Breaking an addiction is a very difficult process. This is made especially harder if the recovering addict has to navigate through the process all on their own. This is where support groups come in. People who are on the road to recovery often find that the best route for them is taken with the support of others coupled with a structured recovery plan. There are several different 12 step recovery programs that exist to help recovering addicts meet their goals.

History of 12 step programs

The first 12 step program ever created was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was founded in 1935. The 12 steps, which will be outlined below were put in place at that time. In 1946, the 12 traditions were also established to govern how groups functioned and related to each other as membership rapidly grew.

Originally, the 12 Steps came from a spiritual, Christian inspiration. They sought help from a greater power as well as peers who were suffering from the same addiction struggles. Founder of the model, Bill Wilson wrote his program in what has come to be known as the Big Book. This was originally written for people who could not attend AA fellowship meetings but soon enough, it became a model for the program in general. Since then, it has been adopted as a guideline for many addiction peer-support and self-help programs with the aim of catalyzing behavioral change. Many other groups cropped up from the original AA including:

  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Heroin Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Methamphetamine Anonymous

The 12 Step Practice

The idea behind the 12 Step model is that people get to help one another achieve and maintain abstinence from the behaviors or substances that they are addicted to. They do this through meetings during which they share their experiences with the hope of encouraging each other and learning from other members who are going through similar situations. Research shows that recovering addicts who enroll in such 12 step programs “flourish” when it comes to maintaining longer-term recovery and achieving positive mental health. Statistics also show that the numbers of recovering addicts who flourish after three and twelve months are high. Those who abstain from substances and behaviors as outlined in the 12 Step program have better health outcomes than those who do not.

The 12 step model provides a framework for recovering addicts to surrender their addiction, process their experiences and move on to better, healthier patterns.

Support group members who have gone through the 12-step program find that these steps were not merely a way to stop drinking or using drugs but they became a guide to living a new life. Although these 12-step programs are a part of the mutual support groups, they have a personal impact on members. The results witnessed in the members of the early AA groups encouraged other similar groups to take up the program regardless of the drug or behavior of choice.

The 12 steps

Below you will find a description of each of the twelve steps. Individuals who apply these steps in their addiction recovery gain insight, strength, experience, and hope.

  1. Admitting powerlessness over addiction – Addiction is a disease that disrupts the chemistry of the brain, impacting willpower, memory, reward, and motivation. This step encourages members to accept that they are unable to control their addiction and that their willpower and motivation are compromised.
  2. Accepting a power greater than oneself – AA in particular calls people to accept and understand God as a higher power. God, in this case, does not have to be taken in the traditional sense. For those who do not believe in God, the higher power can represent a number of things, including the reality that alcohol and drug use are unrealistic.
  3. Agreeing to turn life over to the higher power – At this stage, the serenity prayer is learned to be used whenever a recovering addict needs a reminder in their life. Members also turn over their lives to the higher power for healing purposes.
  4. Taking a moral inventory of oneself – Individuals are encouraged to push past their fears and be honest with their shortcomings. At this point, writing lists are inevitable to pen down thoughts, incidents, experiences, and feelings that may be difficult to deal with.
  5. Admitting wrongdoing to God, oneself, and others – Members are encouraged to choose someone they can trust to share personal stories and events recorded. Individuals also confess their shortcomings to God and ask for forgiveness. This step allows members to start being honest and open with others.
  6. Being ready for the higher power to remove character defects - This step is about letting go of all negativity from the past and getting ready to move forward with the help of the higher power. Individuals choose to replace these defects with positive habits and traits.
  7. Asking God to remove shortcomings – Humility is essential in this step and an important concept in recovery. Meditation is often useful in this stage as a method of self-introspection.
  8. Listings wrongs and becoming willing to make amends – This stage is mostly about forgiveness and involves coming up with lists again. One of the people the person needs to forgive and another of people the person needs to seek forgiveness from. Many times, there is a crossover between the lists. Members are encouraged to do this to let go of any anger, guilt, fear, shame, or other emotions that would hinder their recovery.
  9. Making amends when it is not harmful to do so – This involves reaching out to those the individuals need to make amends to.
  10. Seek daily accountability for their actions – This includes setting strong spiritual foundations and a new way of life without alcohol and drugs.
  11. Prayer – This is to improve contact with God and to do what is right
  12. Experiencing a spiritual awakening and spreading the word – This step asks members to give back to others struggling with addiction.

The 12-step program has been proven to have positive results when undertaken with a willing and sincere heart.