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Why The 12-Step Model Doesn’t Create Freedom From Addiction

Written by: Alicia Rios Wilks, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


An eye-opening understanding of the detrimental impact of the 12-step model and how the accepted "treatments" out there today are based on a misconstruction of what addiction is and how it operates.

 white metal prison gate.

Unfortunately, with the best of intentions, the widely praised and accepted 12 steps of recovery actually has an abusive and detrimental impact.

There's no doubt it has helped a lot of people to stop drinking or taking drugs. It takes people from despairing addict to recovering addict. But it does not, and cannot, take people from addiction into freedom.

We need to stop seeing it as the answer to addiction because it fails to address the true drivers of addiction. In fact, it reinforces them.

As I stated in my previous article, when you understand the real structure, we all have addictions and they come in many forms. Some fly under the radar, like addiction to praise or validation. Some survive under the guise of being praiseworthy qualities, like addiction to exercise, or personal development. Some may even be the pivotal drivers of what we label as “success.” But whether or not they are harmful in one’s life, they are always limiting. They detract from our original freedom to create any life we choose.

You become addicted to something when you believe that that thing is what allows you to feel the way you want to feel, or avoid an unwanted feeling. It’s a belief system that says that thing (substance or behaviour) has the power to give you what you (alone) cannot. You are unable to shift your emotions on your own. You are dependent upon something external to shift your internal experience.

Therefore, every addict is stuck in an experience of powerlessness – they believe they are powerless to choose and change their emotional experience as well as powerless to the drug/thing/behaviour that they believe they are reliant on.

The cage that traps people in addiction is built upon the foundations of a powerless identity. And the 12-step model reinforces that identity.

In the 12-step model of treatment, we are actually reinforcing the very identity that is stuck in the addiction structure. And by holding people to that powerless perspective we are by consequence sentencing them to lifelong addiction.

No wonder the dogma has become “once an addict, always an addict”. It is categorically untrue. But it has been the inevitable outcome of the inadequate understanding of addiction that the world has accepted as truth.

There are three underlying structures in the 12 steps that are abusive. That of powerlessness, judgement, and punishment.

It’s one thing to encourage people to become aware that they have been experiencing themselves as powerless to the addiction.

We tell them their only hope is for a power greater than themselves to “restore them to sanity”. To “heal them.” But the very concept that one can be “saved” is perpetuating the detrimental identity of being powerless.

We’re telling them outright that they do not have the power within themselves to recover. That they’re not inherently capable of change – they need some higher magic, insinuating they’re beyond human help. So we instruct them to “surrender”, implying their efforts are fruitless and hopeless.

Now they’re powerless, incapable, and helpless.

Then we move into punishment.

There’s a lot of forgiveness in the 12 steps. What’s the only reason we would need forgiveness? Because we’ve done something wrong.

We’re inflicting punishment upon the suffering.

We judge addicts as being worthy of punishment.

We’re treating them as if they chose to suffer as an addict. We’re treating addiction like some sort of scandal.

We force them to create a moral inventory, telling them to scan their life for things they’ve done “wrong”. It’s the same condescendence and punishment we give a child.

Then we ask them to confess to their actions of “wrongdoing”, as if there’s some authority that has the right and will to judge them.

And we label their behaviour as “defects of character”, which is not only unfair but also misguided in its judgement.

These people are not defective. No person is broken or bad. Every human being is behaving perfectly given the structure they're in. That is why I urge us to learn the truth about the structure of addiction.

Completing the steps in sequence, people have to move through bestowment of powerlessness, followed by judgement, and finally punishment.

These three in combination deliver a lethal blow that renders the addict both trapped and also sentenced to endure blame, shame, guilt and humiliation.

We’re taunting them with an illusion of freedom.

We promise them salvation, but we make it conditional.

When you’re stuck in the addiction structure, there’s no freedom of choice. You can’t “just choose to say no” when you don’t feel able to feel the way you want to feel without relying on the addiction.

We need to recognise that when we present them with this system, with all its requirements, we’re taking away even more of their choice.

“You can live without drugs if you sacrifice the freedom to choose your future… You can recover if you accept that you’re defective… You can move on if you accept blame and admit wrongdoing.”

Conditional choices are not true choices at all. They’re coercive and subversive.

We’re giving them two alternatives: be ruled by substances or be ruled by regulation.

The final two steps strip them of their sovereignty over their own life path. Demanding they abdicate their choice to the will of God. But was free will not that very will?

We ask them to carry forward the message of this 12-step system, placing this burden upon their shoulders like some kind of atonement. A penance. Treating them like a criminal that needs to give up their future to make up for their past.

Again, it confiscates their own choice. And it ties them to the label of an addict, never permitting them to walk away.

In the best of cases, it replaces one addiction with another, less destructive, one. For example, swapping dependency on alcohol for dependency on a support group.

We’re not setting them free, we’re just transitioning them into a different, slightly bigger, cage.

It’s time we evolve from this method of treatment. It’s time we step into the truth of addiction and approach it with understanding and compassion.

To truly serve these people, we must treat the root cause (the source of the original pain that drove them to try to escape) along with deconstructing the belief system that creates dependency.

It is possible for anyone to escape the addiction structure permanently – without blame, without punishment, without surrender. We all have the inherent power and permission to live in Radical Freedom, no matter our past.

If you’re dependent on anything – food, substances, overwork, validation, and so on – to feel how you’d like to feel and you’d like to escape that addiction, here’s a great place to start.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube, or visit my website for more information on how you can escape unwanted patterns to live in Radical Freedom.


Alicia Rios Wilks, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alicia Rios Wilks is a multi-award-winning thought leader on a mission to spark a Radical Freedom Movement. She is an innovator in combining human consciousness, mind and body transformation, and breakthrough performance. Like many of her clients, Alicia had spent much of her life feeling powerless, unsatisfied, and limited. To create her own transformation, Alicia brought together top research on the nature of consciousness and the structure of reality and pioneered a revolutionary method designed for the most powerful and rapid transformation humanly possible. She has since dedicated her life to helping others harness their innate power to release emotional blocks, live as the fullest expression of their true self, and intentionally create their dream life. She is the founder and creator of Radical Freedom, creating heart-centered spaces for others to learn how to live an unlimited life, connect to their unique superconscious genius and live their true nature and purpose.



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