The Attraction of Twelve Step Programs

Many years ago, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous instituted a policy, ‘’attraction rather than promotion’ and put it specifically in one of The 12 Traditions. It is the reason you won’t see advertisements on radio and TV saying, “Have a drinking problem? Come to AA!”. They decided this would turn people off. When you think about it, it was a very bold assumption that sobriety for alcoholics would be THAT attractive that it would be all that was necessary to draw in men and women who needed help with their drinking problems. As proven time and time again, it was more than attractive enough. It worked extremely well. From 2 or 3 guys in the beginning to millions of recovering people worldwide and hundreds of “copycat” fellowships to boot! It’s amazing when you think about it that an organization can actually grow that large while almost TRYING to keep themselves unseen. Why it worked so well was probably due to what people saw going on at their meetings or what people saw in the faces of the recovering people. And there was certainly plenty of stuff going on at these meetings that kept people coming back. Let’s take a look at what is so attractive about 12 step programs and maybe why they are so appealing to so many people.

I guess one of the main reasons all these programs have grown so much is that, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” (or, in this case, NOT drink). When taken to a meeting, the “water” was so beautiful (the therapeutic value of one alcoholic helping another), that it was worth it for somebody who needed help really badly to at least try this thing. Once anybody opened their eyes at these meetings, the things they saw were incredible. Laughing, happy people who were not only clean and sober but seemed to have a blast doing it! There were people crying and sharing about their problems but that was just as attractive. They saw that there was a place to go to talk about what was going on in their lives. Realizing that, newcomers saw a glimmer of hope that they could stop their drinking and drugging. Also, they seemed to have found a home away from home. Here they acted like a big family that loved, understood and accepted each other. A fraternity/sorority type atmosphere even added icing to the cake for many who felt like social misfits; especially without a drink or a drug in them. A lot of these people didn’t seem to be rich or Bible thumpers but yet they were still very happy – they seemed to be living and enjoying life as so called “normal” people did. If nothing else attracted a new ‘prospect’, the jovial atmosphere at meetings alone was inviting.

Another thing seemed apparent right from the start – there were people who applauded (literally) if we managed to stay abstinent from our “problem” of choice. They even counted the consecutive days like a winning streak! Ah, they understood how much we loved __. They know how hard it is to stop. We loved that! And they were really kind of friendly – they even wanted us to come back! Lately, everybody had been saying, “don’t come back!” Well, the attractiveness of 12 step programs never seems to end. How about this one; you’re at a meeting and somebody is ‘telling their story. From the looks of them they have nothing in common with you. They start talking and it sounds like they’re telling YOUR life story – what the heck! And yes, it’s true. Birds of a feather do tend to flock together. Maybe that’s the main attraction, common issues. Furthermore, even when alcoholics, addicts, etc. weren’t ready to stop yet, when they DID become ready they knew exactly where to go. So why are 12 step programs seemingly the “only game in town?”

The answer is simple. These programs work! I guess the really surprising part of treatment these days is that with all the millions of dollars spent on research into the psychological and physiological aspects of addiction, all the millions spent by pharmaceutical companies spent on looking for a chemical cure, the first thing almost every rehab will say to do the moment you first get out of treatment is to MAKE A MEETING!

Written by Bruce Huberman