How Effective Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

How Effective Is Alcoholics Anonymous? 

Asking for help with addiction is a brave step to take. We understand how frustrating or challenging it is to take that difficult step and still feel unsure about the help you’re receiving. 

Does this method resonate with me? Is it working for me? 

If questions like these arise as you’re going through an addiction treatment program, it doesn’t mean you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s important to make room to reflect on your recovery experience. It’s also natural to want to learn as much as possible about your treatment program. 

The most conventional form of alcohol addiction treatment in the United States is Alcoholics Anonymous. There are an estimated 1.3 million AA members in the country alone. 

While AA is a widely known form of addiction treatment, plenty of other treatment options exist. If one program doesn’t work for you, there are still other options.

Most people who have gone through addiction recovery have been to an AA meeting. While AA and its 12 Steps work for some, it may not resonate with others. 

At The Sanctuary, our holistic, non-12-Step addiction treatment program offers an alternative path to AA. 

The key question about any addiction treatment program is, “does it work?” We explore more on that below. 

What Happens in AA? 

AA describes itself as a fellowship: a group of people who are all working towards the same goal of sobriety. Members attend meetings where they discuss the 12 Steps, though sometimes they opt for simply sharing their experience. These meetings are open to anyone who wants to work towards sobriety. Though there’s no formal agenda involved, they generally follow a similar format:

  1. Opening the meeting
    A chairperson will open the session by reading the AA Preamble. In some meetings, this is followed by a short group prayer. Contrary to what’s shown in popular media, the chairperson isn’t necessarily a guidance counselor – rather, they’re a member of the AA community themselves.
  1. Discussing the 12 Steps
    Afterward, the group goes over passages of AA literature from the Alcoholics Anonymous book, otherwise known as “the Big Book.” Written by one of AA’s founding members, the Big Book goes into detail on the 12 Steps that AA follows. In some meetings, the chairperson and members discuss one or more of the 12 Steps from the book.
  1. Open story sharing
    Towards the end of the meeting, the floor opens to sharing sessions where anyone can talk about whatever is on their mind.
  1. Closing prayer
    The meeting closes with reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which is an optional step.

AA Follows the 12-Step Approach to Recovery: What Does That Mean?

AA follows the 12-Step principles. These steps were originally listed in The Big Book and now form the basis of over 74% of treatment centers in the United States.

What are the 12 Steps? 

The 12 Steps is based on the disease model of addiction. Under this paradigm, addiction is viewed as a chronic, lifelong disease. This standpoint comes through in the first of the 12 Steps, which states: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

The 12 Step approach asserts that in order to reach lifelong recovery, the only path you can take is to abstain from alcohol for life.

In AA, the road to recovery involves working through the 12 Steps. The format generally looks like this:

  • Admit your powerlessness to addiction
  • Surrender to a higher power
  • Self-reflect  
  • Make amends with those you’ve wronged
  • Pray to a higher power for help

Once completing all 12 Steps, AA members usually stay to mentor others who are going through the same process.

How Effective Is AA?

Given the anonymous nature of AA, it’s difficult to collect accurate data on the efficacy of its treatment model. In short, we don’t yet know how effective AA is.  

That being said, some people who’ve gone through AA have pointed to a number of its benefits. A few common ones include: 

  1. AA is accessible
    You can find AA meetings in every state. They’re held in easy-to-reach community centers or churches, with meetings running throughout the day to fit different types of schedules. Meetings are now held virtually over Zoom, making them even more accessible. 
  1. It’s free
    AA has always been free of charge. This model makes it a viable option for many. For those who are unaware of other free addiction recovery programs, sometimes AA is seen as the only option.
  1. You’re part of a fellowship
    A strong support group is an important part of the addiction recovery process. AA offers a network of peers that is vital for many.
  1. You’re held accountable
    Peers can offer much-needed support, but on top of that, they hold you accountable. Many in AA feel that this level of accountability helps them abstain from substances.

Why Hasn’t AA Worked for Some?

However, AA doesn’t resonate with everyone. Common drawbacks include: 

  1. AA has religious roots
    AA has religious roots, which is still apparent in the program. Surrendering to a higher power is a major element of the 12 Step approach and can be found in over 50% of the steps. This becomes a major barrier for those who aren’t religious or don’t want to identify with a religion.
  1. Labeling can hinder recovery
    The first of the 12 Steps is to admit your powerlessness over addiction. The “once an addict, always an addict” mentality doesn’t always resonate, and labeling yourself as a lifelong addict can hinder your ability to imagine and design an addiction-free life.
  1. There’s the fear of relapse
    Some people find that the fear of relapse is too emphasized in AA. Living under this cloud of fear makes it hard to envision other possibilities for your life.
  1. AA lacks scientific evidence
    AA isn’t based on scientific evidence and lacks evidence-based therapies. Because it is anonymous, it’s difficult to get concrete data regarding the program’s effectiveness.

While AA has its benefits and drawbacks, the good news is more people are becoming aware that it’s not the only path to addiction recovery. There are alternatives available. 

What Are Alternatives to AA and the 12 Steps? 

We want you to know that there are options outside of AA.

A number of addiction treatment programs don’t follow the 12-Step approach. These non-12-Step programs are often secular and offer a more evidence-based approach to treatment. With more people searching for AA alternatives, programs like these have been on the rise.

AA isn’t the only free resource available either. Free, non-12-Step programs have been gaining traction since they were introduced in the mid-90s. SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), and Women for Sobriety are just a few examples.  

What Makes The Sanctuary Different From AA? 

The Sanctuary is a holistic, non-12-Step addiction treatment center. Our approach to treatment is different from AA and traditional 12-Step rehabs. Here’s how:

We’re non-12-Step

This doesn’t mean that we’re anti-12-Step. It just means the foundations of our program and our recovery model is fundamentally different from the 12-Step approach.

Our program is holistic

In the world of medicine, holistic means “consideration of the whole person.” Our program places equal weight on every aspect of addiction recovery care: the clinical, scientific, energetic, physical, and nutritional. In other words, we address the whole you, and every part is integrated to work in tandem with all others.

We take you on a complete healing journey

The end goal of our program at The Sanctuary isn’t just sobriety. It’s to build a life of purpose and joy outside of addiction. In order to get there, we guide you through these four stages of healing:

  • Identify the coping strategies and beliefs you’ve built around your past traumas.
  • Uncover and reclaim hidden parts of yourself.
  • Visualize a future where you’re living out your life purpose.
  • Discover the things that bring you purpose and joy.
  • Integrate what you’ve learned at The Sanctuary and create a new way of living.
  • Feel fully engaged in your own life.

We believe in empowerment

We don’t view you as broken. Instead, we fully believe you can recover and create profound life change. We empower you to shed limiting beliefs and envision a new life for yourself. 

Is It Possible to Recover From Addiction?

Our belief in your ability to recover isn’t just a theory. Modern scientific discoveries in biology and neuroscience prove that it is possible to rewire our brain and influence our DNA. These findings are known as epigenetics, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity.   

Epigenetics explained

Epigenetics reveals that our ideas, perceptions, and environment all influence our genes. This runs contrary to traditional beliefs that our genes are unchangeable and set in stone since birth. Rather, by changing our beliefs, we can re-inform our DNA and heal. 

Understanding neuroplasticity

Our brain is capable of forming new neural networks. This is known as neuroplasticity. The new connections we form allow us to overcome traumatic experiences and brain injuries, essentially altering our brain’s hardware.

The Sanctuary’s program includes treatment modalities that boost your brain’s ability to form these new connections. For example, we offer daily meditation (which alters brain waves) and supplements for brain support.

What we know about neurogenesis

Neurogenesis refers to our brain’s ability to create new neurons throughout our lifetime. Just like our other organs, the brain can regenerate itself. Furthermore, we have a protective brain hormone (BNFH) which boosts our brain’s ability to repair and regenerate. This discovery has huge implications in addiction recovery treatment. Science proves that we can increase this specific hormone through non-pharmaceutical, holistic treatments.       

How Effective Is The Sanctuary’s Program?

Thanks to advances in neuroscience technology, we’re able to measure the effectiveness of our addiction treatment program using a method called brain mapping. 

Brain mapping is a non-invasive procedure that measures the brain’s electrical activity. Through this process, you’re able to see how your brain waves move through your brain, which regions of the brain are overactive or under-active, and how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. 

The results of these tests have been incredible: our clients have seen visible differences in brain function before and after our program. 

On top of that, clients have stated that they’ve noticed real, profound changes:    

“My body feels different. My mind feels different… I’m moving in the world with a different sensibility and a sense of clarity.”

“I was able to change so much about myself, so much about how I think and obliterate my negative thinking. I really changed who I was.”

The Sanctuary Offers a New Option: Holistic, Non-12-Step Addiction Treatment 

Imagine a life where every day is full of meaning. A life where you feel whole again. Where true transformation means feeling well and free from the weight of addiction. It’s possible to get there.

We offer the tools and guidance to help you create a life that’s not just about being sober, but about connecting with your essence, creativity, and joy. Contact us to begin your recovery journey today.