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12 Step Recovery as a Backbone for Treatment

Time and time again, I encounter men, women, and family members that try to explain to me that they or their loved one has tried 12 Step recovery and that it doesn’t work for them.

As a firm believer in the 12 Steps, as well as a man in recovery, this comment can be disheartening. I have watched so many recover from the hopelessness of addiction by the simple application of the 12 Step principles in their lives. As the Executive Director at Hanley Center, I feel confident assuring these family members that this framework can help address the mental and physical factors that exacerbate addiction as well as the spiritual disconnection that fuels it.

The vast majority of people who have been unsuccessful in 12 Step programs have been encouraged to go to 12 Step meetings and share about their day without being directed to actively work the 12 Steps of recovery. 

Typically, these people were drunk within days (and sometimes hours) after leaving that meeting. These patients, therefore, believe that their experience indicates that the 12 Step program doesn’t work.

When talking with a newcomer, I always like to know if they are basing their experience of 12 Step recovery on meetings alone. I also want to know if they have gone so far as to work all of the Steps. This includes sponsoring other seemingly hopeless alcoholics. Meeting attendance is terrific but simply going to meetings does not fix the problem. Recovery requires deeper work.

“Necessary but not sufficient” – that has always been my position on 12 Step meetings.

This is not to be misinterpreted – I love meetings. They are where I discovered this new way of life. They are also where I continue to find men that were just as hopeless as I once was. This experience is the lifeblood of my very existence. But in no way are the meetings I attend my “medicine”. They are the place where I unite with others that have been suffering from the same illness.

While I understand the position that one feels that a 12 Step program won’t work for them, it is vital to understand what the 12 Step program actually is, and that it is not simply attendance at a few weekly meetings.

Unlike other areas of my life where putting in a pedestrian effort equates to pedestrian results (such as my typical one and half day a week gym routine with minimal change in my diet) I might see some changes but significant changes are never going to happen. The time-honored 12 Step program doesn’t work like that. Without an entire psychic change, the real alcoholic has little chance of not drinking again. The complete 12 Step process guarantees a psychic change.

The 12 Steps are a well-defined pathway to achieving this internal change. This is why we utilize this as the backbone of our program at Origins.

The loss of the tangible application of the 12 Steps is a tragedy. Today, I let troubled men, women, and their family members know that they have yet to experience the 12 Steps of recovery.

Through the application of those principles, the struggling alcoholic or addict can truly recover.


Brad Sylvain

Executive Director of Hanley Center at Origins
















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