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12-Step Programs For Addiction: An Overview

12-Step Programs For Addiction: An Overview

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is perhaps the best known of the 12-step recovery programs.  A.A. was the first to employ the 12-steps to aid people in recovering from alcoholism; it remains the single, most effective program for treating this disease. For this reason, these best drug rehabs integrate a 12-step program philosophy into their treatment plan.

Because of the recovery rates seen in A.A., these guidelines and principles now serve many types of other addicts as well.   In every corner of the globe, you can find 12-step programs related to recovery from Narcotics (N.A.), Cocaine (C.A.) and Marijuana (M.A.).  Substances are not the only things abused and, so, there are 12-step groups in place to help individuals to recover from addictive behaviors as well. Gamblers, workaholics and sexaholics can all find recovery through the 12-step programs as well; this is not a complete list – there are many other behaviors and substances which also follow the twelve-steps to begin living a new life.

Twelve-step programs are not a quick fix. In order to reap the benefits that millions of others have received through this recovery process, one must be dedicated to working hard, being honest and changing the way they once lived their lives. That certainly seems like a “tall order” and it is. The process need not be overwhelming however; the steps are worked one at a time, one day at a time. 

12-Step programs offer recovery in a setting that is typically welcoming and non-threatening.  For the first time, many recovering addicts will meet people who feel exactly as they do. Because so many addicts often live isolated existences, feeling part of a group can be especially rewarding.

There are two types of twelve-step meetings – “open” meetings, where anyone can attend and listen to a speaker describe his/her experience, strength, and hope.  Open meetings do not require any participation – many people choose open meetings early-on just to gain insight. “Closed meetings” may be attended only by those who have a desire to quit using their drug of choice.  

Misconceptions About 12-Step Programs

  • Many people are scared off from attending because they do not want to stand up and have to say “I am Tony and I am an addict/alcoholic”.  You need not admit to your addiction at all; most people go to their first meetings believing they are not, in fact, addicted. The only requirement to participate in 12-step recovery is “a desire to stop drinking, shopping, gambling, using, etc” That’s it; you simply must have the desire to stop destructive behaviors. You can introduce yourself by name when you are ready to do so; you will not be pressured to do anything you are not comfortable with. 
  • Because active addicts are usually quite unhappy, they expect to find a miserable group of people at A.A., N.A., etc.  Addicts often feel “I don’t want to sit around and listen to a bunch of sob stories.” It usually takes only a meeting or two to discover people in recovery are quite happy and peaceful – living lives that A.A. refers to “happy, joyous and free.”
  • “I don’t belong with those drunks; they are homeless, drinking or drugging under a bridge and don’t have a job”.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Many alcoholics/addicts are high-functioning and live in nice homes. The disease of addiction does not play favorites; 12-step groups are composed of doctors, lawyers, housewives, plumbers, and people of all age groups.
  • “Everyone in my community will know I am an alcoholic/addict”. People who work the twelve steps take “anonymity” very seriously.   Even if encountering another group member on the street, at work, etc. those in recovery never reveal how they know one another. A common refrain heard at meetings is “What we Hear Here, Stays Here!”

A Brief Overview Of The Actual Twelve Steps

Step One:  We Admitted We Were Powerless Over Alcohol/Drugs/Compulsive Behaviors And That Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable. 

It is said that the First Step is the only step you must work perfectly. No one can begin to recover if they don’t first recognize they have a problem. Important to note: Attendance at meetings does not require you ‘” own the First Step” completely – for most people, acceptance comes with time.

Step Two:  Power Greater Than Ourselves Could Reinstate  Us To Sanity

While Twelve-Step programs are said to be based on spiritual principles, it does not mean you must hold any religious beliefs.  “Higher power” simply means you are willing to rely on something or someone greater than yourself in order to recover. Some people refer to God as their Higher Power, some Jesus, Buddha, etc.  Many others, however, rely on the Universe to guide them. Others, still, rely on the twelve-step group, itself, to be their Higher Power.

Step Three:  Tell Your Wish To God, He Understood Us   

Once admitting powerlessness and that your life has become unmanageable, you make a decision to turn your life over to something greater than yourself. The first three steps are often summed up this way “I Can’t; He Can; Let Him”.

Step Four: Make  A Moral Inventory Of Ourselves 

 For some, this step is the scariest; it need not be. The Fourth Step is worked only when you are ready to face the liberating truth about yourself. 

Step Five: Admit to God, And Ourselves, About The Nature Of Our Wrongs   

For most people in recovery, this “other human being” is their trusted sponsor.

Step Six:  God Is Ready For Us To Remove The Defects Of Our Character

Step Five requires only that you are “ready” to have your character defects removed.

Step Seven: Humbly Asked Him To Remove Our Defects

Humility is at the very core of this recovery process.

Step Eight: Made A List Of All Persons We Had Harmed And Became Willing Mo make Amends To Them All

The keywords here are “became willing” – Step Eight requires only that.

Step Nine: Make  Direct Corrections To Such People Whenever Possible

This may seem to be a daunting task, but like each of the steps, it can be done when you are ready.   Sponsors prove very valuable in determining to whom you might want to make amends.

Step Ten:  Continued To Take Personal Inventory And When We Were Wrong Promptly Admitted It  

As we live our lives in recovery, it is advised we look at ourselves, motives, actions on a continual basis. When we find we’ve done something wrong we admit it.

Step Eleven:  Oray only For The Knowledge Of His Will 

Prayer and meditation help us to improve our conscious contact with God.

Step Twelve:  Having A Spiritual Awakening As A Result Of These Steps, Alcoholics/Addicts Are Requested To Practice These Principles In All Of Your Affairs

This step can be summed up as “if you want to keep what you have (sobriety), you must give it away”.

(*Sponsor refers to an individual, who has at least one year of continued sobriety, who will work with you on each of the twelve steps.)

It is often said that the 12-steps are merely suggested as a means of achieving recovery. People with long-term sobriety will often say “They’re suggested like it is suggested that you use a parachute when you jump out of an airplane”.


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