5 Common Misconceptions about the 12 Step Program

Treatment centers like Acceptance Recovery Center follow a 12-step approach. We do so because this program has a long-standing reputation for helping people stay sober while living their best life. This is far better than going through the motions of every day without being fully present.

Since its inception in 1939, the 12-step program has helped millions of people maintain sobriety. This program understands addiction as a disease and focuses on things like accountability, responsibility and forgiveness. While we’ve seen much good come from these programs, we also realize that there are a lot of misconceptions about it.

Today, we’re going to cover the biggest myths about the 12 steps and why they aren’t true. By the end of this article, you’ll have a better understanding of the 12 steps and how they can support your recovery.

Myth #1. 12 step programs are only for religious people.

When reading through the 12 steps, you’ll find a lot of language with “God” and “higher power.” It’s understandable that one would assume the 12 steps are deeply religious, and in order to benefit from them, you must believe in God. However, this is not true.

The reason for discussing “God” and a “higher power” is to get you believing in something greater than yourself. This could be Mother Nature or your own strength. There is no right or wrong idea. Many atheists and agnostics follow the 12 steps and have their own understanding of God

Bottom line: You can come from any faith or religious background – or none at all – and the 12 steps will still be relevant to your journey. You are free to interpret “God” and a “higher power” in any way that makes sense to you.

Myth #2. Sitting through AA/NA meetings is boring.

At first glance, sitting through countless AA or NA meetings might not look like a lot of fun. And, some meetings probably will be boring! But some can be life changing. And, as you grow more comfortable attending these meetings, they’ll feel more comfortable and familiar to you.

One of the things we tell our clients is to be patient in finding the right group for them. Each group is independently run with different members, leaving no two to be the same. So, if after a few sessions you’re still not clicking, try a different group. You can also ask some friends in recovery for their recommendations.

Myth #3. I’ll be forced to share my secrets with strangers.

Another common misconception about 12 step groups is that members are forced to share their deepest secrets and struggles with strangers. First, you will never be forced to share anything you don’t want to. In fact, many people spend the first few meetings in silence while taking in the stories around them. This is OK.

Once you are comfortable, you will be more willing to open up about past and current struggles. But this is different from sharing your secrets. You can talk about anything you want on a timeline that makes sense for you. In time, you will be able to strengthen your recovery by sharing your experiences, struggles and successes.

Myth #4. The meetings are like a cult or clique.

When you first leave treatment, it might feel like much of the world is in a separate clique from you! But this is just an illusion. In reality, you will find your way by opening yourself up to new friendships and social circles. 12 step groups are the perfect place to start because they are filled with welcoming, friendly individuals who are working on their own recoveries.

Again, most 12 step groups are inviting and make newcomers feel welcome – it’s what they do! If you do have a bad experience, don’t let one person ruin things for you. You can always find another group that makes you feel more comfortable. Furthermore, no one will ever tell you how to think or act – this is not a cult. It’s simply an opportunity to bring together people who have the desire to stay sober.

Myth #5. The 12 steps will make me feel helpless.

Another misconception about the 12 steps is that they are designed to make people feel helpless. The irony is that the 12 steps are meant to do exactly the opposite – empower people and give them control over their lives!

We can understand where some people get this impression, however. Step 1 says that you are powerless over your addiction, and some people think this means they will never have a normal life. However, the first step gets you to acknowledge that you have no control over your drug and alcohol use. By giving this up to a higher power, you can start the healing process and move forward in your recovery.

As long as you are working your recovery, the addiction is not in control. You achieve this position by working the steps, making amends with those you’ve hurt and taking accountability for your actions. By doing this, you can overcome your addiction and regain control over your life.


It’s reassuring to know that many people credit their sobriety to the 12-step philosophy, so it’s worth keeping an open mind. Not only do many treatment centers follow this approach, but also the 12 steps are recommended by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

To learn more about the programs through the Acceptance Recovery Center and how we utilize the 12 step philosophy, contact us today.