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What Is The 12 Step Program?

Mar 15, 2008
Twelve-step programs are used to battle addictions as well as other compulsive and behavior disorders. These programs evolved from the twelve-step program introduced by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. Over the years millions of people have used the principles to change their lives. It is now the most widely used system for recovery from addictions of all types including drugs and alcohol.


Addictions are recurring compulsions to engage in a certain type of behavior that can be detrimental to other facets of life such as health, family life, employment, etc. This behavior may relate to substances such as drugs, alcohol, or behaviors such as overeating, sex, gambling, etc. The dependence on these substances can be both physical and psychological. After initial use, addiction usually takes the form of built up tolerance to the substance followed by increased usage and withdrawal upon eliminating or reducing the dose.

Twelve-Step Program

The twelve-step program can be adapted for use in recovery from all types of addiction. It includes some basic principles that are common to all programs. These principles are based around cognitive, emotional, relationship, behavioral, social, and spiritual objectives. They include: an admission that one cannot control the addiction; a recognition that there is a greater power that can help; a review of our faults with other experienced members of the group; a desire to make amends for wrongs; a focus on living a new way of life with a new set of behaviors; and a desire to help others who suffer from similar addictions.

Here are the original Twelve Steps first published by Alcoholics Anonymous:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
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.
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.

Group Participation

Helping others with addictions has been seen as one of the greatest catalysts in remaining sober. Willpower alone is not enough but rather it is the acceptance of the group approach and reliance on a higher power that is the key. Participation in the group and passing the twelve-step message to others as well as imparting support, personal experience and hope are the spiritual principles of the program. True growth in the program is ultimately achieved by giving in the group situation rather than receiving. The aim is to move away from self-centeredness towards self sacrifice for others and moral awareness - the 'spiritual awakening.'


Experienced members of the group practice their program by aiding newcomers. This takes the form of a one on one relationship known as 'sponsorship' with the experienced person imparting their knowledge and giving feedback to the beginner. The sponsor is in a position to guide the newcomer and help them in their quest for sobriety.


Twelve-step groups place great emphasis on self-admission by group members. 'My name is John and I am an alcoholic.' This reaffirms that they are powerless over their addiction.


Sponsors and other group members are expected to keep information given out during meetings as confidential. A favorite slogan of many groups is 'what you hear here, who you see here, let it stay here'.

Halting Addictions

The causes of the addiction are not as important within the twelve-step programs as the acceptance that there has been a loss of control. It is this loss of control over drugs or alcohol that is at the base of all addictions. Addiction is an illness that affects the individual both physically and mentally. These addictions can only be stopped - not cured.

Outpatient or Inpatient Program

The twelve-step program was developed in an outpatient-type setting but can easily be adapted to an inpatient setting. As mentioned previously a major ingredient of success is involvement in a group or community.

Comparison with Other Addiction Treatments

Many other addiction treatment programs look at the causes of addiction - depression, stress, etc and then treat these underlying causes. Controlled usage is sometimes permitted in these types of program. The twelve-step program views the addiction as the root cause and complete abstinence is required.

The twelve-step program continues to lead the way in the fight for recovery from addictions. Over the years it has helped countless millions around the world to lead happy, productive lives. The twelve-step program is a path toward self-discovery and personal growth. It helps people to recover from addiction and also develop a deeper sense of who they truly are. This helps former addict to deal in a healthy way with all the challenges that life brings them.
About the Author
Gatehouse Academy is a long term drug rehab facility for young adults.
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