12-Step Treatment Research

Many experts believe that the 12 Steps are an integral part of any drug rehab program. But for decades, the success of AA/NA was based primarily on word of mouth and anecdotal evidence rather than scientific research.

However, in the past 10 years, new support for the 12 Steps has surfaced, thanks in large part to a wave of studies that have confirmed the effectiveness of 12-Step based addiction treatment.

What the Research Says

Because 12-Step meetings and AA/NA involvement are viewed as ongoing, regular commitments, researchers have found that the 12-Step approach is highly supportive of long-term recovery. Studies show that those who combine traditional addiction treatment and 12-Step groups are more likely to achieve long-term recovery than those who use either approach alone.

Two prominent researchers, Fiorentine and Hillhouse, followed 356 clients entering outclient treatment in Los Angeles and found that clients who attended 12-Step meetings at least once per week before treatment stayed in treatment longer and were more likely to complete treatment. Moreover, clients who stayed in treatment longer, completed treatment and attended 12-Step groups weekly had significantly higher rates of abstinence than those who did not meet all three criteria.

Project MATCH, a large national study published in 1998 that was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, also offers support for the effectiveness of the 12-Step model. In this study, researchers compared three different approaches to addiction treatment: Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy.

After randomly assigning 806 clients to five outclient treatment centers that provided these three treatments, researchers found that Twelve-Step Facilitation Therapy worked as well as the other two approaches. In fact, the 12 Steps offered a statistically significant advantage when total abstinence was the desired outcome.

Another study, conducted by Richard Longabaugh, EdD, associate director of the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, found that the 12 Steps were particularly beneficial for individuals with little social support for abstinence from friends and family members.

Other studies have echoed these findings, demonstrating that 12-Step participation is directly linked to high abstinence and recovery rates.

Finding 12-Step Based Substance Abuse Treatment

For the best chance at lasting recovery, research suggests a combination of intensive therapy and 12-Step participation. One of the most effective forms of addiction treatment is wilderness rehab programs like Four Circles Recovery Center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

As a research-based addiction treatment program, Four Circles is firmly rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. The program’s unique hybrid model, which combines wilderness expeditions with traditional substance abuse treatment at base camp, gives clients the opportunity to attend 12-Step meetings in the community, put into practice the new skills they’ve developed in the wilderness, and cultivate independent living skills such as meal planning and time management.

“Young people can take the 12 Steps with them wherever they go after Four Circles,” says Todd Weatherly, MEd, the program’s Executive Director. “As part of our comprehensive discharge planning, we make sure our clients know where their local meetings are held and are comfortable attending community-based recovery meetings.”

By growing comfortable with the 12-Step approach during treatment, young adults are more likely to continue using this support system after they leave the safety and structure of a drug rehab program. They are also more likely to build a spiritual connection, which has proven to assist in long-term sobriety.

Four Circles is a holistic addiction treatment program that addresses all “four circles” of an individual’s life: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. The 12-Step philosophy is the framework for recovery at Four Circles because it has been proven effective and is widely available as a long-term support system. Group meetings can be found just about anywhere in the country, seven days a week, and provide a nonjudgmental outlet for support and encouragement.

We are affiliated with the following organizations, which provide accreditation, education, and training to ensure quality behavioral health and addiction treatment.
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP)
  • Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council
  • The Jason Foundation