Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a group that has become synonymous with the concepts of recovery and lasting sobriety and has been instrumental in changing the conversation surrounding addiction since its inception.

As the science and psychology of addiction evolves, the role of Alcoholics Anonymous may change, but is likely to remain a cornerstone of many people’s aftercare efforts and overall recovery journeys.

If you’re even semi-new to recovery then you’ve likely to have come across the concept of the ’12 steps to recovery’. This programme was developed over 75 years ago by Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and popularised in the ‘Big Book’.

The Steps are defined as ‘guiding principles’ rather than rules. The 12 step programme does make reference to God. Secular groups often omit this reference to God. The 12 steps aim to arm participants with tools to defeat addiction for good whilst supplying a powerful support network in the form of fellow members.

Although the programme was initially designed for alcoholics, it has subsequently been applied to many other forms of substance and behavioural addictions. Narcotics Anonymous is the key body promoting this programme for those who suffer from drug addiction.



The 12 Steps

Step #1:   We admitted we were powerless over addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step 1 requires participants to admit personal powerlessness when it comes to managing the addiction concerned. This requires participants to admit defeat.

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

Now participants have admitted defeat, they are encouraged to turn to a greater power other than themselves. This invariably means God. Secular groups encourage a ‘spiritual awakening’ instead or just ‘outside resources’. This step is about ‘letting go of the reins’ to a ‘higher authority’, whether religious or spiritual.

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

Step 3 is implementing the belief espoused in Step 2. Non-secular groups encourage participants to pray to God. Step 3 is about asking for the ‘higher power’s’ help so participants can defeat addiction. Participants are asked to abdicate their own will and hand this power over to God. Secular groups ask participants to hand over their will to ‘the collective wisdom of those who have searched before us’.

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

During step 4 participants are expect to carry out a sort of mental audit on negative beliefs they may be harbouring. Participants are asked to remain mindful of these negative thoughts and to explore how they may have led to the addictive behaviour in the first place. Negative thoughts typically include fear, dishonesty and selfishness.

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

Now participants are asked to openly discuss negative thoughts with God and also their ‘sponsor’ (a more experienced member of the group). Participants are encouraged to ‘rid themselves of guilt’ and allow the ‘higher power’ into their lives by doing so. Sharing negative thoughts and experiences is thought to strip them of their power over the addict.

Step #6:    We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Now negative character defects have been identified, participants and are asked to have faith in God to remove these defects. Faith is the major tenant of Step 6. Secular groups simply ask participants to accept help in ‘letting go’ of character defects.

Step #7:    Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Participants are now asked to reach out and ask God for help. Participants should ask God for general guidance rather than to ask for specific help.

Step #8:   Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step #9:   Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 8 & 9 could be viewed as a single step. Participants are asked to patch up relationships which were damaged as a result of their addiction.

Step #10:   Continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong, promptly admitted it.

Addicts are said to be more affected by negative emotions and thoughts than the rest of us. Participants are thus asked to stay guard against new negative thoughts and emotions arising in recovery. This is said to guard against relapse and in keeping participants on the track towards long-term recovery.

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.

Step 11 simply encourages participants to pray and meditate on a consistent basis. Secular groups encourage participants to dedicate time for themselves in quiet so they can reflect.

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.

This step encourages participants to give back to their group. By doing so experienced members give back to others in need by continuing to attend AA or NA groups long into the future.


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“Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self” – Karen Salmansohn

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John Gillen - Author - Last updated: January 13, 2022

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.