12-Step Programs

This incorporates the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and other 12-step support groups. They usually focus on spiritual principles such as acceptance, surrender, and active involvement in 12-step meetings. The treatment involves attending meetings regularly, working the 12 steps, and building a support network of sober peers, while also providing incentives for sustained sobriety, such as chips or key tags to celebrate recovery milestones. Individuals are more likely to maintain long-term sobriety if they participate in 12-step programs while receiving formal treatment and continue to participate after completion of treatment.

The 12 steps were originally created by the founders of AA and through the years they gained so much success that other addiction support groups adapted them to their own needs. Although the 12 steps focus heavily on spirituality, there are many nonreligious people who have found the program helpful. The language they use emphasizes the presence of God as each participant understands him, allowing for different interpretations and religious beliefs.

Since recovery is a lifelong process, there are several ways to approach the 12 steps and none of them are wrong; each participant tries to figure out what works best for their particular needs and as it happens, most of them find that they need to revisit certain steps or even tackle more than one of them at the same time.

These are the 12 steps as defined by Alcoholics Anonymous:

  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 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.

AA also features the “12 Traditions”, which speak to members as a group, as opposed to the steps, which focus on the individual. Much like the 12 steps, most groups have also adapted the 12 traditions for their own recovery plans. The main governing literature of AA, called the “Big Book”, defines the traditions as follows:

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority–a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose–to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Because of the anonymous nature of the program and a general lack of formal research, it’s difficult to tell just how effective the 12-step model is. However, the prominence of this type of treatment, as well as the overwhelming number of success stories from recovering addicts, suggests that it is effective.

At the very least, this type of treatment provides support and encouragement for participants who genuinely want to beat their addiction. The sponsorship model and the regular meetings encourage the kind of social support that has benefited countless people on their journey to sobriety.