Menu Close

Is the AA 12-Step Program Really Successful?

People sitting in a circle at an AA 12-Step meeting

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has stated many times that anyone who follows the 12-Step approach will succeed. AA also states that failure is almost always the result of a member skipping steps or simply not taking all the steps seriously. Still, how often a program that follows 12-Step, like AA, succeeds has seen some debate. Other independent organizations have claimed this is far from the truth. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the program has a failure rate of up to 95%. Call 844.413.2690 to speak with someone from The Arbor Behavioral Healthcare’s knowledgeable and compassionate team about 12-Step immersion and how it helps our clients overcome addiction.

What Is the AA 12-Step Program?

AA is a program designed to help alcoholics, who suffer from physical and psychological dependence on alcohol. The 12-Step program was developed in the 1930s by two members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. This structure consists of 12 steps that a person must take to become a member of AA and be able to participate in a meeting. These steps involve:

  • Admitting a problem with alcohol
  • Seeking a higher power for guidance
  • Making amends for past wrongs

The 12-Step program is a spiritual reinforcement system that combines an understanding of addiction and a commitment to changing behavior. By working through the steps and attending meetings, members are provided with a safe environment to explore their addiction and a way to stay accountable.

Does the AA 12-Step Approach Work?

These inconsistencies regarding this approach’s failure rate come from the fact that different organizations define success differently. If a man attends AA and quits drinking, but relapses a year later, is that a success for the program or a failure? Can success only truly be counted if the person never drinks again? When it comes to addiction, measuring success can be messy.

Several organizations believe true success only exists if the addict never drinks again. If this is true, then how are we to measure the effectiveness of any addiction program? That criterion would mean the only way we know a program is a success is if we evaluate a person’s life after they die. If we discount that requirement as too harsh, then what criteria should be used?

For many proponents of the 12-Step program, success is measured by pretty much any length of time that the addict has managed to stay sober. That—they believe—is proof enough that the program can successfully get people to walk away from their addictions. While these programs do focus heavily on keeping alcoholics clean, proponents feel it is unfair to consider the program a failure if someone has a regression. As a matter of fact, many experts believe that failure is part of the path to success. Most people struggling with addiction recovery do fall back into addiction multiple times before finally walking away from addiction forever.

Since AA uses mentors to help alcoholics stay dry, they feel that the 95% failure rate is an unfair assessment. No matter how you define success, one fact is inarguable: Many recovering alcoholics attribute their success to AA. Many believe it depends entirely on the sponsor. If the sponsor is a good sponsor, success is more likely. AA, on the other hand, discounts that entirely. They claim that the program itself—if taken seriously and followed to completion—is a guarantee for success. The truth is, it’s probably a mix of both. A great sponsor will dramatically increase your chance of success, but probably because that sponsor takes the program very seriously.

Find the AA 12-Step Program in Texas at The Arbor Behavioral Healthcare

At the end of the day, we’re left with the question: Is the AA 12-Step program successful? Statistically, it’s not a question that can be conclusively answered, but perhaps that’s a good thing because it forces us to recognize that the best way to find the answer is simply to speak to someone that has found sobriety. Odds are, that person will be able to answer the question far better than any statistic. Contact The Arbor today at 844.413.2690 to learn more about 12-Step immersion at our facility in Texas.