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Using the 12-Step Method with Teens: What Works and What Doesn’t

The 12-step method has been an incredibly successful model for ending addiction. Around the world, men and women have been able to stop drinking or end their drug use because of their commitment to the 12-steps.

 

Each of the 12-steps have proven to be a path towards creating a great life change. When those who want to stay sober continue to practice the 12 steps on a daily basis, they can eventually find sobriety. The 12-steps are listed below:

 

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

Step Three: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

Step Six: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

Step Seven: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings

Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all

Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

 

If there were ever a time when the United States needed treatment methods for addiction, now is it. Drug and alcohol abuse continues to increase in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), almost 2.1 million hospital visits in 2009 were the result of drug abuse. Also, according to the National Survey on Drug use and Health, 23.5 million people 12 years of age and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2009. Sadly, of these, only 11.2 percent received treatment. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that approximately 53 percent of adults in the United States have reported that one or more of their close relatives has a drinking problem. And, in 2009, an estimated 30.2 million people 12 or older reported driving under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year.

But what about using the 12-steps among teens?  There is not much research that indicates a glowing success rate for teens  who use the 12-step method. However, when considering the developmental needs of adolescents and applying that to working with teens, there are many ways in which the 12-steps can be useful.

 

For instance, the first step addresses a teen’s sense of autonomy, power, belonging, and purpose. What works well when talking about this first step with a teen is to teach them that addiction is a disease and provide scientific explanation. In this way, teens can begin to understand that they do not have control over everything that happens in life. However, they can be responsible for the tools, resources, and help they need for their recovery. What doesn’t work with the first step is telling a teen that they are totally powerless over everything in life or giving them the impression that they are a hopeless addict and they can’t change. Perhaps this goes without saying but judgment and criticism will hinder a teen’s recovery.

 

Another example of using the 12-steps with teens is the third step. The third step addresses a teen’s abstract thinking, autonomy, and sense of belonging. By highlighting the fact that it’s up to them whether they want to make this decision can further a teen’s sense of autonomy and free will. This is important during adolescence. What doesn’t work well for teens is telling them that they must make this decision or they are doomed to fail. Also, limiting a higher power to the use of the word “God” can also be stifling for an adolescent. Instead, it can be freeing to allow a teen to develop his or her own sense of higher power and to use whatever word he or she feels is appropriate.

 

Although the 12 steps require a teen’s maturity, abstract thinking, and autonomy, it’s possible for the 12-steps to significantly support the sobriety of adolescents, as it has for millions of people around the world.

 

 

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