There are some people who are adamant that 12 Step programs always work for those struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction.  Maybe they’ve attended meetings or know someone who has gotten free by attending such a group. They’ve seen how the 12 Step group turned someone from an addict into a non-addict, experiencing more peace and joy.

12 Step programs do work for many people, but the reality is that they don’t work for everyone. It’s not necessarily because they’re not effective, because they have proven to be effective for some people.  The reason why 12 Step programs don’t work for certain people varies from person to person.  

Meaning, the program may not work for Joe, because Joe does not like being in a group of people, but works great for Mary, who needs to be around a supportive group to help her navigate recovery. 

Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work:

The All of Nothing Approach-

Common 12 Step groups like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous promote complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs, and this doesn’t jive with some people. There are those that want to cut down and/or moderate their usage, but since AA or NA considers using “relapsing”, they’re not likely to attend the groups. If they do attend, they’re likely to be judged for their relapsing, which can cause some hard feelings.

Outdated Teaching Philosophy-

Another reason why 12 Step programs don’t work is that some of the literature hasn’t been changed or updated for many decades. Take Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. The “Big Book” was written in 1939 and hasn’t really been changed since.  There are those that propose with all the new research and techniques that have risen throughout the years, perhaps some of the 12 Step teachings could be updated and/or tweaked. 

Is Addiction a Life-long Disease?-

Some professionals assert that alcoholism and drug addiction is a life-long disease that cannot be cured.  Some 12 Step groups affirm this theory, and this could be a reason why they don’t always work.  Others believe that addiction is not a disease, but rather a condition or habitual behaviors that can be reversed. So, for someone attending a 12 Step group like AA or NA that believes that they can indeed be “cured” without having to attend meetings long-term, they may find it awkward to continue attending. 

Holistic Programs Proven to be Successful-

One reason some 12 Step groups programs don’t work is that they’re less holistic than other support groups. Holistic means to address the individual mind, body, and spirit.  There are some support groups that address more than the symptoms of addiction, including the roots of the addiction. Whereas someone attending AA or NA may use the 12 Steps to try to dig to get to some of the underlying conditions, holistic programs by nature tend to be more direct.  At the same time, holistic programs may not adhere to the belief that addiction or alcoholism are life-long, incurable brain diseases.

People Don’t Work The Program-

Sometimes 12 Step programs don’t work because people in the programs simply don’t “do the work”.  They may attend meetings, but don’t get a sponsor or don’t actually work the 12 Steps. Those that have been successful using the 12 Step group model affirm that working the program diligently is the main reason they were successful in stopping drinking or drugging.  

One common phrase among 12 Step enthusiasts is, “The program works if you work it.”  Even just having a sponsor doesn’t assure success; you must use your sponsor and work the 12 steps with them in order to increase your chances of success. 

Do 12 Step Programs Work?-

12 Step programs like AA or NA do work for some people.  In fact, they’ve helped many thousands of people get and stay sober/clean over the years.  Of course, the success rate is not 100 percent, but then again, there’s no addiction treatment modality is effective 100 percent.  

Substance abuse professionals advise those seeking addiction recovery to attend 12 Step meetings if they choose because there can be benefits.  Granted, such groups don’t have to be the only recovery path you must take, as you may also use avenues like rehabs, sober living homes, counseling, etc. to help you recover. It’s whatever works for you!

Author's Bio: 

Charles Watson, is the current health writer for Mountain Springs Recovery. A life long health advocate, he can be reached directly on Twitter at @charleswatson00, or at