What is the Twelve-Step Program?

12-step programs are behind the recoveries of literally millions of addicts the world over. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, who encouraged recovery from addiction through a process of steps, founded the first program – Alcoholics Anonymous or ‘AA’ – in 1935.

Since their inclusion in the Big Book, these 12 steps have been adapted to address recovery throughout an array of addictions. For example, Narcotics Anonymous utilizes a 12-step format that is almost identical to Alcoholics Anonymous. Additional recovery programs address addiction in the form of sex, gambling and nicotine.

Doing Steps In Order – Important

When working 12 step programs, participants must complete the steps in the order specified. The initial step for any new member is to admit that they have a problem and that they are powerless to control it. The next step requires that the addict believe in a power greater than themselves. In step three, the addict gives him/herself over to that power to promote stability and sanity throughout the recovery process.

It is important to note that “higher power” does not necessarily embrace religious ideals. The program is open to individuals of all belief types, including atheists and agnostics. The religiosity level of the “higher power” will generally differ from group to group. Some programs are centered in religious beliefs, while others skip them altogether. However, most every 12-step meeting will conclude in fellowship and hand-holding.

Step four is often considered the most difficult by recovering addicts. In order to complete this step, participants must recognize the patterns, faults and bad behaviors that contributed to the addiction. This step is typically completed with the help of a sponsor. In step five, addicts expand on this moral inventory; admitting to their faults and ultimately confessing them to their sponsor and higher power.

In step six, the addict tells their higher power that they are ready. Step seven sees the addict requesting the higher power remove their aforementioned faults. During steps eight and nine, the addict must seek forgiveness from individuals they have wronged as a result of their addictive behaviors and offer restitution. In steps ten and eleven the addict places focus on the connection with their higher power and moral inventory. The final step requires participants to offer assistance in the recovery of other addicts.

12-step programs are not a cure for addiction. Many addicts who are successful in the program end up working the steps for years; some attend daily, others participate minimally. Study groups are generally available to help addicts through the process. Books are also available to shed additional light on each step. Though the program can, at times, be rather intense, the lessons and rewards obtained can serve participants for a lifetime.