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The 12 Step Program of Recovery

The 12 step program, introduced by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is a spiritual foundation for personal recovery from the consequences of alcoholism, both for the individual using alcohol as well as their family and friends in Al-Anon Family Groups.

Other than alcohol, the 12 step programs are also used in recovery programs for addictions. Many members of the 12 steps of recovery have found that these 12 steps were not merely a way to overcome alcoholism and substance abuse, but they became a model to a new way of life.

Where Did the 12 Step Program Originate?

Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, the two men behind Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), pulled their inspiration for the Twelve Steps from the Oxford Group who promoted that all problems rooted in selfishness and fear could be transformed through the power of God by following the “4 Absolutes,” a moral inventory of “absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love,” and through public sharing or confession. The Oxford Group also believed in the work of American psychologist William James, particularly his philosophy of pragmatism and “The Will to Believe” doctrine (by changing the inner attitudes of the mind, we can change the outer aspect of life), and William Silkworth, MD, one of the first medical professionals to define alcoholism as a disease.

Learn what are the 12 step progam
You learn to embrace your personal strengths and accept yourself for who are you.

When Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935 by Bill W. and Dr. Bob as a society of alcoholics working collectively to overcome their drinking problems, the 12 step program served as a set of guidelines for spiritual and character improvement—a blueprint for recovery. The Twelve Steps serve the same purpose today. As described by AA, following these guidelines “as a way of life, can oust the obsession to drink and allow the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”

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The Evolution of the 12 Step Program

While the 12 step program in use today is based on the same ideas written by the founders of AA in 1935, the understanding of the term “God” has since grown to refer to any “higher power” that an individual believes in.

Believing in a higher power may help the person find meaning in their life outside of addiction. For example, they may attain a greater sense of community by joining a spiritual group. Or, they may engage in meditation and prayer. These can be healthy coping mechanisms someone turns to as they progress through recovery.

The Purpose of the 12 Step Prgram

The 12 Steps were created to establish guidelines to overcome an addiction to alcohol. The program earned enough success in its early years for other addiction support groups to modify the steps to their own needs.

There are many 12 step programs for various addictions and compulsive behaviors, varying from Cocaine Anonymous to Debtors Anonymous—all using the same 12-Step methods.

Although the 12 step program is based on spiritual principles, many non-religious people have found the program extremely helpful. The language highlights the presence of God as each member understands God, allowing for different interpretations and religious beliefs [1].

The Purpose of the 12 Steps

The 12 Steps were created to establish guidelines to overcome an addiction to alcohol. The program earned enough success in its early years for other addiction support groups to modify the steps to their own needs.

There are many 12-step programs for various addictions and compulsive behaviors, varying from Cocaine Anonymous to Debtors Anonymous—all using the same 12-Step methods.

Although the 12 Steps are based on spiritual principles, many non-religious people have found the program extremely helpful. The language highlights the presence of God as each member understands God, allowing for different interpretations and religious beliefs.

How & Why Does it Work?

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) [2], individuals who participated in a 12 step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), felt particularly strongly about abstinence from all alcohol and drugs to maintain sobriety and recovery. Many could instantly name the number of days that had passed since their last use of alcohol or other substance, even if it had been three or more decades.

The 12 step program therapy is a tried-and-true proven approach. There’s a reason, after all, why people still “work the Steps” more than 85 years later. How does it work? Members are inspired and encouraged to take an honest look at themselves, then analyze and deconstruct their egos and rebuild, little by little. Why does it work? The 12 step program encourages the practice of honesty, humility, courage, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion, and self-discipline—pathways to positive behavioral change, emotional well-being, and spiritual growth.

Do You Have to be Religious in Order to Follow the 12 Step Program?

You recognize that you have a problem with addiction and decide to seek help to overcome it.

No. While it’s true that the 12 step program was originally based on the principles of a spiritual organization, the world isn’t the same as it was in 1935 when Alcoholic Anonymous and the 12 step program was founded. The word “God” was ultimately replaced with “Higher Power” to be more accessible to everyone, regardless of faith, traditions, or beliefs. A Higher Power doesn’t have to be God; it could be the universe, nature, karma, fate, your support system, the recovery group itself, science, or whatever you feel is outside of and greater than yourself, your ego. What you believe to be a Higher Power is a rather personal thing.

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The 12 Step Program of AA Explained

While it’s crucial to know the AA 12 step program, that’s only half the battle. Understanding the purpose and how to apply these guidelines to your own life is a vital part of getting sober. Incorporating these steps may initially seem challenging to the non-religious member as several of the steps reference the concept of God. This is due to the organization’s Christian roots. Nowadays, many AA groups use secular interpretations of the 12 step program that are easily applicable to atheist, agnostic, and otherwise non-religious AA members [3].

Step 1

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Admitting and realizing that you have a problem is the first step towards making a recovery. While it might be embarrassing or painful at first, recognizing alcohol addiction is the most important part of achieving sobriety.

Step 2

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Find a source of inspiration and strength beyond yourself. The external inspiration that motivates you can help keep long-term goals in perspective during moments of weakness. If you are not religious, this “greater Power” could be a loved one like a partner, spouse, or your children, someone you admire such as a friend, or even a hobby like sports or playing music.

Step 3

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Embrace and acknowledge that you cannot control everything. By letting go of this expectation, you relieve a considerable source of frustration and disappointment, which is likely a strong trigger for the urge to drink in the first place. This can also be described as being open to advise and guidance from others, such as doctors or therapists.

Step 4

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This supports and encourages members to take mental stock of their personality and character. Using workbooks and lists to write down adjectives and other identifiers are recommended. This self-assessment is essential in developing honesty with oneself and identifying one’s shortcomings.

Step 5

Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Sometimes referred to as “Confession”, this extension of self-evaluation can be challenging. Admitting wrongs may require owning up to a shameful and unpleasant past; as well as admitting the bad things we have thought or done to others and ourselves. This vulnerability is a powerful part of the 12 step program process that requires complete honesty and courage. Sharing your darkest moments with another person might seem unthinkable and uncomfortable. However, many participants are surprised at how therapeutic this practice is.

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Step 6

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Having the right attitude can make or break any substance abuse recovery effort and Step 6 is all about wanting to change. This is about developing the proper mindset rather than an actionable task. Therefore, it can be difficult to feel that this has been accomplished. It is recommended to talk to other people, such as a counselor, therapist, or sponsor who may be able to provide additional perspective.

Step 7

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

This is about humility and taking action to create change. Whether accomplished through praying to a higher power or simply asking a friend to hold you accountable, this is an actionable step towards shedding your old ways.

Step 8

Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Acknowledging the selfish, harmful, and potentially hurtful actions of our past can be acutely stressful. This reconciliation is often accompanied by immense feelings of guilt. This step, however, is about taking responsibility and learning to forgive ourselves. Facing the full brunt of the consequences of past behavior is an important reminder that alcoholism doesn’t just negatively affect the drinker.

Step 9

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

It’s one thing to come to terms with an unpleasant past, but to face the actual people we may have wronged is an entirely separate beast. By nature of interacting with anyone other than ourselves, things quickly become unpredictable. This is often a source of stress that can tempt participants back to old habits. If this is the case for you, consider additional alcohol addiction treatment options to prevent backtracking of progress. Remember, this is about taking ownership for past actions, not lip service to alleviate guilt.

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Step 10

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

After achieving considerable personal awareness, your mindset has likely changed quite a bit throughout this process. This step is about the constant and real-time reflection of your actions in your day-to-day life, and taking responsibility for them. Find yourself getting road rage in traffic? remind yourself that getting angry won’t make the lights change or the lights move any faster. This is the sort of self-check that step 10 encourages.

Step 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.

Whether you are religious or not, this step is all about strengthening your mental discipline. Whether through prayer or secular meditation, it’s about checking in with yourself; being gracious and forgiving with yourself for fallbacks, and being grateful for the progress you’ve made.

Step 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.

The final step of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program is by no means the end of an alcoholic recovery journey. This involves bringing the mindfulness acquired in each step into the everyday. It also means sharing your story to help other alcoholics to introduce them to AA [4].

12 Step Program At We Level Up New Jersey

At We Level Up New Jersey, we passionately believe that the best chances of success at alcoholism recovery are when clients are given the right tools. But that is still only half of the battle; making those resources accessible and convenient plays a significant role in the possibility of proper recovery. As such, we are pleased to offer aftercare treatment program planning. These may include individual counseling, group therapy, and 12 step program meetings [5]. 

If you or a loved one is dealing with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, especially if you have experienced multiple relapses in the past, then look no further. With an incredible success rate for long-term recovery, We Level Up NJ offers one of the most comprehensive addiction recovery programs available in The United States, bringing hope to families every day.

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[1] NCBI –

[2] SAMHSA –

[3] NIDA –

[4] NIAAA –

[5] We Level UpAlcoholics Anonymous