Quick links for 12-Step Programmes
- What are the 12 Steps?
- Are the 12 Steps Religious?
- What are the Benefits of the 12-Step Programme?
- What are the 12 Traditions of the 12-Step Programme?
- References for 12-Step-Programmes
The 12 Steps are a set number of guidelines based on spiritual principles that have been proven to work effectively within addiction recovery. 
The unique approach of the 12 Steps regarding personal and spiritual growth has helped tens of thousands of people all over the world beat addiction once and for all.
Originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a number of other support groups adapted the 12 Steps to work with their teachings resulting in a wide range of groups that now follow these guidelines.
The 12-step programme consists of regular meetings, during which the participants speak openly about their addiction and past experiences while receiving support from other members. 
The 12 steps are taught within these meetings and frequently revisited by fellow members and sponsors in order to reinforce the commitment that the participants have made to their recovery goals.
What are the 12 Steps?
12-step group gathering for a meeting
When you are in the midst of a chemical or behavioural addiction, the idea of long-term recovery can seem intimidating or even impossible. It can be helpful to separate a large goal into smaller, bite-sized steps that can be completed individually and slowly build towards the end target, and this method can also be applied to addiction recovery with the 12-step programme.
The 12 Steps for Addiction
- Step 1: We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
- Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
- Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
Are the 12 Steps Religious?
Woman speaking with a sponsor about a 12-step program
At first glance, the 12 Steps may appear to be religious in nature, with frequent references to God and a higher power.
However as the phrase ‘Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God’ suggests, the programme is based around spiritual ideals as opposed to Christian teachings.
While many people who follow the 12 Steps do believe in a traditional God, others do not.
Instead, they choose to interpret them in a more general and spiritual way.
The steps mention ‘a power greater than ourselves’ and this higher power does not need to be God. Many people choose to see it as nature, the universe, science or humanity itself.
You do not need to be religious to benefit from a 12-step programme. As you are there for one reason – to recover from a chemical or behavioural addiction – you are free to interpret the message to suit your own religious or spiritual beliefs.
What are the Benefits of the 12-Step Programme?
Members of a 12-step group gathering comforting one another
The 12-step programme has been proven to be highly effective at supporting people struggling with addiction and encouraging long-term recovery.
Below are some of the main advantages of support groups such as AA and NA:
The 12-steps is a community of like-minded people
Many people dealing with addiction have previously formed relationships with other addiction sufferers, becoming locked in a cycle of detrimental behaviours.
12-step programmes are filled with people who are focused on recovery, sharing their personal experiences while providing support and guidance to others. This can be extremely inspiring and a great motivation to continue with recovery.
The 12-steps are available to everyone
While private counselling and rehabilitation centres can be expensive, 12-step meetings are completely free to attend and are located in almost every town all over the world.
If you are unable to attend face-to-face meetings, they are also available online.
This makes the programme accessible to everyone, no matter where they live or how much they can afford to spend on treatment.
Routine and structure in the 12-steps
It’s natural to experience feelings of restlessness and boredom while recovering from an addiction, as most of your spare time was previously spent on the problematic substance or behaviour.
However, feeling bored and isolated can often lead to relapse. 12 step meetings provide a regular routine and give your days more structure, ensuring that you keep busy and focused on your recovery.
The constant reminder of your 12-step goals
There is no opportunity to forget the lessons and advice that you have learned throughout your recovery, as 12-step communities meet regularly to revisit the guidelines and reinforce the commitment that you have made to your goals.
This provides a sense of accountability, both to yourself and the other members of your group, and can help to increase the chances of long-term recovery.
Man holding his head whilst speaking with a 12-step sponsor
What are the disadvantages of the 12-step programme?
Along with the numerous benefits of 12-step programmes, it is also important to examine some of the disadvantages of this method of recovery.
Every person is unique, and therefore the effectiveness of this treatment can vary depending on a number of factors.
Below are some of the main disadvantages of support groups such as AA and NA:
Social involvement in the 12-steps
12-step meetings often involve sharing personal details about your experiences and emotions.
Some people, particularly those struggling with a co-occurring disorder such as anxiety, may feel uncomfortable with this aspect and could potentially be set back in their recovery.
Reliance on spirituality in the 12-steps
Although the 12 Steps are not religious, they do rely on the belief in some form of higher power such as nature, the universe or karma.
Some people can find it difficult to connect with this way of thinking and may have little interest in spirituality, which can make the steps lose the majority of their meaning.
Minimal emphasis on physical recovery in the 12-steps
The physical aspect of addiction recovery is not a significant focus of the 12-step programme, and therefore little guidance or medical advice is provided to those struggling with withdrawal symptoms or other side effects of addiction such as malnutrition.
What are the 12 Traditions of the 12-Step Programme?
Individual and sponsor sat together discussing a 12-step program
Like the 12 Steps, the 12 Traditions were formulated by Alcoholics Anonymous as a method of success. These guidelines are thought to be one of the key factors of the organisation’s success, helping to cultivate a positive culture within recovery groups that can effectively lead to long-term addiction recovery.
Taken directly from the 12 Steps website , the following steps relate to the Alcoholics Anonymous organisation but can be adapted to work with other organisations such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.
The 12 Traditions of the 12 Steps
Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority–a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
Each group has but one primary purpose–to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
Person talking whilst sitting in a circle at a 12-step meeting
An AA group ought never to endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centres may employ special workers.
AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.