The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Table of Contents

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) refers to spiritual principles and guidelines for people who want to recover from addiction and achieve personal recovery.

The program is not a formal treatment in the traditional sense, but it’s often incorporated into formal addiction treatment programs.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. is a worldwide fellowship of people who share their personal experiences, strengths, and hopes with each other to solve their common problems and help others recover from alcoholism or alcohol abuse.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps is a suggested program of addiction recovery that helps people achieve and maintain sobriety.

They are based on the idea that addictive diseases are spiritual, physical, and mental illnesses requiring a spiritual solution.

The twelve steps encourage people to admit their powerlessness over their addiction, surrender to a higher power, make amends for their past wrongs, and seek to improve their conscious contact with God or a higher power of their understanding.

The 12 Steps are as follows:

Step 1: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

This step is about recognizing that you can’t control your drinking or substance use and that it’s causing problems. It’s the first step in acknowledging the need for change and seeking help.

Step 2: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

In this step, you believe a power or force beyond yourself can help you regain mental and emotional stability. It’s about accepting that you don’t have to face alcohol addiction alone.

Step 3: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

At this step, you’re asked to make a conscious choice to hand over internal control of your life to a higher power or your understanding of a higher power. It’s a decision to rely on one ultimate authority or something greater than yourself for guidance and support in your recovery.

Step 4: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

This step is like taking a personal inventory of your life. You examine your past actions, behaviors, and good and bad choices. It’s a crucial step in understanding the patterns that led to addiction.

Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

In Step 5, you share the results of your moral inventory with a trusted person, often a sponsor or therapist. This is about being honest and acknowledging your mistakes, which can be difficult but is essential for personal growth.

Step 6: “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

This step is about letting go of your character flaws and the negative aspects of your personality that may have contributed to your addiction. It’s a readiness for change.

Step 7: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

In Step 7, you humbly request your higher power, or your understanding of it, to help you eliminate these character flaws. It’s a step of surrender and asking for help in becoming a better person.

Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

This step involves creating a list of people you’ve hurt during your addiction and being willing to make things right with them. It’s about taking responsibility for your actions and seeking to repair damaged relationships.

Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.”

In Step 9, you take action by making amends to those you’ve harmed when it won’t cause further harm. This can involve apologies, restitution, or other efforts to make things right.

Step 10: “Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”

This step is about ongoing self-reflection and accountability. You regularly assess your actions and admit when you’re wrong, ensuring you don’t repeat harmful behaviors.

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.”

In Step 11, you strengthen your connection with a higher power through prayer and meditation. You seek guidance and the strength to live according to your understanding of your higher power’s will.

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 emphasizes that by following the previous 11 steps, you should have undergone a spiritual awakening or transformation. You then share your experience with others who struggle with addiction and apply these principles to every aspect of your life.

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 Influence and Variations of 12-Step Programs

While Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is perhaps the most well-known 12-Step program, several other programs have adopted the same principles to address various forms of addiction.

These include Narcotics Anonymous (NA) for drug addiction, Overeaters Anonymous (OA) for eating disorders, and more. These programs, often called sister fellowships, have their roots in AA’s success and have expanded to meet the unique needs of those with different addictive diseases.

The Role of Spiritual Progress in 12-Step Programs

Spirituality is a central aspect of 12-Step programs. While not tied to any specific religion, the steps emphasize a belief that a “Power greater than ourselves.”

This spiritual component provides individuals with strength, guidance, and hope.

Spiritual growth in 12-Step programs involves personal growth, increased self-awareness, and a deeper connection to one’s values and purpose in life. It can be a transformative journey that helps individuals break free from substance addiction.

The Role of Spiritual Progress in 12-Step Programs

History of Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps were first published in The Big Book in 1939.

The book was written by Bill W., one of the founders of AA, with contributions from other Alcoholics Anonymous members. It describes the experiences and stories of people who recovered from alcoholism using the twelve-step model and the AA program.

The twelve steps were influenced by various sources, such as:

  • The Oxford Group, a Christian movement that promoted personal change through confession, surrender, restitution, and service

  • Teachings of William James, a psychologist, and philosopher who wrote about religious conversion and spiritual awakening

  • The personal experiences of Bill W. and other early Alcoholics Anonymous members who found sobriety through spiritual means.

The twelve steps have been revised and updated over the years to reflect the changing needs and language of the recovery community.

For example, the original wording of the steps used masculine pronouns and referred to God as “Him,” later changed to more inclusive and neutral terms.

The original steps also used “moral inventory,” later modified to “searching and fearless moral inventory,” emphasizing honesty and courage.

Effectiveness of 12-Step Recovery Programs

The effectiveness of twelve-step recovery programs has been debated and researched for decades.

Some formal research has found positive outcomes for people who participate in twelve-step programs, such as higher rates of abstinence, lower relapse rates, improved mental health, and increased social support. Other studies found mixed or inconclusive results or pointed out existing research methods’ limitations and biases.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), no definitive evidence exists that any addiction treatment or personal recovery program is superior to another.

Instead, they emphasize that “the most effective treatment or recovery program is one that meets the individual’s specific needs and preferences.”

With that said, twelve-step programs are among the most widely available and accessible forms of recovery support in the United States and worldwide.

They also support integrating twelve-step programs with formal treatment services for substance abuse.

The Evolving Landscape of Addiction Treatment

Addiction medicine has evolved significantly since the inception of AA and the 12 Steps Model. Today, addiction is recognized as a complex disease with both physical and psychological components.

Medical professionals, including doctors, therapists, and counselors, play a crucial role in addiction treatment. They provide evidence-based therapies, medications, and holistic approaches to address addiction’s physical and mental aspects.

The Importance of Anonymity and Confidentiality

Twelve-step programs allow members to maintain personal anonymity. This principle ensures that individuals can share their experiences and problems without fear of judgment or public exposure.

It fosters an environment of trust and safety, allowing people to open up about their addiction and work on their recovery without the stigma often associated with substance abuse.

The Place of Self-Help and Secular Organizations

The 12-Step model is just one approach to addiction recovery. Secular organizations and self-help groups, such as SMART Recovery, provide alternative paths to sobriety.

These programs focus on evidence-based techniques, cognitive-behavioral strategies, and self-empowerment rather than spirituality. They may appeal to individuals who do not resonate with the spiritual aspects of 12-Step programs or prefer a more self-directed approach to recovery.

These programs encourage reliance on a spiritual foundation, but many groups allow individuals to choose their version of a “Higher Power.”

Ready to Explore Your Path to Recovery?

At NuView Treatment Center, we understand that recovery is a deeply personal journey. Whether considering the 12-Step program, seeking evidence-based treatment, or exploring other options, we’re here to help you find the right path to a healthier, addiction-free life.

Contact us today to discuss your treatment needs and discover the treatment options that can best support your recovery journey.

Frequently Asked Questions About 12 Steps of AA

The promises in AA are a list of positive changes that can happen in one's life due to working the 12 Steps. They are found on pages 83-84 of the Big Book and include freedom from fear, serenity, self-esteem, and happiness.

The AA responsibility statement is a declaration that members make at the end of some meetings. It says: "I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible."

The statement expresses the commitment of AA members to help others who struggle with alcoholism and to carry the message of recovery.

The 12 Steps are not directly based on the Bible but are similar to biblical teachings.

These steps were influenced by various spiritual sources, including the Oxford Group, a Christian movement that emphasized confession, surrender, restitution, and service.

The 12 steps are listed in Chapter 5 of the Big Book, titled "How It Works." The Big Book is the main text of AA, containing the stories and experiences of many members.

These steps were influenced by various spiritual sources, including the Oxford Group, a Christian movement that emphasized confession, surrender, restitution, and service.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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