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Navigating Recovery With the Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Approach

Discover how the dual diagnosis 12 steps approach can help you achieve recovery. Learn more about this program and how it might be effective for you.

Table of Contents

What Is Dual Diagnosis?

A dual diagnosis is when someone has both a mental health and substance abuse disorder. Dual diagnosis can also be called a co-occurring disorder. Since both conditions can affect each other and make treatment more difficult, specialized treatment is often necessary. One treatment option is a dual diagnosis 12 steps approach.1

dual diagnosis 12 steps

What Is a Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Program?

The dual diagnosis 12 steps approach is a type of self-help program. It is designed to support individuals who are struggling with addiction or other behavioral issues. The program is based on a set of guiding principles developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1930s. 

Some of the ideas that the 12 steps involve include:2

  • Admitting powerlessness over the dual diagnosis  
  • Recognizing a higher power  
  • Taking inventory of one’s behavior  
  • Making amends for past wrongs  
  • Seeking to help others in the same situation  

Goals of Dual Diagnosis 12 Step Recovery

The program follows a sequence, with each step building on the previous one. The goals of the dual diagnosis 12 steps are:

  • Maintain safe recovery  
  • Prevent relapse  
  • Improve the quality of life  

The 12 Steps of Recovery

The 12 steps of dual diagnosis recovery are tailored to address the specific challenges faced by those with co-occurring disorders. The 12 steps of dual diagnosis recovery include:3

  • We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and mental illness.  
  • We came to believe that a higher power greater than ourselves could restore us to health and well-being.  
  • We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the higher power.  
  • We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.  
  • We admitted to the higher power, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  
  • We were ready to have the higher power remove all these defects of character.  
  • We asked the higher power to remove our shortcomings.  
  • We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.  
  • We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  
  • We continued to take personal inventory.  
  • We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with the higher power.  
  • Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other dual diagnosis sufferers.  

What Does the Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Approach Show?

These steps emphasize:

  • Self-reflection
  • Acceptance 
  • Spiritual growth  
  • The importance of seeking support from others in recovery.

It’s important to note that not all individuals with dual diagnosis may find the 12-step approach helpful or appropriate. There are a variety of other treatment options available.

How a Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Program Helps Maintain Recovery

The dual diagnosis 12 steps can be helpful in maintaining long-term recovery. Some of the ways this program is helpful includes:

Encouraging Self-Reflection and Acceptance

The first three steps involve:

  • Admitting powerlessness over addiction  
  • Recognizing the need for help  
  • Turning one’s life over to a higher power

These steps are a powerful motivation for self-reflection. They can help individuals come to terms with their addiction and mental health issues.

Developing a Support System

The dual diagnosis 12 steps approach emphasizes the importance of seeking support from others in recovery. This is done through attending meetings and connecting with others in similar challenges. Individuals can build a support system that can provide encouragement and accountability.

Promoting Personal Responsibility

The steps encourage individuals to take responsibility for their actions and make amends for past wrongs. This can be an important step in moving forward and rebuilding relationships.

Fostering Spiritual Growth

Dual diagnosis 12 steps promotes spiritual growth while also developing a personal relationship with a higher power. This can provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Purpose and meaning are important in maintaining sobriety and mental health.

Providing a Structured Approach

The 12-step approach provides a clear and structured path towards recovery. This can be helpful for individuals who may feel overwhelmed or unsure about where to start.

Dual diagnosis 12 steps can provide a framework for personal growth, accountability, and support. However, it’s important to remember that recovery is a unique process. Not everyone may find the 12-step approach helpful or appropriate, so make sure you ask your doctor about the best approach for your needs.4

How the 12 Steps Benefits Mental Health and Addiction

The 12 steps approach benefits both mental health and addiction by acknowledging that these issues are often interconnected. The steps provide a framework for individuals to work through the issues and behaviors that contribute to both their addiction and mental health struggles.

For example, the fourth and fifth steps involve taking a personal inventory of one’s behaviors and admitting to oneself and others the nature of one’s wrongs. This process can help individuals identify patterns of behavior that have contributed to their addiction and mental health issues.

How Else Can Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Benefit Co-Occurring Disorders?

The sixth and seventh steps involve being ready and willing to have one’s shortcomings removed. This can help individuals work through issues related to their mental health and addiction, such as:

  • Low self-esteem  
  • Shame 
  • Guilt 

Extended Support and Guidance

The remaining steps provide ongoing support and guidance for individuals. This support allows them to work to maintain their sobriety and improve their mental health.

The dual diagnosis 12 steps approach helps both mental health and addiction by providing a holistic framework that addresses all aspects of recovery.

How Effective Is a Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Approach?

The effectiveness of the 12-step approach for dual diagnosis can vary. This depends on the individual and their specific needs. However, participation in 12-step programs can be beneficial for individuals with co-occurring disorders.

One study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that individuals with co-occurring disorders who attended 12-step meetings had improved substance use and mental health outcomes compared to those who did not attend meetings.5

Can the Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Approach Help in Other Ways?

Another study found that participation in 12-step programs was associated with lower rates of hospitalization. It also showed an improvement in social functioning in those with co-occurring disorders.6

It’s important to note that the 12-step approach is not the only treatment option available. It may not be effective for everyone. Also, some individuals may need extra support to manage symptoms and maintain recovery and sobriety in the long term.

How to Get the Most Out of the Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps

Though the 12-step approach may not be appropriate for everyone, there are some tips to take to get the most out of this approach. These tips include:

Attend Meetings Regularly

Consistent attendance at 12-step meetings is important for building a support network. Consistency can also help with staying motivated in recovery. Try to attend meetings as often as possible. Connect with other members who can provide encouragement and guidance.

Work With a Sponsor

A sponsor is someone who has gone through the 12-step program. This person can provide individualized support and guidance. Find a sponsor who you trust and can work with on a regular basis.

Practice the Steps in Your Daily Life

The 12-step approach is not only about attending meetings. It’s about integrating the principles of the program into your daily life. Take time to reflect on the steps and how they apply to your personal struggles and behaviors.

Be Open and Honest

This approach emphasizes honesty and openness. Honesty with both oneself and others. Share your experiences and struggles with others in the program. Be willing to accept feedback and guidance.

Seek Extra Support If Needed

While the 12-step approach can be a valuable tool for recovery, it may not be effective for everyone. If you are struggling to maintain your recovery or feel that you need extra support, consider seeking out other treatment options than the dual diagnosis 12 steps approach.

Take Care of Yourself

Recovery involves taking care of both physical and mental health. You can practice self-care by:

  • Eating well
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Taking time for relaxation and hobbies

By following these tips, you can get the most out of your dual diagnosis 12 steps program.

Potential Drawbacks of the Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Approach

The dual diagnosis 12 steps approach can be beneficial for many individuals. However, there are some potential drawbacks or hesitations that some individuals may have. These may include:

  • Emphasis on spirituality: The 12-step approach places a strong emphasis on spirituality and a higher power. This may not resonate with everyone.
  • Lack of diversity: Some people may feel that the 12-step approach does not adequately address diverse populations. This can include the unique situations and challenges of diverse populations.
  • Stigma: The 12-step approach is often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This can carry a stigma or negativity for some individuals.
  • One-size-fits-all approach: The dual diagnosis 12 steps is based on a specific set of guiding principles. These may not be suitable for everyone. Some individuals may benefit from a more individualized approach to treatment.
  • Focus on past mistakes: The 12-step approach involves a process of making amends for past wrongs and taking inventory of one’s behavior. This may be difficult or uncomfortable for some individuals.

There are a variety of treatments and approaches that are suitable for everyone. It’s important to find the one that best fits you.

Benefits of the Dual Diagnosis 12 Steps Approach

As with any treatment, there are pros and cons. While there are possible drawbacks, the 12-step approach provides several benefits as well. Some examples include:

  • Support and community: The approach offers a supportive community. This support can help individuals feel less alone and more motivated to continue their recovery journey.
  • Holistic approach: The 12-step approach addresses not only the physical aspects of addiction but also the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of recovery.


  • Accessible and available: The approach, particularly programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, are available and accessible in many communities.


  • Focus on personal responsibility: The approach emphasizes personal responsibility and taking ownership of one’s actions. This can be empowering and can help individuals feel more in control of their recovery.


  • Ongoing support: The 12-steps provide ongoing support and guidance, even after completing a formal treatment program. This is crucial for those who may struggle with relapse or ongoing mental health issues.


  • Structured approach: The approach provides a step-by-step approach to recovery. This is helpful for individuals who may feel overwhelmed or unsure of where to start.


There are a variety of treatments and approaches that are suitable for everyone. It’s important to find the one that best fits you.

Who Does the 12 Steps Apply To?

Several groups apply the 12 steps approach to recovery from addiction and mental health issues. The most well-known of these is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This program was founded in the 1930s and has since expanded to include millions of members worldwide. Other 12-step programs include:

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
  • Gambler’s Anonymous (GA)
  • Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA)

Each group may have its own unique focus or emphasis. But all programs are rooted in the 12-step approach to recovery.

How Boardwalk Recovery Can Help with Dual Diagnosis Recovery

Boardwalk Recovery specializes in dual diagnosis treatment. Our focus is to help you achieve lasting recovery. Our team of qualified professionals offers support for co-occurring issues, substance use disorders, and mental health issues as well.

We also provide a holistic approach to recovery. This incorporates multiple treatments, including:

How Can We Help?

Boardwalk Recovery also offers ongoing support and resources to help you maintain your recovery and get back to living your daily life. We want to help you take the first steps towards a healthy and fulfilling life. Contact us today for information on dual diagnosis recovery.

We will be there for you or your loved one every step of the way during your recovery. We can craft individualized treatment plans to meet your specific needs, including dual diagnosis 12 steps programs.
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