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What are the 12 Steps?

The 12 Steps are a set of principles that guide people in mutual aid recovery programs for addictions and behavioral problems. Adopted from the 12 Step recovery programs initially established by Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 Steps encourage sobriety, acceptance, and serenity to help the person move past their mistakes and into more satisfying and hopeful lives.

About Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are set forth in the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, written in 1939 by Bill W. The purpose of the book was to show others suffering from alcoholism how a group of over 100 men and women had underwent a spiritual transformation that helped them recover from their “seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.”

The book outlines the 12 steps that have become the cornerstone of maintaining long term abstinence from drugs and alcohol, but, also have become the foundations for other programs as well. All participants in the original group agreed that they had found a common solution to their problems with drinking, a special bonding for those who suffer the common perils, and that their drinking was an illness which is evidenced in science today.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

12 steps AA

Following the 12 steps can foster long-term abstinence and recovery.

The 12 steps of 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 all 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.

How Do the 12 Steps Work?

By following the 12 steps, the person learns to humble themselves and accept their addiction and the consequences while relying on a higher power to “accept the things they cannot change, change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (from the Serenity Prayer). It isn’t easy to admit defeat, but, to move on and make the necessary behavioral changes and amends, one must be willing.

As the person follows the steps and applies them to themselves and their daily life, they begin to recognize that they are worthy of living more satisfying and hopeful lives. The peace comes from the spiritual transformations within and from overcoming the struggles as they progress through the program. With greater confidence and understanding, they can, then, extend their knowledge and services to help others.

12 Step Meetings

12 Step programs or meetings provide safe, nonjudgmental, and open places for people to share common concerns and be supported by others taking the steps toward recovery. The main purpose of the meetings is to offer hope that recovery is possible. Open to anyone and free of charge, these meetings take place at designated times and places to help millions of people worldwide change their lives, one day at a time.

Those who participate in the groups are able to express themselves, listen and learn from other’s experiences, interact with individuals who can offer mutual spiritual and psychological support, and build positive, encouraging relationships to sustain their recovery and change unhealthy behaviors.

Types of 12 Step Meetings

Meetings are, generally, spiritual in nature and based on a higher power of the person’s own understanding or in other terms of humanity, while some meetings may be more religious and faith based.

A common type of 12 step meeting is the speaker meeting where somebody who has been through the program tells about their life before and after they progressed through the steps. Sharing their experiences is intended to encourage others to remain committed to the program and follow the steps. Participation meetings encourage the sharing of everyone who wishes to and this has proven beneficial in gaining feedback from others who have overcome similar experiences.

Other 12 Step Programs

According to the Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center, “When individuals struggle to meet their needs within mainstream recovery support groups or when aspects of their experience are difficult to address within mainstream groups, recovering people have sought out others like themselves to share their “experience, strength, and hope” on these issues.

Other programs who have adopted the 12 steps include:

  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Al-Anon (help for family and friends of those suffering from addictions)
  • Domestic Violence Anonymous
  • Sex Addictions Anonymous
  • Spenders Anonymous
  • Workaholics Anonymous

The list goes on and on with more meetings becoming available, on line, for those who cannot attend the meetings in person.

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