The Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) twelve-step program is the most widely attended self-help program for those who are recovering from alcoholism. 12 Step Program have been used to help people recover from a variety of addictive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse to compulsive shopping, sex addictions and overeating. There are also 12 step programs for family and friends of addicts which provide the loved ones with support and a program to help them heal and forgive others. AA’s twelve step program has been adapted to address other addictions, and these programs follow the same AA twelve steps for healing. The 12 Step program's twelve traditions allows for the creation of a community of people with a common problem looking for a solution. The nature of the program provides people with support and creates a spiritual environment which helps one heal. Anyone can use these steps to live a better life.
(The following is a summation of the 12 steps.)
Step 1 - Admit You Are Powerless Over Your Addiction
The first step in overcoming your addiction is to admit that you have a problem. This is important. One must overcome denial to deal with the problem. Admission is the first step to healing. You cannot truly change until you accept that your life has become unmanagable. Acknowledging that you cannot control your addiction and that it controls your life is another important part of this step. This acknowledgement will make it easier to begin the process of change.
Step 2 - Believe That a Power Greater Than You Can Restore You to Sanity
This step acknowledges that there is a power greater than you. To start working Step two in your life, it is suggested that you open yourself to believing you do not control everything. Building faith can help one overcome life stresses without turning to drugs or alcohol. Finding a Higher Power that is loving, caring, and greater than you is a personal process. Surrendering to the power of group or the program will help you stay clean and sober. Your addiction can be arrested with help.
Step 3 - Turn Your Will to the Care of God as You Understand Him
The third step is turning your will over to a Higher Power or to God. Many people struggle with this step because it is difficult to give up control, or they do not understand what defines God or a Higher Power. Willingness to start turning your life over to the care of a Higher Power is an action step. You begin to understand that you cannot overcome addiction by yourself. This willingness opens you up to a spiritual life. Some people look to the God of their youth, others find a new Higher Power or the faith that the 12 Step program will help them handle challenges without drugs or alcohol. Some may confuse a higher power, or spirituality with religion. However, spirituality has to do with ones connection to the universe, not a religion or a particular "God."
Step 4 - Make an Inventory of Ourselves
The fourth step requires self reflection. A list is made of your resentments, people you have harmed, your character defects (anger, manipulation, jealousy, etc.) and your assets. This step is more than just a list of resentments. It is an open and honest reflection of your past. Old feelings need to be exposed, examined and addressed. This step allows secrets that have kept you sick to be exposed. This step frees you from those secrets, exposes how your defects (desires gone out of control) have warped your behavior. The fourth step list is about awareness and exposure of patterns, it is not about doing anything with the list. There are worksheets available that can help you make this inventory or your sponsor can help you.
Step 5 - Admitting Wrongs to Others
Step five provides the opportunity to acknowledge your past with another. A sponsor, a minister, a counselor, someone who can listen without judgment is usually the person chosen to listen to your fifth step. You will reveal what you wrote for the fourth step, thus bringing you closer to releasing the power of the past over you in the present. This step is truly liberating, fear of this process is typical and should never stop you from proceeding. It is necessary to openly and honestly face the past. In fact, it is listed as one of the promises of the 12 Step program. “We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.”
Step 6 - Ready to Have God Remove the Character Defects
This step prepares you to ask God, or a Higher Power to remove your character defects. You understand that you were powerless over your addiction and your extreme behaviors and desires. This step helps you open yourself to change in order to release yourself from your obsessions and defects. It is about becoming ready to change and to do the work that is required. In this step, alternative coping strategies should be explored.
Step 7 - Ask Him to Remove Our Shortcomings
In step seven you actually ask God to remove the wrongs from your character. You come to understand the meaning of humility (not humiliation) and the power in asking for help. Self centered fear has ruled life for most addicts. In this step, you release the fear and move closer to change. You will have experienced moments of peace in the program and desire more. This step helps you grow personally and spiritually. Without seeking to change your defects of character, peace or serenity are unattainable.
Step 8 - Make a List of People Who We Harmed and be Willing to Make Amends
Step eight necessitates taking responsibility for the harm you have caused to others. You make a list of the people you have harmed and what you did to harm them. An honest examination of our behaviors toward others is imperative. This includes physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage done to others. You acknowledge the harm others have caused you as well, and begin the practice of forgiveness, for yourself and for others.
Step 9 - Make Amends to Those People
In step nine you will begin to make amends to the people on your list. It is important to recognize when contacting the person would do more harm than good. You may want to discuss this with your sponsor and review the situations so that you make the best decisions for everyone. Sometimes, amends need to be made but at a date in the future. Sometimes amends require changing behavior rather than having a face to face discussion if it will hurt the other person. You need to make restitution some how for the financial wrongs you have done as well. This step further releases us from the bondage of our past freeing us further to live in the present, to change and grow.
Step 10 - Keep Making an Inventory and Admit When We Are Wrong
This step provides you a means of evaluating your behaviors each day. It allows you to continually engage in self reflection, developing the ability to quickly acknowledge your wrongs and fix them. This process helps you continue to live your life without resentment and anger that can lead you back to addictive behaviors.
Step 11 - Practice Prayer and Meditation to Improve Your Relationship with Your Higher Power
It is important to continue to work on your relationship with the God of your understanding. For some people this will mean regularly attending church, for others it means setting aside time each day to meditate or to pray and still for others it is reading program literature. This practice helps you deepen your daily connection to your spiritual well being and to the program’s way of living.
Step 12 - Try to Carry This Message to Others and Continue to Live the Principles
Step 12 allows you to take what you have received from the program and to help another suffering addict. Sponsorship, helping out at meetings, bringing people to meetings, and service in general are some program ways to practice Step 12. Helping others outside of the program allows you to practice the principles in everyday living as well.
12 Steps Program: Supportive/Related Links
- 12 Steps of AA: 12 steps used in Alcoholics Anonymous.
- 12 Step Facilitation: An overview of the facilitation of the 12 step program.
- What Are The 12 Steps?: A guide to the 12 step program including information on what each of the steps is.
- 12 Step Research (PDF): Information on research done on 12 step and other self-help programs.
- Drug Abuse Support: An introduction to mutual support groups such as the 12 step program for alcohol and drug abuse.
- Self-Help Information: Some great self-help resources including information on 12 step programs.
24/7 all conversations are confidential