History of the 12-Step Program

The 12-Steps were originally created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous so as to establish guidelines for the best way to overcome alcohol addiction. The program gained enough success and popularity in its early years and the steps were being adapted by other addiction support groups. The Alcoholics Anonymous model of 12 steps and 12 traditions is one of the oldest treatment programs for any type of addiction around. As the science and psychology of addiction evolves, the role of Alcoholics Anonymous may change somewhat, but it is still likely to remain a cornerstone of many people’s aftercare efforts, if not even their overall recovery journey.

Alcohol addiction ended the career of Bill Wilson, who initially had experienced success as a stockbroker on Wall Street in the 20th Century. In a bid to overcome his alcohol addiction problem, he frequented Towns Hospital in New York City, for medical treatment; but he still continued to drink afterward. Edwin Thacher, a friend of Wilson’s, spoke with him about the Oxford Group’s blueprint of self-improvement and how it helped him quit drinking. The Oxford Group, a Christian organization founded in the early 20th century, had its core principles based on spirituality and involved honesty and unselfishness. Although Wilson declined an invitation to join the group, he conceded the possible existence of a higher power.

Wilson later experienced a spiritual awakening that made him stop drinking, but this was after he re-entered treatment at Towns Hospital in December 1934. Shortly after, in 1935, he co-founded Alcohol Anonymous (AA) with Dr. Bob Smith, a physician in Akron, Ohio, who struggled with alcoholism. In 1939, Wilson published the “The Big Book”, which describes how to recover from alcohol addiction.

The 12 Steps of Recovery

AA’s 12-Step approach follows a set of guidelines, which are designed as steps aimed toward recovery. Because recovery is a life-long process, there is no wrong pattern to approach the 12 Steps, as each participant tries to figure out what works best for his/her individual needs. Often times, most members find that they will need to revisit some steps or even tackle more than one of the given steps at a time. Although, it is best if recovering addicts go through them in the given sequential order, as each step builds on the preceding one.

The 12 Steps are stated below:

  • We admitted we were powerless over alcohol- that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him.
  • Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Entirely ready to let God remove all these defects of character.
  • Humbly ask God to remove all our shortcomings.
  • Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  • Sought through meditation and prayer to improve our contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs. The 12 Steps are generally spiritual in nature; as it is structured around the idea of God, as each individual understands Him, thereby giving room for different interpretations and beliefs.

Modification of the 12 Steps

Over the years, the 12-Steps have been adapted by other self-help and addiction recovery groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous, to those suffering from other forms of addiction. Also, many groups have changed the explicitly Christian overtones of the original 12 Steps to reflect more secular or agnostic philosophies. When put in a less formal way, it is more like the 12 steps are coined as a process of getting real with yourself and your world, making right the things you have made wrong, and learning to live your life in a better and more meaningful way. The less formal outlook is given below as:
Step 1: Honesty
Step 2: Hope
Step 3: Faith
Step 4: Courage
Step 5: Integrity
Step 6: Willingness
Step 7: Humility
Step 8: Responsibility
Step 9: Discipline
Step 10: Perseverance
Step 11: Awareness
Step 12: Service

Benefits of the 12-Step Program

The meetings of the 12-step program support groups are readily available, easily accessible and of and oftentimes free to join. They consist of women and men who share their experiences, strength and hope with one another. The 12-step program indulges its members to follow a set of guiding principles called the 12 Steps. Following the steps as laid out has helped a lot of people achieve and maintain abstinence from behavioral problems such as gambling addiction, eating disorders, substance use disorders. The lessons learned and the bonds formed from these meetings can last a lifetime.
The 12-Step model has a number of benefits that are not to be dismissed lightly. In an overall overview, research continues to demonstrate that these are helpful as a part of a more comprehensive, well-rounded treatment program consisting of detox, various type therapies, and aftercare; and comprising a range of therapies and treatments that are customized to the specific needs of the person.

The basic idea of the 12-Steps program is to give addicts a process through which they can understand and manage their substance use disorders, and also find social support for recovery through the aid of others dealing with the same struggles. 12-Step programs can enable cognitive restructuring around substance abuse and similar behaviors. This makes it possible for people to change their behavioral patterns concerning their substance abuse.
Another purpose served by the 12-Steps groups is to help the families and loved ones of the addicts. These include groups like Al-Anon for families and friends of people who abuse alcohol, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Nar-Anon for families and friends of people who abuse narcotics.

Many rehabilitation centers in the United States combines the 12-step programs with evidence-based treatment, which often includes medical detoxification. Individuals who complete rehab often continue their participation in the meetings because the 12 Steps help them to focus on sobriety. The most popular 12-Steps support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, hold meetings on a daily basis, throughout the United States. Meetings are often held in public facilities such as schools, community centers, or churches.

Different 12-Step Programs and the Meeting Structure

There are many 12-Step programs, and they include:
Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon or Alateen
Adult Children of Alcoholics
Gamblers Anonymous
Sex Addicts Anonymous
Nicotine Anonymous
Narcotics Anonymous
Overeaters Anonymous
Food Addicts Anonymous
Marijuana Anonymous
Cocaine Anonymous
Crystal Meth Anonymous

The basic outline of the meeting structure of a 12-Step program is given below:

  • A member of the group, who is a volunteer before the meeting or selected beforehand, leads the meeting.
  • The meeting kicks off with a prayer or meditation, and with people introducing themselves and acknowledging the substance abuse problems they have, if comfortable doing so.
  • Members may present or be asked to present readings from the group’s specific literature, the 12 Steps, or other elements of the program.
  • A specific substance abuse topic which falls within the group’s interest may be introduced, or there may be a provision for a speaker or book presentation, so as to provide education and/or generate discussion within the group.
  • Members are encouraged to speak up if they have something to share with the group about their challenges and/or experiences.
  • Another meditation or prayer is shared before the close of the meeting.
  • This general meeting structure can possess some level of variation somewhat vary, depending on the group. This is because each group is self-sustaining, and sessions may be altered to meet the needs of the specific group members. This variation may be a contributing factor to some inconsistencies in the content; however, this is supported by the guidelines and group literature.

The 12-Step groups often reference a higher power, but these programs are not strictly for religious people. Studies have even found that nonreligious participants who commit to the programs seem to benefit from them as much as the religious individuals do. At the very least, the 12-Step model provides support, encouragement, and accountability for people who are genuinely interested in overcoming their addiction. Those who benefit from 12-Step programs are those that have shown commitment to making the program work, who engage in other treatment as well as being engaged in the 12-Step program, and those who stay involved in the 12-Step program on a long-term basis. A preliminary step to obtaining the benefits of the 12-Step participation is to get in contact with a reputable, research-based treatment facility and get a personal treatment plan prepared. To be more particular, incorporating the 12-Step program as part of the individual’s aftercare program is capable of helping to reinforce the lessons learned in the rehab, even long after the formal treatment is over.

Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center® holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.