The message behind each of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps is a guide to becoming centered as a human being. The core themes appearing in the framework of the program are those of honesty, faith, surrendering to a higher power, acceptance, forgiveness, service to others, and the encouragement to follow a vein of spirituality. They also provide a platform to allow someone to begin the process of recovery, one achievable step at a time.
Someone newly in recovery may feel overwhelmed with the enormous task of reconstructing their life post-treatment. The steps, as laid out by Alcoholics Anonymous, allow for a smoother transition from the chaos of addiction to a more orderly approach that reduces anxiety and stress common to the process.
The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We are entirely ready to have God (Higher Power) remove all these defects of character.
- We humbly asked Him (Higher Power) to remove our shortcomings.
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, we promptly admitted it.
- We 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 it out.
- Having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
The 12 Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous Explained
Step One “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
This is a key first step and is critical toward gaining any traction in recovery. People attempt sobriety for many reasons. A spouse may threaten divorce, child custody may be hanging in the balance, a career may be at risk, but unless the person seeks sobriety because they can see the whole picture and the loss of control over the addiction, they may get clean temporarily only to relapse.
The first step is really about being honest with yourself. When we tell ourselves that we are in control, we ignore the reality of the addiction, fail to address corresponding issues related to the addiction, and are vulnerable to a whole host of threats to our sobriety. Being honest and acknowledging the addiction is the first step in finding a solution to overcome it.
Step Two “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
While some aspects of this step may mean different things for different people, step two embraces the notion that we are unable to solve the problem of our addiction without help. And that faith in a higher power, whether it be God, or the program, is needed to help someone achieve sobriety.
Step Three “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.”
The third step may also be interpreted to mean a literal higher power for the program, and again the idea is one of surrendering to something more powerful than our individuality. If we think of step two as the way to seek out a treatment plan, step three would apply to the act of entering rehabilitation.
Step Four “We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
This step can be as excruciating as the withdrawal process for many. It involves searching within and discovering the wrongs and shortcomings within us. This process involves a literal honest inventory of those character flaws that may have nurtured the addiction.
While painful, this process can offer enormous relief in finally relenting to the acknowledgement of our mistakes and flaws that may be remedied toward becoming a better, stronger person.
Step Five “We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
This step is about building integrity within ourselves and the greater AA community. By openly acknowledging our shortcomings in group meetings, not only does the individual experience a sense of relief, but those around the individual, each with their own set of shortcomings, may relate and feel more comfortable opening up and sharing.
Step Six “We are entirely ready to have God (Higher Power) remove all these defects of character.”
Step six is about acknowledging the reality of your situation, letting go of the old ways, and allowing for positive change.
Step Seven “We humbly asked Him (Higher Power) to remove our shortcomings.”
Step seven is about asking for help and having enough humility to seek guidance along your path toward recovery. We are raised to believe we are the centers of our universe, but this is not a helpful attitude when it comes to recovery from an addiction to alcohol. Instead, step seven helps us to maintain a humble approach forward; one that is not too proud to ask for help when and where it is needed, can mean the difference between relapse and a successful recovery.
Being humble also allows us to remain open to positive criticism or suggestion that will be of benefit during recovery.
Step Eight “We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
When using, people make many mistakes. Some of these mistakes may be severe and may have resulted in the loss of life. Others may involve money you borrowed from a friend to purchase alcohol that was never repaid. Making a list of these wrongs not only helps us remain humble and reminds us of the frightening reality of our life with alcohol, but it also leads us to the next step, in seeking forgiveness.
Step Nine “We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
This step is about making contact with those you have wronged in some way, whether big or small, and attempting to make amends or to repay your debt, as able. When starting on this list, it can feel like an insurmountable task, but begin with something that is easier and you’ll soon find yourself reconnecting with friends, family, and acquaintances. Not everyone will welcome you with open arms, but it isn’t about the response you get; it’s that you make the effort.
Step Ten “We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, we promptly admitted it.”
This is a maintenance step for steps eight and nine. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. This step is about making sure these mistakes don’t continue to feed guilt and generate anxiety, but are instead addressed and let go. This step is part of a positive coping strategy. It allows us to face those things that we might have found too scary to address in the past.
Step Eleven “We 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 it out.”
In many ways, this step is about mindfulness. Being mindful of the positive forces in your life, whether God, the program, or some other spiritual belief, that you are opening yourself to the momentum brought about by positive actions in your life. This step can help eliminate doubt, relieve anxiety, and help you reduce stress by allowing for quiet meditation or reflection.
Step Twelve “Having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
Live the life you intend to live using these principles to guide you whether in your recovery or in your daily life. You might choose to become a sponsor for someone newly entering recovery, or perhaps you will continue to share your story at group meetings long into your sobriety. Step twelve is about service to others as it relates to the steps you’ve taken to achieve sobriety. As a graduating step, it really begs the question, “What will you do with this profound knowledge and experience to help others?”
The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-supportive entity that is not overseen by any outside influences. As such, the 12 Traditions were established as a sort of guideline to help AA continue to function and stay in existence. These guiding principles help the groups, or meetings, in AA run smoothly and exist independently of each other and outside support.
The Traditions listed here are the “short form” of the original 12 Traditions. This is the form that is typically used today.
The 12 Traditions of AA:
- One — Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
- Two — 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.
- Three — The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Four — Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups, or A.A. as a whole.
- Five — Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- Six — An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Seven — Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Eight — Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- Nine — A.A., as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Ten — Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues, hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Eleven — Our public relations policy is based upon attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
- Twelve — Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Does The 12 Steps Model Work?
For many, the 12 steps model of Alcoholics Anonymous is the sole reason they were able to get and stay sober. Founded in the 1930s by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, AA has been the cornerstone of alcohol addiction recovery for more than 80 years. This program is based on the belief that by helping others get and stay sober, an individual can stay sober as well.
The AA Big Book is the primary source of literature used in AA and thoroughly explains the 12 steps that are used as a guideline to recovery. Through personal stories and anecdotes, the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book outlines the steps that have been successful in helping countless individuals recover from alcoholism.
At the end of the day, AA has been around as long as it has because it works. Countless studies have shown that AA is a proven method of recovery. However, there’s one catch: individuals in AA have to thoroughly work the steps and stay diligent to the program. Without this commitment, there is less of a chance of success in AA. So, whether or not the 12 step model works will depend on the individual.
More Information About The 12 Steps Of AA
There are many treatment options that put the 12 steps of AA at the forefront of their program. Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that incorporate AA into their method of recovery are available, and chances are there’s a treatment center near you.
Twelve-step meetings and groups can be very beneficial in the treatment and throughout the entire recovery process, as they challenge individuals to address their problems in addiction and find a solution. This program also provides the opportunity for people to form lasting bonds with others in recovery and to discover things to do for fun sober.
If you are looking a meeting near you, you can visit the AA website to find meetings in your area or contact our treatment specialists for more information.
- Institute For Research, Education & Training In Addictions — Comparing 12-Step and Non-Step Models of Addiction Recovery