Understanding the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: A Path to Recovery

The 12-Step program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, is one the most widely used programs worldwide for people in recovery. In essence, the 12 Steps of AA are designed to support people who are dealing with and trying to overcome substance abuse and other types of compulsive, out-of-control behaviors.

Since it was first introduced in the 1930s, the Twelve Steps program has been widely used as a spiritual and faith-based program for people in recovery. It provides a platform for people to come together and share their experiences, recover from substance use, and live sober, more positive lives.

Please continue reading to find out what is involved in the 12 Steps of AA and how it can help people with substance use disorders.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship where people come together to share their experiences, hopes, strengths, and setbacks with others to solve the common problem of alcoholism. The only requirement for AA membership is the desire to stop drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous is completely free – there are no fees to join an AA group. The organization supports itself through contributions from the community.

Brief History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1935, by two alcoholics – Bill W, a stockbroker from New York, and Bob S, a surgeon from Akron. They met through the Oxford Group, a non-alcoholic fellowship that promoted spiritual living.

Bill W and Dr. Bob combined their experiences to found AA (although it was not initially called by this name). Their first patient rapidly achieved sobriety, and the three became the core of what ultimately came to be known as Alcoholics Anonymous. After the first group in Akron, the second and third groups took shape New York and Cleveland. It took four years for these three founding groups of Alcoholics Anonymous to help the first 100 people get sober. But from this point on, AA grew rapidly.

They published a textbook in the late 1930s explaining their methods and philosophy. This textbook, called Alcoholics Anonymous, is now called Twelve Steps of Recovery.

Global Presence of AA

Today, Alcoholics Anonymous is present in 180 countries worldwide with over 123,000 groups and 2 million members. AA literature is available in more than 100 languages.

Goals and Objectives of Alcoholics Anonymous

The primary objective of AA is to carry the message of recovery to alcoholics who are still suffering. The main goals of AA membership are to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

What are the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous?

The Twelve Steps are a set of guiding principles that are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. These 12 Steps are used in addiction treatment to chart a course of action for people tackling alcohol dependence, drug addiction, and behavioral compulsions.

The original 12-Step program is a faith-based program that uses spiritual principles to guide recovery. According to the Twelve Steps, the way to manage the disease of addiction is to follow the wisdom passed down by other alcoholics and to submit to a higher power to guide you towards sober living.

Over time, the original Twelve Step program has adapted to changes in society as well as the evolving science of addiction medicine. However, the premise remains the same: 12-step programs are peer support groups that help people achieve and maintain abstinence from alcohol and other substances.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

Step 1: Admitting Powerlessness

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

Step 1 in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is designed to help you overcome denial. Many people with substance use disorders tell themselves and others that they don’t have a problem with alcohol or drugs. Therefore, overcoming denial is vital to get a grip on reality and move forward in the quest for sobriety. Step 1 involves admitting you are powerless over drugs and alcohol and that your life is out of control. This requires humility and letting go of ego, which can be challenging.

Step 2: Belief in a Higher Power

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

Step 2 of the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is centered on faith and belief in a higher power or something greater than yourself. This step can be challenging for people who feel disconnected to their faith or religion or are agnostic or atheist. However, it is an important step to find something more powerful than yourself, which can guide you and inspire you to stay sober. The higher power can be God, some other supreme being, or anything that has a lot of meaning for you, such as art, music, nature, humanity, or science.

Step 3: Decision to Turn Over Will

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

Step 3 in the Twelve Steps of AA builds upon the previous step and asks you to turn over your life to a higher power. The idea is to have faith in something outside yourself and believe that it can guide you to recovery. This step is designed to help you let go of control and surrender to a higher power. It helps you understand that you can’t do it all on your own when you’re in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction.

Step 4: Moral Inventory

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

Step 4 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous encourages self-reflection on your behavior and character. The goal is to help you identify weaknesses that may have contributed to alcohol or drug addiction. By identifying these weaknesses, you are better prepared to overcome them and change your habits in the future. This can be an uncomfortable and difficult process. AA workbooks, sponsors, support groups, friends, and family members can help you in completing Step 4 with honesty.

Step 5: Admitting Wrongdoings

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

Step 5 of the 12-Steps program is an important exercise that provides emotional and spiritual relief. By sharing and admitting wrongdoings to yourself, a higher power, and a trusted confidante, you can start to come to terms with the guilt and shame associated with alcoholism or drug abuse. This confession of wrongdoings can be both painful and rewarding. Additionally, by listening to the experiences of others, you begin to realize that your troubled past isn’t as unusual as you thought.

Step 6: Readiness for Change

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

Step 6 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps traditions focuses on developing a willingness to change old behaviors that may have contributed to drug or alcohol abuse. This step is important because if you don’t address negative behaviors, shortcomings, and personal issues, you could slip back to old habits and relapse to drinking alcohol. Moreover, if you quit drinking without addressing the issues that contributed to it, it can leave you sober but bitter and resentful.

Step 7: Asking for Help

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Step 7 of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps asks you to practice humility and ask a higher power to remove your imperfections and flaws. It is an endeavor in admitting your mistakes, understanding the need for change, and submitting to something greater than yourself to help you achieve that change. The goal of Step 7 is to change your attitude to humility and seek help in addressing problematic alcohol consumption.

Step 8: List of Amends

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

Step 8 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous focuses on making amends with the people you hurt through your alcohol abuse. The goal of this step is to help you recognize the damage drinking or drug use caused and to work towards rebuilding social support systems and mending relationships. This leads to personal growth and plays an important part in your recovery as you move forward towards sobriety.

Step 9: Making Amends

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

Step 9 in the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps can be one of the most challenging for people in recovery from drugs and alcohol, but also the most rewarding. It builds on the previous step in which you made a list of the people who were harmed by your substance abuse. Step 9 asks you to make direct amends to these people. This involves seeking forgiveness and setting things right with individuals who were harmed, to bring healing to them and you. However, Step 9 comes with a caveat to let things be if the other person is not willing to forgive and forget or if making amends would cause more harm.

Step 10: Continued Inventory

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

Step 10 of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps involves making a list of emotional disturbances that can trigger you to drink or use drugs. This can be challenging but is an important step to continue progressing in recovery. Step 10 also involves making a list of wrongdoings and owning up to them. This exercise in taking responsibility for your mistakes can be uncomfortable, but is an important one to clear your conscience and perform a spiritual spring cleaning before you can move on.

Step 11: Spiritual Growth

“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.”

Step 11 in Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps focuses on forging connections with a higher power or spiritual source through prayer and meditation. This can be interpreted as forming a closer relationship with God or finding meaning in something outside yourself. The goal is to develop a source of strength and use this power to live a sober life.

Step 12: Helping Others

“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.”

Do you have a loved one struggling with addiction?

We know how hard that can be. Give us a call to find out what options you have.

Someone is standing by 24/7 to help you

Step 12 asks Alcoholics Anonymous members to put into practice the guiding principles of the 12-Step program in every aspect of their lives. It also asks members to help others, who are still suffering, to achieve sobriety. This involves sharing your experiences and giving other alcoholics hope and strength. This service to others is paramount because without it, Alcoholics Anonymous would not exist.

How Long Does It Take to Do All 12 Steps?

Most people take about 90 days to do all the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. However, it is not unusual to take more than 90 days.

How Often Do AA Meetings Typically Occur?

Most people go to at least one AA meeting a week. However, how many AA meetings you attend is purely a matter of personal preference and the opportunities available in your area.

The Benefits of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

Healing Emotionally and Psychologically

The 12-Step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous can be very beneficial in helping you heal from the mental health impact of substance abuse and the transition to sober living. The 12 steps help you face the problem, surrender to a higher power, increase self-awareness, and build self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Building a Support Network

AA Twelve Step programs offer support and acceptance from a loving, non-judgmental community. As an AA member, the social support you receive through sponsorships and meetings can play a vital role in helping you stay clean. Moreover, the 12 steps help to rebuild relationships with loved ones and develop a support network for the future.

Long-Term Sobriety

The peer support, encouragement, and accountability offered by Alcoholics Anonymous can help you overcome addiction and stay sober for the long-term. You can continue attending AA meetings for as long as you want. There is no mandatory exit date. Continued AA attendance benefits many people and helps them stay sober lifelong.

Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

There are thousands of success stories from around the world that are a testament to the fact that the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step approach is effective.

However, interestingly, there is a notable lack of research and scientific evidence about the efficacy of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Part of the reason is that 12 Step programs are based on anonymity. As a result, there are no rigorous randomized trials to support their efficacy.

What’s more, many recovering addicts receive other treatments in addition to the 12-Step philosophy. This makes it impossible to say what part of the rehab was responsible for a person’s success in staying sober. That’s why it can be hard to say just how well a 12-step program works.

Misconceptions About the 12 Steps

Myth: 12-Step programs are not science based.

Truth: 12-Step programs are as effective as other addiction treatment modalities and are endorsed by leading organizations in the field of addiction science and mental health, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Myth: 12-Step programs discourage other types of care.

Truth: People recovering from addiction can access multiple forms of care, including 12-steps, detoxification, medication management, and psychotherapy. AA 12-step programs are free for everyone and offer an opportunity for people who cannot afford expensive rehab clinics to quit drinking and achieve sobriety. Moreover, AA meetings are often held on holidays, weekends, and evenings when other types of care may not be available.

Myth: AA programs are religion-based and encourage helplessness and powerlessness.

Truth: Admitting powerlessness over addiction is important in understanding that it is a disease, just like cancer. Believing in God is not a criterion for attending 12-Step programs by Alcoholics Anonymous. The programs are adaptable for people with different beliefs and encourage accountability to a higher power (not necessarily God) as well as yourself, your group, and your sponsor.

Myth: AA 12-Step programs are only for alcoholics.

Truth: The 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous can be useful for people dealing with many types of addictions, including drug addiction and other behavioral compulsions.

Are There Alternatives to the Twelve Steps and AA?

There are alternatives to Twelve Steps and AA. These groups rely on peer support to minimize relapse and maintain abstinence.

Tips for Getting Started with the 12 Steps

Find a Sponsor

A sponsor is a senior member of the AA group. This is a person who has completed all or most of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, has been in the fellowship for at least a year, and are stable in sobriety.

A sponsor provides guidance, support, and insight as you begin your own journey with the 12 Steps. They can help you understand the fellowship, answer your questions, work on the 12-steps, and remain accountable.

To find an AA sponsor, attend meetings regularly and listen to others. This will help you identify people who resonate with you emotionally. You don’t have to stick with the first sponsor you choose. Once you get to know more people in your fellowship, you are free to ask someone else to sponsor you.

Find and Join AA Meetings

You can search online with your state, province, town, or zip code to find the nearest AA meetings. It’s also possible to join online meetings. There’s a Meeting Guide App that you can download on your smart phone that can help you find AA meetings and resources nearby.

What To Expect During AA Meetings

AA meetings take place in a variety of formats. Generally speaking, they involve members speaking about their drinking and the actions they took to stop drinking.

In-person meetings typically take place in churches, recreational centers, clubhouses, treatment centers, and office buildings. Some take place in outdoor settings such as parks and beaches. Online meetings may take place with the video on or off.

A common AA meeting format is where a leader or chair selects a topic for discussion. Speakers share their experiences with alcohol. The typical format is “What I was like before alcohol – What happened to trigger alcohol use –What I am like now.” Many AA groups devote one or more meetings a week to the Big Book and 12-Steps and focus on the study of each step by rotation. After the meeting, people may introduce themselves and socialize.

How to Get the Most from AA 12-Steps

Most people who have participated in an addiction treatment program have been exposed to the 12 Steps in some manner or form. However, to truly get the maximum benefit from the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, you need to immerse yourself in the steps. You can accomplish this by going to AA meetings regularly. Hearing the experiences of others will give you strength and confidence.

You can continue engaging in 12-Step meetings while you are in treatment or recovery. This will ensure you accomplish your steps whilst also getting the benefits of evidence-based psychotherapy and medication-management for addiction recovery.

Recommended Alcoholics Anonymous Literature

Here are some reading recommendations to understand the principles of 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous better:

Finding 12 Steps Programs in Washington State

A 12-Step program Washington is usually categorized as aftercare, meaning it is used to support recovering addicts after they have completed medical detox and residential addiction treatment.

Some people with mild addiction may be able to enter a 12-step program directly. However, for most people, especially those with moderate to severe addiction, medical detox and behavioral therapy at an outpatient or residential rehab in Washington is necessary. This approach offers a continuum of care with the highest chance of long-term success. A 12-Step program in Washington can be instituted as part of the ongoing care after the individual graduates from an inpatient drug rehab program.

You can search for AA 12 Steps Programs in Washington State on the Alcoholics Anonymous website.

12 Steps Programs at Discover Recovery in Washington State

The Discover Recovery Treatment Center located in Long Beach, WA, is staffed by an experienced team of masters’ level counselors, board-certified physicians with specialization in addiction medicine, and registered nurses. Our addiction treatment programs incorporate part of the 12-step philosophy. We offer a strong aftercare program that includes a 12-step program in Washington. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, get in touch with us today and start your journey of recovery.

More Information On Our COVID19 Response Plan

Learn more about our programs

learn more

Verify Insurance

At Discover Recovery, we work with a wide variety of health insurance providers so those in need can get access to the treatment they need. That means you (or your loved one) won’t have to worry about covering the cost of treatment. Instead, all of your energy and focus can be spent where it’s really needed, which is on overcoming addiction.

Available to help 24/7

Call Us Today