12 Misconceptions About 12 Step Meetings

1. They are only for religious people.

While the words “God” and “higher power” are a part of the 12 Steps, you do not have to be religious to benefit from them. People from different faiths, as well as agnostics and atheists attend 12 Step meetings. The “higher power” in the steps can be interpreted as the individual sees fit, for many who are not religious the “higher power” can be the strength of the recovery group or loved ones.

2. They are a cult.

Sure, a large group of people uttering “it works if you work it” in unison sounds a little cult-like, but that’s where all comparisons end. There is no totalitarian leader, no brainwashing, no one forcing you to stay, and no one telling you what to think or how to act. What you will find is a diverse group of people with two things in common: the desire to stay sober and the drive to work for it.

3. They are just for old people.

12 Step has been around for over 70 years, so there are people who have been in the program for decades. But the program is not just for “old-timers.” Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and neither does 12 Step. The program works for anyone who puts in the effort.

4. They are for criminals.

Hollywood is probably to blame for this one, since most movies show AA meetings cold, dark rooms filled with sketchy characters. But the truth is that 12 Step meetings are filled with an incredibly diverse group of people from all walks of life. From CEOs to yes, ex-cons. And the great thing about 12 Step is that none of that matters because everyone in that room has one thing in common: the desire to become a better person.

5. They are for the weak.

12 Step programs are a form of self-care and support. It takes strength to admit that you need help and even more courage to ask for it. Participating a 12 Step program is far from a sign of weakness. Remember, you are stronger as a group than as an individual.

6. They are boring.

Sure, some meetings may be boring, but others can change your life. You never know when you will hear a story that will deeply resonate with you, inspire you, and change you for the best. It may take some time, but eventually you will find the right 12 Step meeting for you. And remember, the more you attend, the more comfortable you will feel.

7. They will make you relapse.

Many people fear that hearing “war stories” or being surrounded by others struggling with addiction will trigger them back into relapse, but for the most part, stories about drinking and drugs are frowned upon. The majority of what is shared is about beating addiction, overcoming struggles, spiritual growth, and personal successes.

8. They will force you to share your secrets with strangers.

No one will force you to share anything you don’t want to. You can just go, sit, and listen, if that’s all you are comfortable with at first. However, sharing your experiences, struggles, and successes can significantly strengthen your recovery.

9. They have too many rules and requirements.

While there are principles to guide you into making positive lifestyle changes, and guidelines to help meetings run smoothly, there is only one requirement for the program: the desire to stop drinking and using drugs.

10. They are filled with unwelcoming cliques.

There are meetings where people tend to stick with their friends, but in general 12 Step meetings are filled with friendly, welcoming individuals who try to make newcomers feel comfortable. If you have a negative experience at a 12 Step meeting, try finding another one. Don’t let one person ruin your chance to grow in your recovery.

11. They are designed to make you feel helpless against your addiction.

Step 1 says you must accept that you are powerless against your addiction, and sometimes people take this to mean that they will never achieve sobriety or live a “normal” life. What it actually means, is that you must accept that you have no control over your alcohol or drug intake. That you can’t have just one. And as long as addiction is ruling your life, you’re not truly in control of it. You can, however, put in the work, overcome your addiction, and regain control of your life. 12 Step is designed to strengthen your recovery and make you feel stronger, not to make you feel helpless.

12. They don’t work.

While some people are skeptical of the success of 12 Step programs, there is also countless people who credit their sobriety to 12 Step. And the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) all recommend AA or similar groups as they claim that programs that facilitate patients’ engagement within groups are the most effective for addictive behavior change.