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Why Do 12 Step Programs Work

The 12-Step recovery program

The 12-Step recovery program is so integrated into our culture that many can point to a friend or family member that’s been helped by a 12-Step support group of some kind. But why does it work, even for those who don’t believe in God, when the program is so spiritual in nature? New scientific research reveals some fascinating insights about why the 12-Step approach is so magnificently successful. Understanding the Molecular Neurobiology of Addiction Recovery Recent research showcases potential genetic causes and triggers that open the doorway to addiction. The more we understand how the brain works, the more insight we have into the correlation between stress and drug addiction. Neuroscience makes it possible to “hijack the brain” and connect the dots between healthy thinking and a healthy spirit. Few approaches incorporate the spiritual aspect of addiction recovery as effectively as the 12-step program. In fact, the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) itself was centered on one of the founders’ profound spiritual experience. But this approach to sober living has generated hostility and controversy, particularly among those who aren’t spiritual in nature. Still, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly highlights the neurological pull that a healthy spirit provides. According to National Geographic, addicts in recovery experience a “psychic change,” or a spiritual awakening through living the 12 Steps. This manifests through a behavioral transformation that makes sober living possible. In other words, the 12-step program helps addicts reconnect with their spirituality and with fellow human beings.  The prayer and meditation involved in the process has been shown to connect the left and right hemispheres of the brain, realigning neurons that have been damaged because of addiction. Intense emotion (such as the experience of ‘hitting bottom’ or a profound realization) can create a cognitive insight phenomenon that brings the right hemisphere in harmony with the left. The Psychological Benefits of the 12-Step Program Aside from the molecular neurobiology that makes sober living easier, addiction recovery solutions like the 12-step program provide emotional support. The reality is that willpower alone is generally not strong enough to achieve long-term sober living. Looking to a “higher power” provides strength that many people need to overcome temptation and successfully stay away from a drink or a drug ‘One Day at a Time’. Even for those who are uncomfortable with spirituality, the recognition of a “higher power” has been shown through psychology research to provide strength in recovery. Many young men establish a psychological dependence on the substances they once used. The meditation and techniques in the 12-step program can repair the structural damage in the brain, in essence training the brain to think differently. As the brain strengthens, young men are able to have a more holistic view of their lives. Encouragement from peers in the 12-step program reinforces these positive thoughts and makes sober living a realistic goal. The reality is that the 12-step principles aren’t random. While they may not have been created on scientific research, modern findings are showing that it works, and we’re starting to understand the science behind the spirit. Image Source