The 12 Steps of Recovery Programs

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The Twelve Steps, originated by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is a spiritual foundation for personal recovery from the effects of alcoholism, both for the person using alcohol as well as their friends and family in Al-Anon Family Groups. The 12 steps are also used in recovery programs for addictions other than alcohol.

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

How the Twelve Steps Work

As explained in Chapter 5, "How It Works," in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, the Twelve 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 the type of substance they used.

The Twelve Steps themselves are the essence of Alcoholics Anonymous. They are the directions meant to provide members a path to lasting sobriety and a substance-free lifestyle.

Twelve-Step meetings are considered the "fellowship" part of the AA mutual support groups, where people come together and share their experiences.

The 12 Steps

Though the original Twelve Steps of AA have been adapted over time, the premise of each step remains the same for all recovery programs that use a 12-step model.

By exploring the steps in depth and seeing how others have applied the principles in their lives, you can use them to gain insight into your own experiences, and to gain strength and hope for your own recovery. The steps and their principles are:

  1. Honesty: After many years of denial, recovery can begin with one simple admission of being powerless over alcohol or any other drug a person is addicted to. Their friends and family may also use this step to admit their loved one has an addiction.
  2. Faith: Before a higher power can begin to operate, you must first believe that it can. Someone with an addiction accepts that there is a higher power to help them heal.
  3. Surrender: You can change your self-destructive decisions by recognizing that you alone cannot recover; with help from your higher power, you can.
  4. Soul searching: The person in recovery must identify their problems and get a clear picture of how their behavior affected themselves and others around them.
  5. Integrity: Step 5 provides great opportunity for growth. The person in recovery must admit their wrongs in front of their higher power and another person.
  6. Acceptance: The key to Step 6 is acceptance—accepting character defects exactly as they are and becoming entirely willing to let them go.
  7. Humility: The spiritual focus of Step 7 is humility, or asking a higher power to do something that cannot be done by self-will or mere determination.
  8. Willingness: This step involves making a list of those you harmed before coming into recovery.
  9. Forgiveness: Making amends may seem challenging, but for those serious about recovery, it can be a great way to start healing your relationships.
  10. Maintenance: Nobody likes to admit to being wrong. But it is a necessary step in order to maintain spiritual progress in recovery.
  11. Making contact: The purpose of Step 11 is to discover the plan your higher power has for your life.
  12. Service: The person in recovery must carry the message to others and put the principles of the program into practice in every area of their life.

You can also read about the Twelve Traditions, which are the spiritual principles behind the 12 steps.

The Evolution of the 12 Steps

While the 12 steps in use today are based on the same ideas written by the founders of AA in the 1930s, the understanding of the term “God” has since broadened to refer to any “higher power” that a person believes in.

Believing in this higher power may help someone find meaning in their life outside of addiction. For instance, they may find a greater sense of community by joining a spiritual or religious group. Or, they may engage in prayer and meditation. These can be healthy coping mechanisms someone turns to as they progress through recovery.

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.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.