12 Step Programs

12 step programs are a well-known strategy for fighting addiction. Programs are structured to focus on self-help support groups and meetings where participants admit wrongdoings, surrender to a higher power and move forward with the goal of sobriety. Completion of the 12 steps intends to provide encouragement to abstain from substance use or reckless behaviors. Originally created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, the methods have now been adapted for other uses such as Narcotics Anonymous and Debtors Anonymous.

The principles of the program are rooted in spirituality with the idea of examining how G-d is viewed by the individual. That said, individuals who are not religious have found success by participating in 12 step programs.

Additionally, programs are intentionally structured in a group setting which helps encourage honesty and admission of mistakes by the participant. Meetings are meant to create a safe space where an addict can share their story and cope with their addiction with the hope to learn how to manage triggers. A beneficial byproduct of having an addict share their deep thoughts and emotions is often the development of strong bonds within their group that can be integral in maintaining sobriety.

All types of support group meetings are readily available to the public, with specifically about 50,000 Alcoholics Anonymous groups nationwide, and participation is free. They are led by someone who has participated in the 12 step program and might welcome friends or family of addicts to attend. Cross conversation and unsolicited advice from participants is not permitted and confidentiality in each meeting is strongly maintained.

What are the 12 steps?

  1. Powerlessness: Admit that you are powerless over a substance and that your addiction has turned your life upside down.
  2. Hope: Believe in the idea that there is a higher power that can restore you to be sane again.
  3. Surrender: Decide to turn your life over to your version of G-d in whatever way you interpret Him.
  4. Inventory: Conduct a personal soul search taking a moral inventory on yourself.
  5. Admission: Admit your wrongdoings to yourself and G-d.
  6. Readiness: Openly willing to have G-d remove your wrongdoings.
  7. Ask: With humility, ask that G-d remove your shortcomings.
  8. List Amends: Detail a list of those who you have wronged.
  9. Make Amends: Correct your wrongdoings with those you have wronged.
  10. Continue inventory: Taking inventory on yourselves is ongoing and admit any wrongdoings immediately.
  11. Meditate and pray: Improve your consciousness and relationship with G-d. Look for knowledge from G-d to help you.
  12. Spiritual awakening: Gain a spiritual awakening as a result of completing steps 1-11 and vow to continue to carry out these principles as well as communicate them to other addicts.

An addict may not experience a 12 step program in a straight line. Sometimes an individual’s needs require regressing to earlier steps or they might even be able to move through the process surpassing multiple steps at a time.


Someone newly joining a program will be assigned a sponsor. This sponsor is not a medical professional but has successfully completed a 12 step program themselves and serves as a great guide and supporter. Having personal experience, the sponsor will have a good understanding of what the participant might be going through.

By sharing knowledge and advice, a sponsor can help the participant manage the difficult challenge of reaching sobriety.

Are 12 step programs successful?

Data on the success of 12 step programs is limited. However, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) conducted a long-term study that showed during one and three year follow up interviews with previous alcoholics, those who received formal treatment and attended AA meetings had a better chance at sobriety than those who only received formal treatment.

Anecdotally, without a doubt, they are seen as a successful approach to managing addiction. Programs are beneficial because at a minimum an addict gains support and the ability to focus on their own accountability. Having a sponsor is especially helpful as it encourages the addict to stay engaged with the program.

Over the years, 12 step programs have helped many recover from substance use addiction and have provided an opportunity for individuals to lead healthy and productive sober lives.