groups (labeled as such since their acronyms usually begin with the letter ‘S’) don’t mandate total and complete abstinence; instead, members are encouraged to practice safe sex at health intervals so that sexual compulsions don’t interfere with other aspects of their lives.
As with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, ‘S groups’ use a modified version of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
Similar to the ‘S groups,’ Gamblers Anonymous is for individuals who find a particular type of behavior to be the subject of their addictions rather than mind-altering chemical substances. Started in 1957 in Los Angeles, California, Gamblers Anonymous has grown to include more than a thousand separate chapters throughout the United States with additional groups based in Mexico, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Brazil, Korea, Uganda, and in many other countries around the world.
On average, problematic and addictive gambling behavior is estimated to occur in nearly 2 percent of American adults. Since gambling addiction can lead to financial ruin that affects one’s immediate family, Gamblers Anonymous has been a great resource for individuals suffering from gambling addiction to overcome the compulsion to gamble. Like other twelve-step programs, Gamblers Anonymous uses a slightly modified version of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Twelve-Step Support Groups For Loved Ones
If you’re of the opinion that twelve-step programs are only for individuals who suffer from addiction, consider this: There are actually twelve-step programs available for the family members and friends of individuals who suffer from addiction.
Al-Anon and Alateen are twelve-step programs created in 1951 and 1957, respectively, to offer support for those who are close to individuals who suffer from addiction. At the time, there was very little information known about the disease or how it should be most effectively treated, so twelve-step programs for the family and friends of people suffering from addiction became a great resource. They provided — and continue to provide — a source of support and strength, helping them to learn how to cope with being the loved one of an addict.