If you’ve ever struggled with drug addiction or alcohol abuse, someone has probably recommended a 12 step program to you at once point. It’s practically expected – you have a problem with alcohol, you go to AA. However, many people believe that these programs are ineffective or even harmful. The following are some of the reasons why.

The groups are centered around Christianity. Many people who practice another religion or are atheists feel like they have no place in a group that emphasizes the importance of God. Several of the 12 steps reference a higher power:

  • Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

It’s possible, of course, to substitute your own higher power and still be successful, but those who are not religious find it difficult to connect with the steps.

Similarly, the steps emphasize the addict’s powerlessness and suggest that God has all of the control. Some people believe that this allows addicts to not take responsibility for their own actions. Even accepting that addiction is a disease and that some risk factors can’t be controlled, there are still choices involved. If you don’t take personal responsibility, there are aspects of your life that may never return to what they were, particularly your relationships with others.

There are no therapists, psychologists, or physicians present at the meetings. They’re led by someone who has been through the recovery process, which some people might view as a good thing. Someone who’s never been in your shoes can’t know exactly what it’s like, after all. On the other hand, just because someone has personal experience with recovery doesn’t mean that they are qualified to help others. Medical and mental health professionals spend years in school learning their trades.

These groups advocate an abstinence-only approach, which isn’t always effective. Many people end up relapsing or giving up because they’ve had a single drink or hit of a drug and think that all of their efforts are ruined. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of binging and abstinence rather than allowing yourself to taper off or overcome the occasional mistake.


In the end, the decision is yours. Having a support network is vital, so if you don’t think a 12-step group is for you, try an alternative like individual or group therapy, or look for support groups online.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.