The 12 Steps of Recovery Programs

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The Twelve Steps, originated by Alcoholics Anonymous, is the spiritual foundation for personal recovery from the effects of alcoholism, not only for the alcoholic but also for their friends and family in Al-Anon Family Groups.

Many members of 12-step recovery programs have found that these steps were not merely a way to stop drinking, but they became a guide toward a new way of life.


Whereas 12-step meetings are the "fellowship" part of the mutual support groups, the twelve steps themselves are the essence of the actual program. They are the directions that provide members a path that leads to lasting sobriety and a drug-free lifestyle.

As explained in Chapter 5 "How It Works," in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the steps provide a suggested program of recovery that worked for the early members of AA and continued to work through the years for many others regardless of their drug or behavior of choice.

The Twelve Steps

Here are the 12 steps. You can also explore them in-depth and how others have applied the principles in their lives and gained insight, experience, strength, and hope.

Step 1: Honesty
After many years of denial, recovery can begin when with one simple admission of being powerless over alcohol—for alcoholics and their friends and family.

Step 2: Faith
It seems to be a spiritual truth, that before a higher power can begin to operate, you must first believe that it can.

Step 3: Surrender
A lifetime of self-will run riot can come to a screeching halt, and change forever, by making a simple decision to turn it all over to a higher power.

Step 4: Soul Searching
There is a saying in the 12-step programs that recovery is a process, not an event. The same can be said for this step—more will surely be revealed.

Step 5: Integrity
Probably the most difficult of all the steps to face, Step 5 is also the one that provides the greatest opportunity for growth.

Step 6: Acceptance
The key to Step 6 is acceptance—accepting character defects exactly as they are and becoming entirely willing to let them go.

Step 7: Humility
The spiritual focus of Step 7 is humility, asking a higher power to do something that cannot be done by self-will or mere determination.

Step 8: Willingness
Making a list of those harmed before coming into recovery may sound simple. Becoming willing to actually make those amends is the difficult part.

Step 9: Forgiveness
Making amends may seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but for those serious about recovery, it can be great medicine for the spirit and soul.

Step 10: Maintenance
Nobody likes to admit to being wrong. But it is absolutely necessary to maintain spiritual progress in recovery.

Step 11: Making Contact
The purpose of Step 11 is to discover the plan God (as you understand Him) has for your life.

Step 12: Service
For those in recovery programs, practicing Step 12 is simply "how it works."

You can also read about the Twelve Traditions, spiritual principles that keep 12 step support groups focused on their primary purpose.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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