Support meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other similar 12-step programmes are one way for people struggling with substance abuse or recovery to find an understanding and supportive environment.
One of the primary aspects that sets it apart from other treatments is highly structured and can be applied to every kind of addiction. This versatility makes it ideal as a resource for people who might be otherwise unable to get support due to financial instability.
It is freely available in communities and is a safe space for individuals to share their pains, successes, struggles, and goals with people who are intimately familiar with what they are going through.
The 12-step programme format is modelled after Alcoholics Anonymous and was initially created by the same group. This format is commonly implemented at alcohol rehab clinics in the UK.
There are groups to deal with any kind of addiction, including extreme internet obsession, sex, drugs, gambling, eating disorders, shoplifting, and any other compulsive habit-forming behaviour that is unwanted and negatively affects a person’s life.
A report from 2006 and 2007 showed that 45% of attendees to these meetings were dealing with alcohol dependency while 22% were addicted to drugs, and 33% experienced a combination of the two. 
The majority of people who attend 12-step programmes were directed there from more traditional avenues of therapy (e.g., treatment facility, personal therapist, etc.), with 59% reporting that they were in counselling before joining a local group. 
There is no consensus on how many people who use 12-step treatments are able to remain sober long term. Some sources put it that number as high as 50% while others state it is barely over 5%.
This discrepancy does little to take away from the fact that millions of people around the world find this treatment useful and productive. 
It helps many find peace and determination to take control of their future with the structured recovery this kind of group therapy provides.
How the 12 Step Programmes Work to Improve Recovery
There is an accepted framework to 12-step programmes that provide structure and a proven method for treating addiction and validating recovery.
The exact steps can be altered to fit whatever habit-forming condition is being treated, but they are all very similar and inspired by the initial steps which were based on those taught at AA.
These philosophies are also often worked directly into rehabilitation facilities, so the transition from inpatient to outpatient meetings is relatively smooth.
In addition to following the recovery guidelines, sharing experiences to help each other work through difficult moments or successes is also a hallmark of 12-step groups. 
A Holistic Philosophy
These types of meetings take a holistic philosophical approach to treatment and recovery with the understanding that every part of a person (e.g., spiritual, physical, mental) needs to be in sync and move forward in order to maintain successful sobriety.
There is also an emphasis on a higher power outside of yourself, which can be interpreted in whatever way is most helpful to you personally.
The 12 steps provide a blueprint for introspection, which will allow you to see the ways in which addiction has negatively impacted your life while at the same time giving a useful path forward.
The Original 12 Steps
The original guidelines written for AA in 1938 became the guiding philosophy for all following similar groups.
They include the following 12 steps, which can be altered (e.g., examples in parenthesis).
The 12 Steps is commonly altered to fit whatever addiction is being addressed by that specific programme or group.
Below, we list each of the 12 steps:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs
Benefits of Using the 12-Step Method of Recovery
An advantage of using the 12-step method is that it works for dual diagnosis as well.
This makes it one of the few treatment options for someone recovering from both substance abuse and a mental health disorder.
One reason for that is the accepting, open atmosphere of the meetings helps people feel safer expressing their struggles, whether they are physical (e.g., withdrawal, sickness due to substance abuse, etc.) or mental (e.g., depression, anxiety, or other co-occurring disorders). 
- Community: Finding a community to replace the one that you had while abusing a substance can be one of the more challenging life changes once rehabilitation is complete. Changing the people around you is one of the first steps toward making a new, positive environment where you can grow and embrace recovery. . Especially in this time when social distancing and community lockdowns are still in effect, a 12-step group can become a haven for human connection even if it has been relegated to online meetings.
- It is Free: One of the benefits of this treatment is that it can be found in almost any community, and it is free. Rehabilitation facilities and their treatments are costly, and most insurances only cover the bare minimum of care. The NHS only covers facility care for severe cases, and even then, the amount of coverage varies significantly between cases. . Most people cannot afford the high cost of getting the help that they need. The 12-step programmes are able to fill in this gap and provide resources and an environment that fosters healing and recovery. Since the spread of COVID-19 online 12-step groups have become popular, making it easier than ever to get the support you need at any time.
- Meetings for Friends and Family: Unlike most support organisations, the 12-step programme also has local group meetings for friends and family of people experiencing addiction or recovery. They are a place where loved ones can ask questions, get understanding from others experiencing similar circumstances, and get information on how to best support the person in their life who is overcoming addiction
In-Patient Versus Out-Patient
While the philosophy remains unchanged, whether you are attending meetings inside or outside of a rehabilitation facility, there will be some differences in the format that it takes, including the number of participants.
- Inpatient: When an individual is partaking in a 12-step programme within an in-patient treatment centre’s confines, the structure and support are much more apparent. They have access to medication and one-on-one therapy in addition to the 12-step treatment. Also, in-patient meetings are usually mandatory as a part of the treatment plan and will need to be attended for the duration of rehabilitation
- Outpatient: Once you complete your treatment in that facility, there are local chapters of 12-step programmes that you can find and attend. Some people find comfort in going to more than one, and there are usually multiple times and days of the week to make sure that there are meetings to accommodate people with different schedules. These are more relaxed, and there is no one making you attend them, which can take the pressure off, but consistency is one of the essential keys to success when it comes to this kind of treatment. Even though meetings will no longer be mandatory, you can benefit from sticking to a schedule
Important Aftercare Details
Aftercare is vital to remaining sober, and 12-step programmes are especially well suited to help with this in that they are easy to transition through between in-patient and out-patient options.
Most meetings follow the same format and style so that you can attend any of them and get the same result. 
- Stick to a Schedule: As previously mentioned, consistency is going to make the most significant difference when it comes to the overall effectiveness of the programme. Making excuses to skip meetings is one of the first steps towards sliding back into bad habits, so creating a schedule and sticking to it will keep you moving forward in recovery
- Accountability and Encouragement: Being held accountable for your behaviour might be something that you need. Like with AA, you can get someone from the group or a therapist to work as an accountability partner to help you keep up with meetings, following the steps, and encouraging you during difficult times. If you encounter a trigger or some other situation that makes you wary of relapsing, you can go to a meeting to help you through that moment or reach out to your accountability partner 
Will a 12-Step Programme Be Right for Me?
What is fantastic for one person may not work for someone else. Everyone has a unique, healing journey. Various 12-step programmes have been around a long time, and they have been used by a wide variety of demographics.
There is no way to know if you will find it beneficial or not without trying, and if you do not, then there are always other treatment options like traditional counselling and different types of self-help groups.