A 12-step program is a fellowship of people helping other people with an addiction or a compulsive behavior to obtain abstinence, which means no longer using a mood-altering substance such as drugs or alcohol, or compulsively doing a behavior such as gambling or sex.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the first 12-step program established and many other support groups have branched off from AA using this model. AA is an organization that unites people who have struggled with alcohol dependency, providing strength and faith in one another to overcome addiction. Its mission is to “stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety” without judgment or segregation. AA founders Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith developed the 12 steps based on concepts from Carl Jung’s theories as influenced by Eastern philosophy, and from spiritual values such as those rooted in the principles of the Oxford Group.
12-Step programs promote the following fundamental beliefs:
- Addiction is a disease.
- Addicts require the support of other recovering addicts.
- Reliance on a “power greater than one’s self” is fundamental.
- Abstaining from the addictive behavior is the basis of recovery.
- Recovery is a lifelong process.
- Supporting others in recovery is necessary for lasting commitment and stability.
- Accepting the limitations of being human is essential.
The 12 Steps, created by AA and first published in 1939, are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol [addictive substance or behavior]—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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.
Steps one through three deal with the individual’s acceptance of their inability to control their addiction alone and the need of support to remain abstinent. Steps four through nine teach the individual to take responsibility for their own actions and characteristics in order to create change in their life. Steps four, six and eight require self-reflection while steps five, seven and nine are the application of those reflections. The focus in steps 10 through 12 is on maintaining recovery. Each step builds upon the previous step in a progressive course of action.
Since the 1950s, alcohol addiction has been treated as a separate addiction from that of other illicit drugs under the AA program, meaning that drug abuse disorders are considered to be a different struggle, so a separate 12-step program is recommended. Chemical dependency is considered the most life-threatening addiction disorder and addicts are advised to address this addiction first and prior to other addictions such as gambling or sexual addiction, until abstinence is established and recovery has begun. Drug dependency is sometimes considered the root addiction, causing the individual to develop other addictive tendencies and therefore should be addressed first.
Other 12-Step Programs:
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are the two largest 12-step programs, available throughout the U.S. Other programs include:
- Chemical dependency (AA, NA, Pill Addicts Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous)
- Compulsive gambling (Gamblers Anonymous)
- Eating disorders (Overeaters Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous)
- Nicotine addiction (Smokers Anonymous)
- Sexual addiction (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Sexual Compulsive Anonymous)
- Family/relational issues (Al-Anon, Alateen, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Co-Dependents Anonymous).