Teen 12-Step Recovery



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Teen 12-step recovery

The 12 Step recovery process has long been a controversial issue, ever since Alcoholics Anonymous developed it in the late 1930’s. It’s controversial because some people insist it is religion, but actually it is not.

It’s controversial because it requires the individual to submit to a “higher power” and that goes against human nature. It’s controversial because it doesn’t fix the person, as much as it allows the person to see him/her self and deal with the reality.

Some people don’t like it for teens simply because they are teens, regardless of their dependence on a substance.


Parents often block the 12 steps in their teens

Teen 12-step recovery is difficult because parents may not allow the process to move forward, wanting an alternative treatment for their child. Alcoholics Anonymous originally developed the steps because the medical community had no answer for alcoholism, other than to call it a moral failing.

Teens do not necessarily want to hear about moral failing, or having to submit, or experiencing a “spiritual awakening.” People are quick to call it religion, when in fact it is not. Young people do not want to admit that they are powerless. Addiction is a state of being powerless, as the disease robs the individual of the ability to make choices, to say no. Teens are invincible and will live forever, or so they believe.

The idea that they can’t overcome any obstacle is cause for argument. Taking a moral inventory and owning up to mistakes is foreign to them, and adults easily dismiss the behavior of teens as a kind of “rite of passage,” not taking seriously the indiscretions of youth.


We have shifted away from religion

When the 12 steps were originally created it was a different time in America. Since then there has been a steady shift away from religious life, as a once common practice of going to church on Sunday morning is now the exception and not the rule. Most Americans do not attend church, have little or no religious training, and do not understand the distinction between the spirituality of 12 Step and religious doctrine. 12 Step is not religious, but it is spiritual.

Teens do not necessary understand that we are all body, mind and spirit and that all three aspects of the human experience require attention. Teens may also bristle at the idea of being an addict, that there is no cure for alcoholism or drug addiction; that they are going to be an addict for life. It sounds like a sentence. It sounds like condemnation.


Almost all treatment includes the 12 steps

However, most addiction treatment today includes a 12 step component, whether it the program is in-patient or out-patient. A 12 step program is inexpensive and proven effective, or as AA says, “It works if you work it.”

That’s another problem teens have and if often an obstacle to teen 12-step recovery. They live in a “get it now” fast-paced world and they expect results immediately. 12 step takes time. But the truth is a 12 step program can be very effective in assuring long-term sobriety and health.


12 steps are FREE!

Teen 12-step recovery is available in every community and it’s free. Parents can be financially drained by a rebellious teenager, whose drug habit grows out of control and necessitates an endless succession of hospitalizations and treatment center visits. Other forms of treatment are effective, but it all depends on the budget.

There are not a lot of teen addicts in 12 step, probably less than 5%. According to AA, the average age for a 12 step participant is 48, so you can see a pretty wide gap. Somebody who is older is probably very motivated to get better, more engaged in the process and won’t fight the program as much as a young person who is going to live forever and can overcome anything. There is a cultural divide going on and the teen isn’t going to gravitate to the treatment program for “old” people.

Another variable that we should consider is the fact that the teen brain is not fully developed. The pre-frontal cortex, controlling judgment, impulses and executive decisions, is the last to complete the maturation process. Teens will take risks because they don’t reason all the way through a situation and understand the possible consequences of their actions.

Getting high is cool, getting drunk is fun and there are no ill effects connected with that, until they get into health troubles and find themselves in trouble. That lack of development, combined with a lack of spiritual training or development, make it very difficult for a teen to navigate the 12 step process. They will likely short-circuit the steps and claim they don’t work. Even older adults do that, so it understandable that a teen would have trouble grasping the spiritual and philosophical aspects of the program.


Teen 12-step recovery is HARD!

Teen 12-step recovery is difficult, so it is important for parents to be vigilant. The best treatment for drug addiction is not using drugs to begin with. That means it is not advisable for parents to allow their children to drink, even if they do their drinking at home.

It is not a good idea for parents to dismiss the damage of marijuana, despite all of the hype to the contrary. And if there is suspected drug and alcohol use, address the issue and don’t sweep it under the carpet. Treatment is always more cost-effective than long-term health care or, sadly, incarceration.

Finally, teen 12-step recovery is also available at TEEN CHALLENGE an excellent inpatient program for kids.


Here are the 12 steps:

Step One: We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.

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

Step Three: Make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.

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 Him 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 whenever 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.

Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts and to practice these principles in our affairs.


Teen 12-step recovery: It works if they work it!

Research has shown that teens that work these steps and become a sponsor of another teen whose is struggling have a much greater chance of staying sober. When you teach someone else you learn yourself. Also, when a teen sponsors another teen they develop all new friendships that are generally much healthier than they prior relationships were when they were using.


That completes our section on Teen 12-step recovery, visit our home page for more information.


and Finally Remember:

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened."
- Matthew 7:7-8






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