An Overview of the 12 Steps for Addiction Recovery

The 12 steps philosophy of addiction treatment has a long history. It began with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in 1938. The 12 guiding principles of their new organization evolved into the 12 steps. These steps have since been used in treatment programs and support groups for all kinds of addictive disorders. This program of recovery has stood the test of time and countless people have found it useful in abstaining and avoiding relapse. Multiple studies have found that 12-step support groups improve outcomes for those with addictive disorders. Here is a brief overview of the 12 steps:

  1. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” This step is all about overcoming denial. You cannot help yourself and move forward until you are able to admit to yourself and others that you have lost control.
  2. “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” For some people, this step can be tough to swallow, but it is important to remember that a Higher Power does not have to be any one God or come from any one religious tradition. You can interpret it however you choose; it is personal. Any recognition that you are imperfect and that something greater than you can help you is acceptable.
  3. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.The importance of this step is the conscious decision to make a change in your life; to give yourself over to the process, or a Higher Power, however you interpret that.
  4. “Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” Step four is difficult for everyone. It is painful but important to look deep within yourself to find your flaws, to determine what led you down this path.
  5. “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” In this step you turn the inward reflection of step four outward and make these deeply personal and often painful revelations to other people. This is not easy to do, but it is necessary not to skimp on this step. Talking to someone about your shortcomings is tough but therapeutic.
  6. “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Step six sounds easy, but it is really a difficult attitude adjustment. You are declaring that you are truly ready for change, no matter what it takes.
  7. “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” This step is all about humility and admitting that you need a Higher Power to help you overcome shortcomings. With both steps six and seven, you are preparing to do the hard work necessary to change.
  8. “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step eight follows directly behind confronting your shortcomings and making them more specific. Here you must face all the actual damage you have done to people in your life. It requires that you take enough time to fully reflect on all the ways your actions, or lack of actions, have harmed people.
  9. “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” The other steps have been difficult, but making actual amends is a real challenge for most people. You have to think about how you can do more than just apologize, but try to make the wrongs right. This requires careful thought so you can decide whether or not anyone should be exempt from this list.
  10. “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” Once you reach step ten you have done all the preparatory work for living your newly sober life. This step is the commitment, the promise and the actions of putting everything you have learned in practice. You start living your life sober and with your shortcomings in mind, trying to do the right thing each and every day.
  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.” Meditating or praying or finding your version of this kind of reflection is a continuation of your self-examination. It is a way of maintaining the hard work you did up to this point in identifying your mistakes and weaknesses.
  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.” Finally, the 12th step insists that if you have gotten this far and you are still sober and living well, you have a duty to help others reach this point too.

These 12 steps were designed to be completed in order, from number one through 12. Each one builds on the previous steps and prepares you to complete the following. To jump ahead or skip around steps defeats the purpose. To take full advantage of the 12 steps for your recovery, find a support group to help guide you through the process. Having the support of other members and a sponsor is a big part of going through the 12 steps and will only add to your success at getting and staying sober.