First developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1930s, the 12-step program has become the most widely used approach to treating alcohol and drug abuse. Formally, AA defines the 12 Steps as “a set of principles, spiritual in nature, when practiced as a way of life, that can expel the obsession to drink (or use drugs) and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”
Less formally, the 12 steps are a process of getting real with yourself and your world, righting the things you’ve made wrong and learning how to live your life in a better, more meaningful way. Structured around the idea of God as each individual understands him, the 12 steps are generally spiritual in nature. It is best if recovering addicts and alcoholics go through them in sequential order, as each step builds on the ones that come before. Here’s an overview of the 12 steps and how each one helps support addiction recovery.
Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Admitting the problem is a crucial first step. Once addicts admit their problem is out of control, they can begin to heal. The spiritual principles behind this step are honesty and acceptance.
Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Alcoholics Anonymous believes addicts should look to a higher power in order to recover; this higher power can be anything or anyone that works for the person. The spiritual principle behind this step is hope.
Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.
At this step, the addict fully turns to that higher power. The spiritual principle behind this step is faith.
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
This step can be one of the most difficult and requires soul-searching and self-examination. To make this step most effective, addicts must take an honest look at negative consequences of their behavior, including past embarrassment, regret and guilt. The spiritual principle behind this step is courage.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
By admitting to the past poor behavior examined in step 4, addicts and alcoholics are able to let go of shame and guilt. The spiritual principle behind this step is integrity.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
At this point, addicts admit they are ready to allow their higher power to take away the wrongs they admitted in step 4. The spiritual principle behind this step is willingness.
Step 7: Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.
Recovering addicts ask the higher power to eliminate character defects, which may include impulsivity, selfishness, impatience or anger. In order to do this, addicts must admit they are not strong enough to remove these character flaws on their own. The spiritual principle behind this step is humility.
Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to all of them.
During this step, addicts make a list of all the people in their lives they have wronged as a result of their substance abuse. These wrongs could be small things, such as a white lie to hide intoxication, or big infringements, such as stealing money to buy alcohol or drugs. The spiritual principle behind this step is justice.
Step 9: Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
At this stage, addicts attempt to rectify their wrongdoings by confronting the people they harmed. The conversation may take place through a written letter or email or by sitting down face to face. The spiritual principle behind this step is self-discipline.
Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
It’s never easy to admit you’re wrong, but this step requires it. Addicts must commit to monitoring themselves for behaviors that could harm themselves or someone else and to freely admit when they are wrong. The spiritual principle behind this step is perseverance.
Step 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.
As part of this step, recovering addicts must commit to some form of spiritual practice. This practice can come in many different forms, including meditation, prayer or reading the Bible once a day. The spiritual principle behind this step is awareness.
Step 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.
This final step encourages people in recovery to help others in their recovery as well. It’s common for recovering addicts to go on to sponsor others once they themselves have completed the 12 steps. By giving away the gift of recovery, they are better able to keep it themselves. The spiritual principles behind this step are love and service.