12 Step Statistics

Many people are curious of just how successful 12 step programs are; unfortunately, the nature of not only addiction and relapse, but also the nature of the programs themselves – anonymous, non-organizational – prevent wholly accurate and reliable figures.

One study regarding the effectiveness of the 12 step group Crystal Meth Anonymous showed a drop in sexual partners as well as unprotected anal intercourse declined by two thirds. Another study for Gamblers Anonymous showed that less than 8% of those who initially attend GA remain in the program and abstinent from gambling for over a year,

Critics of the 12 step program such as Stanton Peele generally refer to a success rate that tops out at 5%–a figure often refuted by organizations such as AA.

A famous Saturday Evening Post article from 1941 cited AA co-founder Bill Wilson as claiming its program enjoyed a 50% success rate immediately, and another 25% success rate after a relapse or two. The figures were repeated three years later in a piece published in The American Journal of Psychiatry. These articles – and the success rates – have been cited repeatedly over the years by both supporters of 12 step programs as indicative of their success – and critics of the program, as indicative of their deliberate misinformation.

Among the most recent assessments of the rates of success or failure comes from AA, entitled, “Alcoholics Anonymous Recovery Outcome Rates: Contemporary Myth and Misinterpretation” released on 1 January 2008. Its introduction states, “This paper is written for AA members and is intended for internal and public circulation as an item of AA historical and archival research. It is offered to help inform the AA membership and academic researchers of a widely circulated misinterpretation and mischaracterization of AA recovery outcomes” and it offers the following statistics for AA :

  • Of those in their first month of AA meetings, 26% will still be attending at he end of that year.
  • Of those in their fourth month of AA meeting attendance (i.e. have stayed beyond 90-days) 56% will still be attending AA at the end of that year.
  • The 2004 Survey showed an increase in the length of sobriety over the 2001 Survey (as has every triennial survey since 1983).
  • As of the 2004 Survey, long-term AA sobriety was so prevalent that the “Greater Than Five Years” range of previous surveys was subdivided into: 5-10 Years (14%) , >10 Years (36%), > 5 Years (50%).
  • For growth of AA sobriety ranges, the 1983 Survey showed 25% of AA members sober over 5 years and the 2004 Survey showed 50% of AA members sober over 5 years.
  • For growth of AA sobriety averages, the 1983 Survey found the average AA member sober for 4 years and the 2004 Survey found the average AA member sober for more than 8 years.

Since these numbers were generated by AA, it is only reasonable to take them with a grain of salt. All told, nailing down precise numbers on the success rates of 12 step programs is impossible, and generally a very biased business.