The twelve-step groups began with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and the approach has been adopted by many self-help groups (Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Cocaine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, etc.) and some professionally run ones that are incorporated in treatment programs. In a typical twelve-step group, individuals come together with a shared goal; in the case of AA or NA, the goal is to be clean and sober.
The twelve-step approach involves admitting that there is a problem and giving over one’s will to a “higher power,” however a person chooses to define that. Groups typically meet on a weekly basis, and some people may choose to attend multiple groups in the course of a week, this can be an especially effective technique early on in someone’s recovery from an addiction. Groups take a number of different formats, from a general sharing of experience to a single speaker to a discussion of a particular topic, such as one of the twelve steps, or a particular reading in the group’s literature.
Shared experience, fellowship and peer support are key components of twelve-step groups. In addition, people are encouraged to obtain a sponsor, an individual with a significant period of sobriety (usually many years), to act as a sort of coach or mentor. This relationship can be crucial during periods of high craving, when a phone call to one’s sponsor, and maybe meeting for a cup of coffee, may stave off a relapse.
The advantages of twelve-step groups can’t be overstressed. They are available in virtually all communities, they’re free, and they have a track record of success in helping people achieve and maintain sobriety.