Article: Twelve-Step Programs as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy and Psychopharmacology.

Chanin A. (2000) “Twelve-Step Programs as an Adjunct to Psychotherapy and Psychopharmacology.” Primary care companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2(4): 130-133

Although traditional psychotherapy and the use of psychotropic medications are important components of addiction treatment, patients often require further coping tools to maintain long-term abstinence. As a resource available to patients within their communities, twelve-step programs based on the Alcoholics Anonymous model serve this function by providing recovering addicts with ongoing support and a spiritual foundation for recovery. “Working the steps” helps patients to achieve their highest potential, while conquering obsessive-compulsive or acting-out behavior.

There are several benefits of 12-step programs that support recovery, outside the traditional therapist-patient relationship. Many patients respond well to the community aspect of this program, finding that sharing their problems with others who have direct, similar experiences frees them from the isolation they experience as a result of their addiction and helps them to work through their problems. Perhaps most important is the spiritual aspect of 12-step programs, which involves putting one’s trust in a power greater than oneself — followed by going on to helping others by becoming a sponsor to another group member or performing other acts of service.  Embracing a personally defined sense of spirituality enhances patients’ sense of fulfillment and meaning in their lives. By working to achieve the goals of laying a spiritual foundation for life, sharing with others, and helping those less fortunate, patients can overcome their previous experiences of anguish, inadequacy, and addiction.

While there are many different types of 12-step programs available to address a wide array of behavioral problems, they all share the common goal of helping the person who suffers. In guiding patients according to spiritual principles for life transformation, 12-step programs have been found to be undeniably successful in helping recovering addicts achieve lifelong abstinence. Primary care physicians should be aware of the advantages of 12-step programs so that will be prepared to refer patients to “work the 12 steps,” the ultimate goal of which is to help the patient protect his or her own sobriety and to rise to a new level of empathy, objectivity, and service.

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