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12-Step Programs Work

The evidence is in

In 2006, a headline-grabbing report which collated data from eight studies emerged suggesting the 12-step model for addiction recovery – advanced by groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous – was no more effective than other recovery approaches. The report concluded with a call for more evidence and further study. Those results are now in. 

Released in 2020, a more recent, comprehensive study which collated over 27 studies involving more 10,565 participants has corrected those original findings, concluding that 12-step programs do actually provide a measurable superior chance at recovery. 

“Clinically‐delivered 12‐step facilitation interventions designed to increase AA participation usually lead to better outcomes over the subsequent months to years in terms of producing higher rates of continuous abstinence,” the report concluded. “This effect is achieved largely by fostering increased AA participation beyond the end of the Twelve‐Step Facilitation intervention.”

Studies show that addiction treatments tend to result in 15% to 25% of individuals remaining abstinent, though with Alcoholics Anonymous between 22% and 37% of people studied remain abstinent. 

“For people already in treatment, if they add AA to it, their outcomes are superior than those who just get treatment without AA,” Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor and co-author of the study, told the New York Times.

 

 

For Alyssa Lalor, Clinical Program Director at Sydney's South Pacific Private, the research is confirmation of the program’s framework and the focus on group therapy and ongoing group participation past the point of discharge. South Pacific incorporates participation with external AA groups into its inpatient rehab program, and encourages continued attendance longer-term. This group-work can bind participants to their recovery, providing social validation, reducing feelings of isolation and encouraging improved relational skills.

“We’re constantly monitoring research and refining our program based on the latest findings, so it’s welcome news to have the 12-step approach backed up by such a prominent study,” Lalor says. “Our experience tells us that maintaining a connection with the recovery community, working through a long-term recovery plan, and incorporating group sessions into that plan are key factors in long-term success.”

“That doesn’t mean AA is for everyone,” she says, “but it’s critically important for all treatment centres to help design an long-term support program for everyone who comes through their doors, and to make sure it’s a plan which works for them.”

“Some of the more complex theories might seem debatable, but when you zoom out, the overall concept of intergenerational trauma is rather obvious,” Lalor says. “If a person has been through severe trauma or is struggling with addiction or mental illness, their ability to parent will be compromised. Their children are less likely to see the modelling of healthy adult behaviour, and they’ll be at a higher risk of challenges stemming from that experience as they progress into their own adulthood.”

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From Meth Addiction To Recovery

The medicine had become my poison

I came to the front door for rehab at South Pacific Private in Sydney's Northern Beaches with a $500 a day ice addiction and pot dependency which I needed to get myself to sleep each evening. Despite the severity of the situation, I had little idea how sick I was back then. 

I didn’t come because I had some spiritual awakening, I didn’t have a light-bulb moment, it was simply that the drugs stopped working. There is a saying in Narcotics Anonymous that “chemicals medicate pain.” For me, the drugs had long stopped medicating – the medicine had become my poison. 

I didn’t use ice to enhance my Saturday nights, I used so I wouldn’t think, feel or dream. For a while, the chemicals ticked those boxes. For a while, I thought I was the puppet master changing my world both instantly and dramatically. I didn’t notice that I had morphed into a slave to a substance I thought I needed more than oxygen.

 

 

On my third night in rehab, during a medically supervised detox, I went into a psychotic fit of involuntary spasms. An ambulance was called and I was taken to Manly Hospital. The next few days were spent having brain scans to determine whether I was epileptic and was suffering fits. They proved negative, it was the beginning of my body detoxifying.

Recovery isn’t always a straight line. I stayed clean for three hours after my first admission. After my second admission, I stayed clean for seven months before a single case of relapse. I came into my third admission after three months clean, and was sent back to rehab by my GP who said I was on the verge of a major relapse and needed to go somewhere safe.

“The only courageous thing I did was ask for help and admit that if I had no idea how to stop using, maybe someone else did.”

My diagnosis for that third admission was 'complex grief.' In the space of just a week, my ex-wife had died prematurely of a rare cancer, an intimate relationship collapsed and my best friend moved overseas.

That third visit was significant because of the depth of the work I was able to focus on to resolve issues of intimacy, avoidance and relationships. Once I was clean, I was able to focus my attention on addressing more substantial issues. I had the opportunity to ‘re-parent’ my inner child, which raised my awareness of how my childhood experiences had led to destructive coping mechanisms in later life.

I learned more about my issues with avoidance and adapted behaviour, and how I could work on them going forward. After that inpatient stay, I was fortunate to engage with the Transitions Program for three months, four days a week.

Writing this now, I am nearly six and a half years clean. I worked through a 12-step program and began my journey by doing a meeting a day for two years, and ringing my sponsor every day for that period. 

 

 

I thought recovery from addiction was a 10-day detox focused on switching from extreme use to a more manageable diet of substances. I never signed up for abstinence nor for a deep searching personal inventory, but that’s what I got. I now recognise that it’s the only way I could have found freedom from the addiction cycle, which had become a soul-destroying nightmare.

I learnt at South Pacific Private that early recovery takes about five years, and have discovered that this is a journey you should never travel alone, that it demands a comprehensive support network. The only courageous thing I did was ask for help and admit that if I had no idea how to stop using, maybe someone else did.

If you’re at the beginning of your journey and thinking about rehab for the first time – or struggling with relapse further down the track – reach out today. Freedom is out there, if you take that first step.

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Learn more about addiction and recovery with South Pacific Private.