Skip to content

Social Model Of Addiction Treatment, AA & 12-Step Meetings

The Social Model Of Addiction Treatment originated in the ’70s and was widely favored in California. Succinctly defined, Social model programs are a peer-oriented process of rehabilitation and healing. Social Model programs emphasize experiential knowledge utilized to help peers in addiction recovery; developing connections within a positive group membership; group membership norms of semi-autonomy and interdependency and use a supportive environment to encourage abstinence.

According to the scientific piece ‘Maximizing Social Model Principles in Residential Recovery Settings’, published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, most programs for alcohol and drug problems emphasize the importance of peer support, which is sometimes known as “mutual aid” or “self-help”. Peer support involves interpersonal sharing of information and personal experiences, offering practical help, and interacting in ways that enhance emotional and social well-being. 

However, the strategies for facilitating peer support within alcohol and drug programs vary. Some programs build peer support primarily by offering group counseling or on-site 12-step meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). 

Social Model Of Addiction Treatment
The Social Model of Addiction Treatment emerged in California primarily as a grassroots movement that was built upon the principles of AA.

Other programs require that participants attend outside 12-step or other types of mutual aid meetings in the community. Less common are well-conceptualized ways of enhancing peer influences within programs. The “social model” approach to recovery provides a starting point for understanding peer influences and facilitating peer support in residential recovery settings.

Social model recovery emerged in California primarily as a grassroots movement that was built upon the principles of AA. Although there is limited professional literature on social model recovery, a number of studies have shown favorable outcomes. 

Programs that self-identified as social models were shown to have similar or better outcomes than clinically oriented treatment programs that were typically more expensive. 

Studies of sober living houses (SLHs) that used a social model approach showed significant resident improvements on a variety of outcomes that were maintained at 18-month follow-up. Moreover, these studies found factors central to social model recovery (i.e., involvement in 12-step groups and social network characteristics) were related to outcome. [1]

How does the Social Model Of Addiction Treatment work?

Drug and alcohol treatment programs that use a social model will teach the patient how to change their attitudes, beliefs, values, habits, routines, and behaviors in conjunction with the principles of sober living. These skills are essential to provide confidence as the patient prepares to reintegrate into the outside world after their time at an inpatient rehab facility. A social model for recovery is best suited to prepare patients on what to expect once they begin to encounter the triggers and stresses of day-to-day life, without relying on drugs or alcohol to cope.

Long-term success is greatly increased through spending time with other individuals who are also recovering. Since we are social animals, group therapy sessions are quite beneficial as they offer a therapeutic, home-like community setting as opposed to a cold, institutionalized hospital setting. Healing as a community helps us rewire our brains in a way that one on one treatment cannot quite accomplish on its own.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and relapse prevention are enhanced within a social model of recovery

When a chemical dependency has shaped a portion of an addict’s life, it is important for them to seek ongoing outpatient treatment services. Regular attendance to group therapy sessions or meetings within a 12-step program are strongly encouraged. These sessions serve not only to hold the individual accountable for their recovery but will also instill much-needed confidence and self-esteem as they see others who can succeed. These social activities will help them grow into their newfound sobriety by reinforcing a drug-free lifestyle. Attending social gatherings with other addicts who are in recovery can enhance the patient’s ongoing efforts to maintain their recovery.

Social Model Of Addiction Treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

As stated by the article ‘An Overview of Alcoholics Anonymous’, published by, AA members share their experience with anyone seeking help with a drinking problem; they give person-to-person service or “sponsorship” to the alcoholic coming to AA from any source. The AA program, set forth in the Twelve Steps, offers the alcoholic a way to develop a satisfying life without alcohol. This program is discussed at AA group meetings.

People who have never been to an actual AA meeting can have misconceptions about how they work due to portrayals they may have seen in the movies or on television. Open AA meetings, which anyone can attend, are usually “speaker meetings,” at which a member of AA will tell their story—what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now. Most AA meetings, however, are closed meetings for members only.

Social Model Of Addiction Treatment
People who have never been to an actual AA meeting can have misconceptions about how they work due to portrayals they may have seen in the movies or on television.

A typical AA meeting is a topic discussion meeting. The person leading the meeting chooses a topic and members take turns sharing their experience on the topic. Some AA meetings are designated for a specific purpose, such as 12-step study groups or beginners’ meetings designed to teach newcomers about the basics of the program.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Effectiveness 

There are several studies that have shown that people who were involved in mutual support groups were more likely to remain abstinent than those who tried to quit by themselves. People who seek professional treatment or counseling for their drinking problems have better outcomes if they combine participation in AA along with their outpatient or inpatient treatment program.

A new study published in the Cochrane Library found that AA and 12-step groups can lead to higher rates of continuous abstinence over months and years when compared to treatment approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy. [2]

Social Model Of Addiction Treatment and on-site 12-step meetings

The 12 Steps were created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous to establish guidelines to overcome an addiction to alcohol. The program gained enough success in its early years for other addiction support groups to adapt the steps to their own needs.

Although the 12 Steps are based on spiritual principles, many non-religious people have found the program immensely helpful. The language emphasizes the presence of God as each participant understands him, allowing for different interpretations and religious beliefs.

Because recovery is a lifelong process, there’s no wrong way to approach the 12 Steps as the participant tries to figure out what works best for their individual needs. In fact, most participants find that as they grow in their recovery they will need to revisit some steps or even tackle more than one step at a time. Steps 1, 2, and 3 are considered the foundation of a 12-Step program and are recommended to practice daily.

The 12 Steps as defined by Alcoholics Anonymous are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
  8. Made a list of persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

On-site 12-step meetings effectiveness

Because of the anonymity of the program and the lack of formal research available, it’s hard to tell just how effective the 12 Step model is. However, the prominence of this type of treatment, as well as success stories from recovering addicts, suggest it is effective.

At the very least, the 12-Step model provides support, encouragement, and accountability for people who genuinely want to overcome their addiction. The sponsorship model as well as regular meeting times encourage the kind of social support that has helped countless people stay clean.

Reclaim Your Life From Addiction 

Addiction is a condition that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up Treatment Center can provide you, or someone you love, different techniques used under the Social Model Of Addiction Treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this treatment improvement protocol by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.


[1] ‘Maximizing Social Model Principles in Residential Recovery Settings’. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. – U.S. National Library of Medicine (

[2] ‘An Overview of Alcoholics Anonymous’ –