The 12 Steps Model of Alcoholics Anonymous views addiction from a disease and abstinence point of view. The 12 Steps involve admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction on their own, recognizing a higher power, examining past mistakes with the help of a sponsor (experienced member), asking for forgiveness and making amends, learning to live a new life with a new way of being, and helping others who suffer from the same addiction. This type of program offers weekly meetings where individuals are encouraged to attend and connect with other individuals who are struggling with their sobriety or addiction.
The 16 Steps was developed by Charlotte Kasl as an alternative to the 12 Steps program and the emphasis it has on religious power. The 16 Steps is an empowerment-based model which does not have any emphasis on religion. It is a holistic approach focusing on mind, body, and spirit in overcoming addiction. The 16-step model addresses issues of cultural diversity and internalized oppression stemming from any type of discrimination or stigmatization a person may experience. And while it is crucial to acknowledge the power of addiction, this model helps people affirm the power they do have to take charge of their lives and overcome addiction. Developing one’s passion, finding purpose, bonding with others and becoming involved in social change are seen as antidotes to addiction. This approach does not posture itself as the one way or the right way, nor does it make assumptions about the length of time it takes or the path that must be followed.
Both models have their strengths and their weaknesses. In determining which type of group or model would be right for you, I encourage you to try both. Also, if you like either philosophy, I recommend trying more than one group until you find the group that fits best with your values and beliefs. In terms of deciding which philosophy works best for you, I generally ask my clients these two questions:
-Do you view addiction as a disease, something you will always struggle with and is an inherent part of your identity? Do you call yourself an addict? (12 Steps)
-Do you view your substance use as an issue you are having right now? Do you view your addiction as being in a bad relationship? (16 Steps)
While I was doing my practicum, I was fortunate enough to facilitate a 16 Step Group every Thursday night. I enjoy this model because any of the steps could work for anyone even without an addiction. I had some clients who did both 12 Steps and 16 Steps groups. Your recovery is yours and it is sacred. You have the power to decide what works best for you.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. New York City, 1976
Charlotte Kasl, Many Roads, One Journey, 1991