13th Step in Addiction Recovery

What is ‘13th Stepping’ at Recovery Meetings?

The 13th step is not an official part of any 12-Step programme, but it has been named as such due to its regular appearance in AA and other 12-Step groups. When a group member with over a year of sobriety hits on or makes advances towards a newly sober group member, we have what has been dubbed ‘the 13th Step’.

As therapist Melody Anderson suggests:

It creates a differing power ratio where someone is gaining power over someone who is weaker, and it can endanger both of their sobriety. The one thing I always want people to realize is this is not a gender thing. All sexes and gender preferences can be predators.

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Dangers of the 13th Step

At first glance, dating someone in AA may seem like a good idea. You both have something in common, and you can understand where the other is coming from. However, especially in the beginning of sobriety, romantic relationships with anyone are discouraged. And when it comes to a more experienced member taking interest in a new member, the potential negative outcomes of this type of relationship expand.

Specific dangers of the 13th Step include the following:

  • People in early recovery are highly vulnerable. Making advances on them specifically as they enter the group would make it easy to take advantage of them and would be considered exploitative.
  • Most addiction treatment experts recommend staying away from new romantic relationships for at least a year. Early sobriety requires a lot of personal attention, and romantic relationships of any type can be very distracting.
  • The failing of the relationship (which in these cases is pretty much guaranteed) can be used as a justification for relapse.
  • It can be a betrayal of trust, driving new members away – even if they really need the support.
  • 13th stepping can cause the entire group to become dysfunctional, while at the same time damaging the goals and purposes of working the steps with group backing. This can once again lead to many members not getting the support they need.

Real Cases in AA Meetings

One Newsweek article tells the story of a young girl named May who first joined one of the largest and oldest AA groups in the US at the age of 15 in 2005, where she was encouraged to cut ties from all friends and family outside of the fellowship and ignore doctor’s prescriptions.

But perhaps even more shockingly, she was encouraged to sleep with members of the opposite sex. May “would listen as girls her age compared notes on the men in the (AA) group they had been encouraged to sleep with, some of whom were decades older.”

Eventually May changed groups, and found that her experience there was nothing like what the AA fellowship traditionally teaches. She is now part of hundreds of people who are fighting against the Midtown AA group she attended, warning of its ‘cult-like’ ways and inappropriate treatment of members – especially young, new members.

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Learn to Protect Yourself from 13th Steppers

As is evident in the case mentioned above, preying on newcomers is very easy because they are searching for guidance on how to live their newfound sober life, and they are not always aware of how things are actually supposed to work.

If you or someone you know are new in sobriety, there are some ways to protect yourself from the few bad apples you may find in recovery meetings:

  • Choose not to date until you have at least one year of sobriety under your belt. For the first year, staying sober should be your number one (and possibly only) priority.
  • When you do want to start dating, make sure you speak to your sponsor, counsellor and/or support system before you do so. Dating in recovery can pose many challenges and can set you up for relapse if you are not well prepared.
  • If you do choose to start dating someone in recovery, only do so when you are both secure in your sobriety.
  • Think about getting a sponsor who will ensure no sexual tension. For example, a gay man could take on a straight man or woman sponsor, and a heterosexual woman can take on a heterosexual woman sponsor.
  • If someone from your group is behaving inappropriately (i.e. flirting too much, making unwanted advances, etc.) talk to your sponsor about it. Someone with more experience will be able to help you find the right course of action to deal with the situation while keeping your recovery the number one priority.
  • Remember that you are not alone. If you ever feel threatened, reach out to your counsellor, sponsor or support system and let them know what it is going on. Recovery meetings are supposed to be a safe place full of encouragement and hope. If your group does not give you that feeling, then it’s time to move on.

On the whole, AA groups are safe places. Unfortunately, just like anywhere else in life, you have to watch out for the few bad apples that find their way in.

Addiction Treatment and Relapse Prevention at The Cabin Chiang Mai

At The Cabin Chiang Mai we offer a personalised lifelong care programme for all of our clients which includes regular contact with your counsellor long after you have completed treatment. If you encounter any negative situations that could compromise your sobriety, you can reach out to us before you find yourself facing relapse.

If you have any questions regarding our treatment, continuing care or relapse prevention programmes, contact us today for a free consultation.

About the Author

Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne

Lee Daniel Hawker-Lecesne

Clinical Director at The Cabin (MBPsS, British Psychological Society Number: 479469) Lee is a Registered Member of the British Psychological Society. He graduated from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK with a degree in Behavioural Science and a postgraduate clinical focus on addictions from the University of Bath. Lee is a focused and ambitious individual who has in-depth training and experience in a broad range of clinical psychological interventions in the treatment of addiction, dual diagnosis, and complex trauma.

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