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The Mental, Emotional, Spiritual and Physical Dimensions of 12-Step Recovery

Guide to AA and 12 Step Recovery

The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-step program is a holistic approach to recovery, recognizing with support of the group, an individual must heal all aspects of themselves—mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical—in order to achieve a healthy balance. The majority of addiction treatment centers use some form of the 12-step recovery program pioneered by AA in 1935, according to a report issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

It’s common for those new to their addiction recovery journey to ask how long they need to attend 12-step meetings. There is only one timeline in AA: “one day at a time.” This means people in recovery should look only at the present 24 hours, which is much easier than their entire lives. Developing an attitude of gratitude helps to sustain the “gift” of sobriety for that day.

Recovery is different for each person, and some will need to devote more time to attending 12-step meetings than others. However, it’s important to understand that recovery is a lifelong process for everyone. Research has shown that those who continue to attend 12-step meetings throughout their lives have the greatest rate of continued sobriety.

90 meetings in 90 days?

After graduating from an addiction treatment program, people in recovery should plan for regular attendance at a 12-step program like AA. Although there is no clear-cut timeline as to how often you should attend the program, those new to AA, or those just out of a treatment program, will likely want to attend “90 meetings in 90 days.”

Some new members may find attending one meeting a day for 90 days works well for them, while others may need to attend two or three meetings a day at first. Even those who have been AA members for years sometimes face a crisis or relapse and find that significantly increasing their meeting attendance, working the 12-steps with their sponsor, and being of service gets them back on track.

While that may seem like a lot of meetings, people in early recovery are at a critical juncture. Most haven’t yet had time to firmly engrain recovery habits and don’t have long-term experience in living sober. And even recovering alcoholics encounter temptations, and the support and experience of fellow AA members can help them identify and cope with potential triggers.

It’s very beneficial for new members to find a sponsor, a home group where they regularly attend meetings and a support network in AA. A sponsor is a person who will not only guide them but also walk them through the steps and be available in case of an emergency. If faced with a crisis, such as a possible relapse, a person in recovery can contact their sponsor at any time for help. A sponsor often becomes a trusted confidante for a new member as well as other AA members.

Working through the steps

No two people will work through the 12 steps the same. Some people will need to spend more time than others on a specific step, some may take a break between steps. Working with a sponsor or a step study group is the recommended way to do it. Sobriety and emotional sobriety is a life-long process, and to maintain that lifestyle people choose to continue to work the steps and attend meetings throughout their life.

Dimensions of 12-step recovery

  • Emotional – In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Dr. Ingrid Clayton states, “I believe that emotional sobriety is less about the quality of the feeling (“good” or “bad”) and more about the general ability to feel one’s feelings.” For long-term sobriety to work, recovering addicts must learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy way, no matter the situation. “Emotional sobriety” means being able to experience and accept feelings, good or bad.

AA guides members in “learning how to discipline, control & create our desired emotional states—and eliminate our undesired emotional states.” Emotional sobriety means no longer “stuffing” negative emotions, but feeling and managing them.

  • Spiritual – While the AA 12-step program is spiritually grounded, the program refers to a “higher power”, and members can interpret that for themselves. However, the foundation of the program is to surrender the self, or ego, to that higher power. Prayer and meditation have been shown to contribute to long-term recovery. A study regarding spirituality in recovery published in the journal Alcoholism found “that AA leads to better alcohol use outcomes, in part, by enhancing individuals’ spiritual practices and provides support for AA’s own emphasis on increasing spiritual practices to facilitate recovery from alcohol use disorder.” Interestingly, many of those who indicated low levels of spiritual practice at intake had the greatest increase in their spirituality as they attended AA.
  • Mental – The 12 steps are designed to help members identify how their past behavior (Character Defects) has been in conflict with their values and beliefs. By working through the steps, recovering alcoholics can start to identify and attempt to resolve problems and conflicts caused by their drinking. For those in the early stages of recovery, seeing their doctor or therapist on a regular basis is crucial, especially if they take prescription medication or struggle with a dual diagnosis challenge.
  • Physical – Physical health is an important part of recovery. Eating a healthy diet, sleeping well, getting regular physical exercise, interacting socially with sober friends, resuming favorite activities, or embarking on new hobbies are all ways a recovering alcoholic can increase his or her physical health and enjoyment of life. Mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being are all impacted by one’s physical well-being and vice versa.

Turning Point of Tampa’s goal is to always provide a safe environment and a solid foundation in 12-Step recovery, in tandem with quality individual therapy and groups. We have been offering Licensed Residential Treatment for Substance Abuse, Eating Disorders and Dual Diagnosis in Tampa since 1987. If you need help or know someone who does, please contact our admissions department at 813-882-3003, 800-397-3006 or