What Is the 12-Step Program?
The 12 Steps have become the foundation of many effective drug and alcohol addiction programs at affordable treatment centers. Since their 1939 publication as the guiding structure for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the 12 Steps have been used to help millions of individuals fight and overcome addiction, through private as well as open, community groups.
The Origin of the 12 Steps
The authors of the original book containing the 12 steps, Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, co-founded AA, which they described as a way of life to “… expel the obsession to drink …”1 Drawing on a blend of medicine and spiritual traditions, the pair worked from their own experiences overcoming alcohol addiction.
As AA groups spread, and their successful outcomes for many became known, additional community and self-help groups styled themselves after the original, adapting the same 12-step principles. These include groups to overcome narcotics addiction (Narcotics Anonymous, or NA), and cocaine addiction (Cocaine Anonymous, or CA).2
In 2006-2007, an annual average of about 5 million people attended a self-help group to deal with drug or alcohol addiction.2 The AA organization, along with NA and CA, perform participant surveys periodically to assess recovery rates. Their results show that among those with regular meeting attendance, the median length of abstinence in AA and NA is greater than 5 years. Some sources document abstinence lasting up to 16 years with regular attendance.2
The Spirit of the 12-Step Programs
Embodied in the 12 steps is a set of values designed to build community, teaching members to work and live in harmony. AA evolved from these values into its present form early on, remaining true to core principles that bar any one individual from having authority over another .1 The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking and taking illicit drugs.
The program seeks to enhance spiritual growth and minimize self-centeredness, emphasizing acceptance of addiction as a disease that cannot be eliminated, but only overcome. A core principle is service, helping others to stay clean and sober.
The Process of 12 Steps
The group itself is essential to the process of any 12-step program. Members welcome a new individual and support him or her through the consecutive steps, just as they have been helped. Studies have shown an increased likelihood of long-term success for those who begin a 12-step program while in a specialty treatment or rehabilitation center.2
Further, they show that early, consistent attendance at three or more group meetings per week, plus more involvement in group activities, produces better outcomes, seemingly as a result of higher “doses” of participation.2 Each step leads members through a self-realization process that begins with accepting their powerlessness over drugs or alcohol (or both). They move on to attending meetings regularly, then asking for help and getting a sponsor.
The role of the sponsor in 12 steps can be critical. The sponsor is always someone who has recovered from addiction through a 12-step program, and is willing to help guide the participant through activities, as well as the inevitable rough spots. A relationship with the sponsor is full of needed lessons in honest, giving interactions. The sponsor should model healthy behavior. There are times when a sponsor relationship does not work out. Finding a solution or ending the relationship can feel challenging, but offers another valuable life lesson within the safety of the group.
The steps gradually become more challenging, starting with taking moral inventory of oneself, then admitting wrongs done, listing individuals harmed, and making amends to those harmed.
The 12 Traditions
Alcoholics Anonymous developed an additional set of guidelines that assist in group governance, called the 12 Traditions. They define essential values that direct the way AA groups should operate, and they set limits as to authority and structure of each group. Common welfare of AA and of group members is stressed. All authority is considered to be in the hands of a higher power, rather than in any individual or group member.
Every AA group must be self-supporting and adhere to the understanding that anonymity is at the foundation of the group’s spirituality, assuring that principles rule rather than personalities.
The 12 Steps Today
Perhaps the best known step—even outside the AA and addiction communities—is Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” That phrase defines the starting point that can lead an individual to seek help through AA or in one of the Orange County treatment centers based on the 12-step principles, like Yellowstone Recovery.
The 12 Steps Defined by AA Are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—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.
The proliferation of groups that have adopted the 12 steps has produced some variation to eliminate gender bias or religious wording, but the process and principles remain the same. Some communities refer to the 12-Step “six pack,” a condensed version that relies on these six core steps: don’t use drugs or drink, go to meetings, ask for help, get a sponsor, join a group, get active.
Fortunately, there are low cost rehab centers that welcome those in need of assistance to overcome drug and alcohol addiction. The first step begins with asking for help.