Can 12-step mutual aid bridge recovery resources deficit?

The profile of abstinence-based recovery has been heightened in recent UK national strategies (1 2 3), with renewed attention falling on one of the best-known and most widely implemented programmes for achieving this goal – 12-step ‘anonymous’ mutual aid fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). This hot topic keys into what qualities have preserved 12-step as the dominant model, despite its reliance on a ‘higher power’ and abstinence clearly not suited to everyone, what conclusions can be drawn about its effectiveness given the tensions inherent when ‘faith meets science’, and the extent to which confidence in the 12 steps comes from “consistency with established mechanisms of behavior change” as opposed to some of its more distinct components.

The 12 Steps were created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous to establish guidelines for the best way to overcome an addiction to alcohol. The program gained enough success in its early years for other addiction support groups to adapt the steps to their own needs.

There are many 12-step programs for various addictions and compulsive behaviors, ranging from Cocaine Anonymous to Debtors Anonymous—all using the same 12 Step methods.

Although the 12 Steps are heavy on spirituality, many nonreligious people have found the program immensely helpful. The language emphasizes the presence of God as each participant understands him, allowing for different interpretations and religious beliefs.


Hands on Peer Education, is a front-line service in Dublin’s north inner city, where those suffering with addiction and their families can get access to much needed support and treatment options. H.O.P.E. facilitates and advocates for recovery through abstinence. We also offer a wide range of advocacy services. H.O.P.E.’s free and confidential drop-in clinic is open from 10am ‘til 1pm, Monday to Friday.

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