12-step programs are a well-known part of rehabilitation and recovery. A common choice after the completion of inpatient therapy or to help people learn more about the process of recovering from addiction, 12-step meetings are held for virtually every substance in almost every city across the United States. But what exactly is a 12-step program and how does this concept work?
The History of 12-Step Programs
12-step programs debuted with the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded in Akron, OH in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith, known affectionately as Bill W. and Dr. Bob, these fundamental stages of care were originally known as the Twelve Traditions. The foundation of this program was solidified with the expansion of AA in the 1930s and 1940s.
Because AA is specifically intended for alcoholics and is not open to other substance abusers who are not struggling with alcohol, other 12-step models have evolved to fill this need. AA officially provided Narcotics Anonymous rights to use their Steps in 1953.
The Composition of 12-Step Programs
As the name implies, 12-step programs utilize a series of 12 progressive steps to help recovering addicts navigate the path to lifelong sobriety. Designed to cover the main stages in rehabilitation, from identifying weaknesses to seeking forgiveness, participants work through the steps at their own pace while staying as committed as possible to consistent abstinence. The step process is an individual journey and there’s no right or wrong way to use them; some users may continually return to steps while others may go over several at a time.
Designed to teach accountability and strength in sobriety, all 12-step programs use a variation on the below format:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
This step is key to sobriety. Addicts need to admit that they cannot control alcohol or drug use and that change is not possible alone. It’s also important to understand that addiction cannot be self-managed.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This step addresses the need for outside help and the importance of hope. While originally designed as a religious admission, non-religious members can interpret this step as a need for rehabilitation or recovery resources to successfully break a habit.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
The third steps encourage participants to dedicate their lives to serving a greater good, whether that means a traditional Christian God or an appropriate interpretation. In essence, this step forces users to accept that they need guidance to move forward.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
A realistic view on personal shortcomings is a crucial part of admitting a need for change. This step may be uncomfortable – it’s often hard to admit your own failings – but understanding struggles and weaknesses is a necessary step in righting wrongs.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step five involves admission, or confessing guilt and sins to others as a form of emotional purging. By acknowledging and working through mistakes, you can unburden yourself and better work through personal demons.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
This step requires participants to let go of their former selves in order to commit to sobriety. By acknowledging bad behaviors and staying dedicated to change, participants can work to avoid negative actions in favor of healthier ways to cope.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
Similar to step six, this step requires an acknowledgment of personal shortcomings and the humility to ask for help in overcoming them.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Addiction harms many people outside of oneself. This step requires users to recognize the ways in which their actions have hurt others, like friends, family members, coworkers, and romantic partners. This journey isn’t metaphorical, either; participants must be willing to actually apologize and make amends.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
Step nine expands on step eight, detailing the need to physically approach individuals who have been harmed through substance abuse and make honest amends. However, there is a caveat on this step: if a personal meeting would be too painful for one or both parties or could implicate another individual in a criminal act, reparations can be bypassed.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
Recovery is an ongoing process that lasts throughout life and requires continual growth to maintain a positive trajectory. In order to ensure continued success, this step requires introspection and consideration of actions, both past and future.
- 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.
A request for spiritual guidance, step 11 asks participants to pray to God and listen to his words and advice in order to live a good, healthy life. For non-religious users, “God” can be interpreted as any force of good in the world, like the support of a 12-step program.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The final step, step 12 requests a combination of self-serving and selfless behavior to encourage participants to both live by the message provided by the steps as well as to help others do the same.
Seek Help in a 12-Step Program
For recovering substance abusers, a 12-step outpatient program can have a positive impact on the ability to get sober and stay sober. With a built in support network of peers and counselors, it’s possible to find the strength and guidance necessary to continue on the road to abstinence.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and would like to learn more about outpatient treatments like 12-step programs, Outpatient Services is happy to help. Please contact us today at (844) 211-7944.