12-Step Programs: What Are They About?

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

Young man reading small BibleMany addiction support groups and programs are based on the “12-Steps” or “12-Traditions”, offered structured support for the recovering addict. What exactly are the 12-steps and how can this benefit someone who is recovering from addiction or substance abuse?

The 12-Step model is a system that was first incorporated and developed by the recovery group, Alcoholics Anonymous. Many support groups today for addiction have adapted this approach for recovery, including groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous and more.

The 12 Steps

While the 12 step process can vary among support groups, the founding 12 steps are as follows, originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous1:

    • We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives have become unmanageable
    • Came to believe that 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 understood 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
    • We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
    • Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings
    • Made a list of all persons we have 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 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
  • 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

Many of these steps are modified to fit the recovery of a particular drug or substance, and some support groups will include all or some of these above steps. Essentially, the twelve steps for recovery are rooted in a faith-based belief. Having faith in a higher power is one of the most important aspects of the twelve steps of recovery.

The Degrees of Faith in a 12-Step Program

The degree of faith and spiritually can vary among support group. Some religions have their own version of the twelve-step process. Other support groups endorse a particular religion while some support groups encourage individuals to embrace their own beliefs and ideas of spirituality.

Recovery from addiction should be an individualized approach, and there is not one method that is right for everyone. If you or a loved one has been struggling with addiction, following a 12-step program may be right for you.

If faith or religion is an important aspect of your life or something you are willing to explore through the recovery process, you may consider the route of a support group that is based on the 12-steps of recovery. Other options for support groups include those that take a more secular approach. Be sure to consider what your needs are when searching for a support group.

Working with a Treatment Team

Woman having a conversation with her therapist on couch in officeLastly, be sure to work with a comprehensive treatment team to assess what is the most appropriate level of care for you. If you or a loved one is experiencing acute symptoms from substance abuse or addiction, you may need a higher level of care and treatment for intervention and management.

While support groups can be a helpful part of your recovery, it is essential to utilize comprehensive treatment and a professional treatment team.

Consider referring to Addiction Hope for more information on resources for treatment, addiction, and support groups. While the journey of recovery from addiction can feel lonely and isolating, there is a community of people that cares about you and stands ready to encourage and support. Reach out for the help you need today.

Community Discussion – Share your Thoughts here!

How has a twelve step-program made a difference in your recovery from addiction? What have you learned through the twelve step process?


  1. Alcoholics Anonymous, www.aa.org, Accessed 21 April 2015.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 8th, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com