What Role do 12 Step Support Groups Play in Drug Treatment?

Anyone who’s abused drugs for months at a time well knows how uncomfortable the physical and emotional effects of drug abuse can be. Emotional distress coupled with developing withdrawal symptoms can easily keep a person using drugs, with no end in sight.

Overall, the drug treatment process addresses these aspects of addiction through a range of interventions. The role of 12 Step support groups works to reinforce the principles and practices learned in formal drug treatment programs.

Principles learned in drug treatment provide an understanding on how withdrawal effects, emotional distress and drug cravings work to promote ongoing drug abuse. The practices that characterize 12 Step support groups equip recovering addicts with the tools needed to replace this addiction cycle with a drug-free style of living.

The Addiction Cycle

12 Step Support Groups

Support groups provide participants with encouragement and motivation to stay sober.

During the early stages of drug use, the brain’s growing dependence on a drug’s effects precipitates episodes of withdrawal as the brain loses its ability to regulate bodily functions as normal. At this point, the body’s physical dependence on drugs accounts for continued drug abuse. According to the Journal of Neuorpsychopharmacology, these developments mark the beginnings of the addiction cycle.

While the “high” effect brought about by drugs may well drive continued drug use during the early stages of addiction, the expectations surrounding this effect become the motivating factors once a full-blown addiction takes hold. This expectation breeds its own patterns of thinking and emotion that ultimately give way to the addiction cycle and the mindset that comes with it.

12 Step Support Group Objectives

Replacing the addiction mindset with healthy ways of managing daily life stressors and pressures is the focus and overall role of 12 Step support groups within the drug treatment process. With regular attendance at 12 step support meetings, a person learns how to break the addiction cycle by applying practical strategies for coping with day-to-day life pressures.

These treatment objectives can be seen in the 12 Steps that structure support group process in terms of the principles that underlie this treatment approach:

  • Seeing addiction for the destructive force that it is
  • Developing healthy attitudes towards self and others
  • Developing healthy thinking
  • Developing drug-free based habits and behaviors in daily life

As with any lifestyle, the types of people with which you associate have a considerable bearing on your attitude and daily outlook. In this respect, 12 Step support groups act as a support network made up of individuals who face the same temptations and challenges. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, this “support group” aspect provides much in the way of encouragement, direction and support during times when the urge to use is strongest.

How Can I Attend 12-step Meetings without Abandoning My Other Responsibilities?


For many, the drug treatment process can be long and difficult. While committing to yet another form of treatment may be the very last thing you want to do after completing a rehab program, 12 Step support groups essentially pick up where formal drug treatment leaves off in terms of helping you maintain abstinence on a day-to-day basis.

If you or someone you know are considering joining a 12 Step program or support group and have more questions about how these programs work, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-781-0748 (Who Answers?)  to speak with one of our addictions specialists.

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