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Updated on April 3, 2023
4 min read

The 13th Step

What is the 13th Step in Addiction Recovery?

The 13th step is an informal term for those in addiction treatment programs who seek sex or pursue romantic relationships with other members. 

The “13th stepper” is often a senior group member who has been sober for a significant period. New members look up to them as role models because they have more time under their belts working the program. 

Why Does 13th Stepping Happen?

People in recovery seek relationships for various reasons: 

  • Members experience temptation due to the intimate and charged atmosphere
  • People in recovery are eager to return to normalcy and may see dating as a way of doing that 
  • Members may date to cope with the pressures of staying sober

13th stepping is discouraged within groups like NA and AA due to the ethical questions and dangers. 

Medical professionals generally advise new 12-steppers to wait at least a year before starting romantic relationships. Members of the same sex usually pair together to reduce the likelihood of a sexual encounter.

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What are the Dangers of 13th Stepping?

Here are some other dangers of 13th stepping:

  • The relationships tend to be short-lived. New members risk relapsing to cope with the emotional pain when they end.
  • It undermines the atmosphere of mutual trust that groups like AA and NA work hard to build.
  • It damages the reputation of NA and AA groups, driving away people who need addiction treatment. 
  • Early sobriety requires a stable personal life for the person in recovery. 13th-step relationships distract new members from focusing on working the program.

New members of NA and AA groups are highly emotionally vulnerable. Because of their vulnerability, 13th steppers can easily abuse the trust they place in more senior members. Substance use recovery groups can sometimes draw predators for this reason.

The 13th stepper is usually, but not always, an addict. Sexual predators are known to falsely pose as addicts and join groups to instigate sexual relationships. 

Reports have stated the involvement of sexual assaults in 13th-step relationships.1 Results can sometimes be tragic.5

Signs of a 13th Stepper

A person at risk of 13th stepping tends to have an addictive personality. 

Here are some traits of an addictive personality:

  • Tendency to engage in destructive behaviors
  • Dysfunctional or short-lived interpersonal relationships
  • Inability to delay gratification
  • Need for excitement
  • Impulsivity
  • Obsessive behavior
  • Penchant for secrecy

Studies also show that those with heritable disorders like depression are susceptible to addiction.2

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How to Avoid 13th Stepping 

An easy way to avoid 13th stepping is to avoid sponsors of the sex you are attracted to. Heterosexual members should stay with the same sex; gay members, the opposite sex.  

While a little flirting is natural, avoid anyone who makes sexual advances on you or other new members. If you suspect someone is a 13th stepper, you may need to avoid going to future meetings and find another group.

Wait at least a year before starting a sexual relationship, especially if you and another member are interested in each other. Sometimes, more than a year may be necessary, depending on the stage of your recovery.

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Find Treatment for Substance Use Disorder  

Substance use is a chronic disease and can also be a medical emergency. Those who are addicted should seek immediate professional care. 

The first step in seeking addiction treatment is usually a consultation with an addiction treatment center. After an initial series of tests, the patient will undergo detoxification (or “detox,” for short). 

After detox, you can receive treatment for the addiction. Various treatment options are available, such as:

  • Inpatient care: You stay in a facility and receive full-time care
  • Outpatient care: This is when you receive treatment during the day and go home at night
  • Medically-assisted treatment: This involves using medications to help with withdrawal symptoms and cravings
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy: Therapy sessions can help you work on underlying disorders driving addiction

Summary

13th stepping is a dangerous practice that can have dire consequences. It happens when people in recovery become involved in sexual or romantic relationships with new members of the same recovery group.

If you suspect someone is 13th stepping, avoid them immediately. Other professional treatments are also available to help m substance use disorder.

Updated on April 3, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on April 3, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. The Sober Truth.” CBS News, 2014.
  2. Substance Use and Co-Occurring Mental Disorders.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2021.
  3. Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019.
  4. Bogart CJ, Pearce CE. "'13th-Stepping:'Why Alcoholics Anonymous Is Not Always a Safe Place for Women." Journal of Addictions Nursing.
  5. Thomas SS. “Inside the World of "13th-Steppers," People Who Prey on Recovering Substance Abusers.” www.mic.com, 2016.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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