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Home » The 12 steps may not work for everyone, but can transform lives – The Guardian

The 12 steps may not work for everyone, but can transform lives – The Guardian

Readers respond to an article by Oscar Quine, in which he described his experience of a 12-step rehabilitation programme for drug addiction
As co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for the 12-step programme for recovery from addictions, I am disappointed that Oscar Quine had been told that the 12 steps would cure his addiction (I was told the 12 steps would cure my addiction. Why did I end up feeling more broken?, 4 December). We do not claim that. The steps do not work for everyone, but they certainly do for many.
The original 12-step programme for alcoholism has been successfully adapted over the years for drugs, food, gambling and many other addictions. The 12 steps are not a religious programme, but they are spiritually based. Addicts need to connect with a power in their lives greater than whatever has led to their addiction.
Many addiction-free atheists and non-believers are among our fellows. They embrace, alongside those of many faiths, the simple spiritual principles of honesty, open-mindedness and a willingness to help others who suffer. Achieving change is most effective with daily diligent and disciplined practice of the steps. This can be challenging.
Anyone can get recovery for free if they are willing to work for it to the best of their ability. There are hundreds of 12-step live and Zoom meetings running across the UK and worldwide on a daily basis.
The APPG brings these facts to the attention of parliamentarians, government and public bodies, so that in turn those who suffer can find awareness of 12-step recovery. With public funding for addiction services so severely constrained, the entirely free and voluntary nature of 12-step recovery makes this work all the more important, particularly for addicts who cannot access private rehabilitation centres.
Clive Brooke
Labour, House of Lords
Oscar Quine is right that the 12-step model doesn’t work for everyone. It didn’t work for my sister, who died recently from a cancer related to prolonged alcohol abuse. But it does work for many others. I worked for five years at the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust, now the Forward Trust, which ran programmes based on the 12 steps. I met hundreds of people whose lives – and the lives of their families – were transformed by the programme. It’s not a panacea, it clearly takes hard work and commitment, but there was definitely nothing “joyless” about the people I met.
As I haven’t been through the 12 steps, I don’t want to talk as though I know more about it than I do, but the impression I got was that the reference to a “higher power” was based on individual choice, not formalised religion. What I do know is that the people I met who were helped by it seemed to be not just clean and sober, but somehow more alive than the rest of us.
Claire Wild
Oscar Quine’s experience of working a 12-step programme for addiction is not unheard of but, in my experience, is by no means common.
I am an atheist, and nearly 27 years sober as a reasonably regular attendee of AA meetings. I chose to attend meetings where there is neither a religious overtone nor prescriptive way of following the steps. Instead, I chose meetings where there is genuine kindness, empathy and fellowship. There are many such meetings.
The 12-step programme works, as far as I can see, by bringing together people who share a common problem and are at various stages of recovering. The group’s experience of recovery is generally wiser than the individuals. That is the power. People find new friends with a common cause.
The disease model of addiction is widely and internationally accepted. As is the success of the 12-step model in helping numerous people worldwide recover from substance addiction to lead clean, sober and contented lives. Inevitably, while it works for many people, 12-step recovery does not suit everyone. Outside professional help can often provide additional necessary support to resolve mental health and other issues, particularly associated with early-life trauma.
I wish Oscar the same contentment, self-acceptance and happiness in his recovery that I have found on my journey in 12-step recovery.
Peter North
Winchester, Hampshire
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