What are the 12 Steps?

Twelve Step programs are mutual help and fellowship programs that provide a course of action for recovery from addiction. Many treatment programs for alcohol addiction and other addictions are based on the 12 Steps.

The program, established in 1939, was originally known as Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. Today, Twelve-Step groups are available for nearly every addiction, compulsion and behavioral problem, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), and many more.

Twelve-Step participants are asked to work through a series of spiritual and moral principles, beginning with an honest acknowledgement of powerlessness over the addictive substance or behavior, a willingness to acknowledge the existence of a power greater than oneself, and a commitment to surrender to that higher power.

Participants gain increased awareness by taking a ruthless moral inventory in which they examine and take responsibility for past errors, by making amends by apologizing to those who have been wronged as a result of the addictive behavior, and by carrying the message of fellowship and recovery to others.

Although the Twelve-Steps are firmly grounded in spirituality, members are not required to be religious, to belong to a church or to believe in (a) God. The program is open to everybody, regardless of religion, gender, sexual preference, political opinion, economic status or racial or ethnic background.

Twelve-Step meetings involve frank, open discussions regarding the pain experienced as a result of addiction, as well as positive messages of hope and recovery. Members are advised to attend meetings regularly, and studies have indicated a direct relationship between meeting attendance and abstinence rates.

Complete confidentiality is a cornerstone of the program, and last names are never used outside the fellowship.

Although it isn’t required, participants are advised to choose a sponsor—a person who has a long period of abstinence and is willing to offer support and guidance to a newly abstinent person. Sponsors share experience and wisdom, provide encouragement and guidance through the Twelve Steps, and help spot signs of relapse. Many treatment programs will offer 12-step facilitation as an element of addiction treatment.

Although the Twelve Steps aren’t the answer for everybody, millions of people consider the program a blueprint for a full, meaningful life free of substance abuse and addiction.

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