12 Step program

Recovery 12 Steps


3- 12 Step Program


12 Step program has proven to be the most effective method of recovery from addiction. They provide – at no cost – a simple and effective daily program that addresses all the aspects of this multifaceted disease. This page provides an overview of the 12 Steps so that you can decide whether you want to recover with this program.


  • What is a 12 Step program
  • View of addiction
  • Spiritual program
  • Set of suggestions
  • Fellowships meetings
  • Sponsorship
  • Principles of 12 Step program
  • 12 Steps of AA


What is a 12 Step program

A 12 Step program is a set of principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsions, and other behavioral problems. The Steps are not a medical treatment program run by professionals, but rather are based on the experience of people suffering from the disease of addiction who found a solution towards their recovery. Originally proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) as a method of recovery from alcoholism, the 12-Steps were first published in 1939 in the book Alcoholics Anonymous (usually referred to as the “Big Book”). The 12 Steps have been adopted by many fellowships to address a wide range of problems, including drugs, gambling, over-eating, and sexual compulsion. Over 200 of these self-help organizations, with a worldwide membership of millions, employ 12-Step principles for recovery. Addicts who did not relate to the specifics of alcohol addiction formed Narcotics Anonymous. Some other 12 Step programs addressing drugs include Cocaine Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, and Marijuana Anonymous. Compulsive behavioral issues are addressed in fellowships such as Gamblers Anonymous, Over eaters Anonymous, Sex and Love Anonymous, Co dependence anonymous and Workaholics Anonymous. Auxiliary groups such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, for friends and family members of alcoholics and addicts, respectively, are part of a response to treating addiction as a disease that affects families and others close to the addict.

The 12 Steps offer clear-cut directions in a step-by-step approach on how to recover from addiction and maintain recovery. In addition, the Steps can act as “a design for living” in the sense that they provide a template on how to make over our lives – made painful by our addiction — into something healthy, whole and serene. At their core, the 12 Steps are designed to change our way of thinking and behaving, because, ultimately, it is these aspects of ourselves that have led us to becoming addicts.


As summarized by the American Psychological Association, working the 12 Steps involves the following:


    • Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion
    • Recognizing a greater power that can give strength
    • Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member)
    • Making amends for these errors
    • Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior
    • Helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions


View of addiction

In 12 Steps programs, addiction is seen as a disease. The emphasis in these programs is on what happens to a person’s mind, body and soul when he or she develops the disease of addiction, as opposed to the type of substances being abused or types of compulsive behaviors. Most probably if we are suffering from addiction we engage in various combinations of destructive habits and use of drugs. For example, we may take heroin to get us high, pills to help us sleep, alcohol to moderate us, food to numb us, and so on. In this way, each drug or behavior serves to fix us in areas where we lack the inner resources to do so ourselves.

12 Step programs believe three dimensions of a person gets affected with the disease of addiction: physical, mental, and spiritual. The physical abnormality is described as an allergy that sets off a compulsion to continue abusing substances or act out on compulsive behaviors despite adverse consequences. The mental abnormality is seen in the phenomenon of craving and obsession. The spiritual malady is said to be based in an extreme form of self-centeredness and self-will.

For example in Narcotics Anonymous, the statement in the First Step (“We admitted we were powerless over our addiction — that our lives had become unmanageable.”) refers to how the disease of addiction has rendered our mind and body abnormal, which in return causes us to lose the power of choice or control over the substance we abuse. The mental component of the disease of addiction is described as our insanity. This insanity causes us to repeat the same behavior despite knowing we cannot stop once we have started or believing that the result will be different this time. The unmanageability referred to in the First Step refers to the consequences in our life, such as loss of job, family, or problems with the law because of our addiction.

The disease concept of addiction is accepted in all 12 Step programs and has been scientifically proven and medically recognized worldwide. Most treatment modalities nowadays treat addicts on this basis thanks to the emergence and success of 12 Steps programs.

For further information on the disease concept of addiction, please refer to: Disease Addiction.


Spiritual program

The 12 Steps is a spiritual program of recovery from the disease of addiction in the sense that it suggests we find a connection to a Higher Power, a power that is outside our limited personal resources. As people who have developed a life-threatening disease, we do not have the power to help ourselves, and therefore need a Power that is greater than ourselves to solve our problem.

Fundamentally, all 12 Steps programs believe the root of any kind of addiction is our lack of self-esteem and value, which we compensate for by resorting to drugs or behaviors to make us feel good about ourselves. Our addiction fills up the emptiness we feel inside, while making us feel powerful and able to cope with life. Yet this way of living eventually leads us to misery and even death. If at our core we are lacking the inner resources that make us whole and healthy individuals, for whatever reason that may be, then we need a power greater than ourselves to help us regain our humanity as normal human beings.

Addiction is a harmful relationship with a substance or behavior that has replaced the healthy, authentic relationship we ought to have with ourselves, our God, and our fellows. For this reason, the 12 Steps are spiritually based: they address in a fundamental way this disease of self-centeredness, rather than simply the substance or behavior being abused, which is merely a manifestation of the disease. Working the Steps is intended to replace self-centeredness with a growing moral consciousness and willingness for self-sacrifice and unselfishness, which in turn brings about the right relationship with God, others and ourselves.

In 12 Step programs this moral consciousness is known as a “spiritual awakening” – when we awaken to the reality of our own brokenness and powerlessness and gain the humility to realize there is a Power greater than us that can help us. A “spiritual awakening” is believed to develop, most frequently, over a period of time. But we see its beneficial effects on us as it releases us from the suffocating self-absorption that afflicts us. We see the world in a new way. We no longer are alone in a hostile universe. We become interested in our fellows. We can love, and we can be loved.

The 12 Steps are based upon spiritual principles, three of which are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness — embodied in the first three Steps. When these principles are followed to the best of our ability, the possibility of recovery is opened to us.

12 Step programs are neither religions, nor sects, nor cults. Neither are they psychotherapy, scientific or medical forms of treatment. The program places importance on developing a working relationship with a “Higher Power” because it is only through finding and believing in a power greater than ourselves that we can start to recover. Each one of us has the freedom to choose his or her own understanding of a Higher Power. The only suggested guidelines are that this power be “loving, caring, and greater than one’s self”. Individuals from countless spiritual and religious backgrounds, as well as many atheists and agnostics, have developed a relationship with their own Higher Power. The 12 Steps often make use of the word “God” and some members who have difficulty with this term prefer to use “Higher Power”. No one should ever let their disbelief in a God keep them from finding recovery in a 12 Step program.

Ultimately, the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps is to help us grow in our relationship with a God of our understanding who will help us live a new way of life, free from our addiction and in peace and serenity.


Set of suggestions

12 Step programs are a course of action based on the experience of addicts in recovery, who share their experience, strength and hope with others so that they may recover too. The Steps are suggestions only. We are we not forced to do anything we do not want to do. There is, though, a saying in 12 Steps fellowships that indicates the importance of following suggestions: “we suggest you pull the parachute cord when you jump out of the plane.” Addiction is a serious affliction, and following these suggestions may be a matter of life and death for many of us. There will come a time when we have to ask ourselves how desperate we are to recover and whether we will allow our negative opinions and beliefs deter us from giving recovery in a 12 Step program a try. In fellowships there is a saying that describes a closed state of mind that will keep us from seeking recovery: “contempt prior to investigation”.

Originally the 12 Steps were created to help chronic alcoholics recover – those who had developed the disease and who had lost the power to control their alcoholic consumption. Although just about everybody could benefit from the principles of the 12 Steps to have a better and more serene life, the Steps are intended for those who have become powerless over their addiction and need the help of a higher Power to remedy their problem.


Fellowship meetings

12 Steps Fellowship meetings are like clubs where addicts who share a common form of addiction gather together to share their experience of addiction, the Steps, and recovery with one another. These meetings are self-help or support groups with no requirements for membership and free to anyone who has a desire to stop their addiction.

Fellowship meetings act as an arena where we find support and identification. A meeting is a place where we reveal the hardships of our disease and the triumphs we have found in recovery. It’s a place where we can let go of shame and guilt, for no one is better or worse than us. It’s a place where we can feel safe and at home, for we all know how it feels to be suffering from the disease of addiction.

Attending 12 Step fellowship meetings is an effective source of support, the support that our families and communities often could no longer provide as we sank deeper into our addiction. But Fellowship meetings by themselves are not the solution; in order to recover we need to work the 12 Steps.

Fellowships meetings are held together by the 12 Traditions, which act as guidelines that help the groups’ function and ensure the survival of the overall fellowship.

For further information please refer to: Anonymous Fellowships.



Because 12 Step programs are not run by professionals nor held in treatment centers, sponsorship is used as a means to support one another towards recovery. Newcomers in 12 Step programs are encouraged to find a more experienced person in recovery with whom they can relate as soon as possible. Together they can work the Steps, with the sponsor providing his or her experience and guidance.

In addition, a sponsor provides support by making suggestions to newcomers to help them in their recovery, such as attending meetings, how to avoid relapse, reading of literature, writing, or meditation.

A sponsor’s role is not that of a legal adviser, a banker, a parent, a marriage counselor, or a social worker. Nor is a sponsor a therapist offering professional advice. A sponsor is simply another addict in recovery who is willing to share his or her journey and experience of the 12 Steps.

For further information please refer to:  12 Step Sponsorship.


Principles of 12 Step program

There are certain guiding principles common in 12 Step program that if adhered to will make our journey into recovery more successful. They are:

Principles 12 Step program 

1. Never cured

12 Step program believe we are never cured of the disease of addiction. Once the disease has developed, like any other chronic illness, it will always remain with us.

The Steps provide a plan of recovery to keep this disease in remission on a daily basis.  That is why working the Steps is a daily affair in maintaining recovery.

As drug addicts, we need to accept we are suffering from a life-long illness and that it is never again safe to use any kind of mind-altering substances. We have lost this luxury. As difficult as this may seem to many of us, this fact about our condition has to be accepted if we hope to make a start in our journey towards recovery.


2. Total abstinence

12 Step program for drug addicts advocate total abstinence from all mind-altering substances. This is because the program addresses the actual disease of addiction, as opposed to focusing on any one type of substance being abused. As they say in Narcotics Anonymous and other 12 Step fellowships, changing from one substance to another to beat addiction is like changing deck chairs on the Titanic. Experience has established beyond any doubt that once we have developed the disease, taking any mind-altering substance will set it in motion again. The only defence we have against this disease is to stay away from it for the rest of our lives – one day at a time. To take any drug, even after a period of abstinence, sets off that craving, that compulsion. The disease is always waiting, they say in 12 Step programs. But the program is there too, and many, many people enjoy years and decades of being drug free.

Behavioral addictions are different, though, since one cannot abstain totally, for instance, from food. For such addictions, the 12 Steps suggest a plan of recovery based on guidelines of moderation. Behavioral addictions are not as black and white as substance addictions in that behavior will vary according to each individual. For example, one food addict may eat too much when he or she wants to avoid uncomfortable feelings, whereas another food addict will starve him or herself for the same reason. With behavior addictions it is important to understand root causes of the disease. Working an honest and thorough Step 1 will help us understand why a behavior has become problematic and provide us with the tools to keep our addictive behavior in remission. Admitting that the behavior has, in a sense, got us beaten, opens the door to recovery. For addicts, surrender is a victory.


3. Our responsibility

12 Step program emphasize that we must take responsibility for our own recovery. Unlike other illnesses where you give responsibility to a doctor to cure you, with addiction it is up to each of us to take the actions necessary to become clean and stay in recovery. The program promotes self-responsibility and self-care – a concept that may be foreign to many of us, even more so if raised in a culture where self-care is foreign. But with addiction, we have to understand that we are suffering from a life-threatening illness, and it is up to us to work the program of recovery. It is a choice each one of us has to take – either to continue giving power to our addiction or take responsibility for it and do what is necessary to get well. Our responsibility to recover takes many forms, from practical things such as attending meetings, working the Steps, and getting a sponsor, to emotional aspects of being gentle and patient with our condition.

Although we are not responsible for our disease of addiction, this program says we are responsible for the consequences of our behavior and actions. For example, if your drug addiction has led you to steal, then you are responsible for the consequences regardless of suffering from this disease. But the Steps make provision for this, and part of working this program is about righting the wrongs we have done.

When working the 12 Steps we need to ask ourselves whether we are willing to go to any length to get better, whether we are going to take responsibility for our disease, and whether are going to make recovery our number one priority. Unfortunately many of us have to reach rock bottom before we can admit to our disease and accept the plan of recovery as suggested by the 12 Steps. This is because that so long as we believe we have power and can exercise self-will, there is little likelihood of having the humility to admit to powerlessness.


4. Daily program

Based on the chronic nature of addiction, 12 Step program advocate a daily program of recovery. “Staying in the day” and working the program “a day at a time” are phrases heard again and again in 12 Step meetings, and for good reason. It is beyond the capability of any addict to imagine a life without drugs or their compulsive behaviors. In fact, to do so is to set ourselves up for relapse. The program therefore encourages us to stay clean “just for today” and not to worry about how we will manage tomorrow.

This principle also helps us “stay in the here and now” and to keep our recovery as a first priority in our lives. This principle also makes everyone in the program equal in that no one is “more” recovered than another. It also eliminates Dutch courage and grandiosity, and it keeps us humble in our recovery. All of us in recovery have no more than a “daily reprieve” — that is, we are clean for only 24 hours at a time.


5. No monopoly

The 12 Steps do not claim to be the only approach toward recovery from addiction. Rather, it simply offers a solution towards recovery from addiction, to those who have found no other way.


6. 4 criteria to work the program

There are 4 fundamental criteria that if practiced will help us work the 12 Step more effectively to achieve recovery. They are:


1- Belief in a Power greater than ourselves: as chronic addicts we need to stop relying on ourselves for a solution to our problem, but instead rely on a Higher Power to help us. Our Higher Power can be a power of our own choosing, just so long as it is not ourselves. Some members of 12 Step fellowships make the meetings they attend regularly their Higher Power. Some think of God as standing for “good orderly direction.” The point is that as addicts we have played god and have failed in our attempts to stop our addiction. Relying on a Power greater than ourselves will help us look for a solution outside ourselves while relieving us of the burden of trying to find a solution on our own for this disease.


2- Honesty: Honesty in the context of the 12 Step means having the courage to see the truth about our condition. It is the honest admission that we have a disease over which we have lost control and power. This criterion helps us become humble enough to look for a solution outside ourselves.


3- Open-mindedness: In the context of the 12 Steps, to be open-minded means to avoid as much as possible the kind of thinking that shuts us off from solutions, the kind of thinking that leads us to believe we know better – and to dismiss the suggestions of the program, while clinging to the belief that nothing works for us. In describing the stubborn, self-defeating attitudes of the chronic addict, members of 12-Step fellowships like to point out that “my best thinking got me here.” Open-mindedness helps overcome our sense of grandiosity and pessimism.


4- Willingness: In the context of the 12 Steps, willingness means to have a desire and an eagerness to take action. It is a willing attitude that helps us put aside old ideas and try solutions we may not at first like or agree with. Practice of these criteria demonstrates our humility and desperation to go to any length to recover.


12 Steps of A.A.

These are the original 12-Step of Alcoholics Anonymous. All other 12 Step programs use the same Steps with the exception of Step 1, in which the word alcohol is replaced with a problematic substance or behavior. In the case with Narcotics Anonymous the word alcohol has been replaced with addiction to reiterate the disease concept regardless of the type of substances being abused. The reason for this is in Step 1 the addict needs to identify and accept his or her primary problem, be it to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, gambling, etc. The other 11 Steps follow the same spiritual program of action suggested for recovery from the disease of addiction, whatever shape it has shown itself or taken form in us.


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 all 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.

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