For people that are struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the key to recovery is finding a sensible and maintainable treatment plan, that allows them to build a new life free from substances.

Many different types of treatment are available for those struggling with addiction, but one of the oldest and most popular forms of treatment is the 12 step programme.


What Is A 12 Step Programme?

A 12 step programme is one in which a group of addicts and ex-addicts work together to help each other through their recovery, as part of a supportive community. The end goal of this process is to allow people with addictions to create new sober lives and be able to maintain these long term without difficulty.

The 12 Steps were originally created by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and this organisation is what the programme is still mostly attributed to. However, many other recovery treatment centres and organisations have taken on the approach, having found it such a successful way of dealing with addiction. It is important to note that, whilst AA places much emphasis on religion, it is not only for the religious, and the 12 Steps can easily be adapted to suit any belief system.


The Purpose Of The 12 Steps

A 12 Step programme is designed to help those living with addiction to turn their way of thinking around, in a supportive community environment. Within 12 steps, addicts are asked to work through a series of small but meaningful changes, that offer realistic goals that can be achieved over time.

Throughout the programme, addicts will be asked to recognise the damage that their addiction is doing to their lives and admit that they are suffering from an addiction. In a supportive group environment, those struggling with addiction find it much easier to own up to their issues and, thanks to the presence of ex-addicts, see that real change is possible.

The rest of the programme is designed to help addicts to see the extent of the damage that has been done to them, their loved ones and their lives, throughout the course of their addiction.

The steps are kept small and achievable so that the addict does not become overwhelmed by the process, as stress and disappointment can often cause relapse.


The 12 Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Whilst the 12 Steps are numbered and designed to be taken one at a time, it is also possible for those taking the programme to return to different steps along the way if they feel it is necessary. Everyone’s recovery journey is individual and unique. Steps 1, 2 and 3 are considered the foundation of the entire process, and people taking the programme are encouraged to repeat them every day.

The 12 Steps, as defined by Alcoholics Anonymous, are:

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

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

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

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

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

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

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

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

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

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

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.

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.


At first sight the programme seems to have a very solid religious foundation, and this is certainly true on reading the original 12 steps above. Over time, and to cater for those of different faiths, or no faith at all, revised versions of the steps have been formulated so that the religious elements are placed with spiritual ones, thereby enabling those who would otherwise be excluded to try the programme for themselves.


The 12 Traditions

Group leaders, in the earliest days of AA, started to notice that whilst the 12 Steps were important, the structure and attitude of the group as a whole was also critical when it came to the success of the members. For this reason, the organisation created what is known as the ‘12 Traditions’ in order to manage the groups better and keep up morale.

These 12 Traditions are:

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity

2. 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

3. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole

5. Each group has but one primary purpose – to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers

6. An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose

7. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions

8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centres may employ special workers

9. AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities


Does It Work?

Whilst there is no real research that can be done to measure the effectiveness of the 12 Step Programme, as all members remain anonymous, the fact that the programme has remained one of the most popular and successful models for addiction recovery treatment speaks volumes.

People that take part in the programme often commend the sense of community, accountability and respect shown in this form of treatment, and this helps people to recover emotionally as well as physically.

The Ocean Recovery Centre offers a wide range of treatment options to those struggling with all types of addiction. If you want to find out more about our residential treatment centre and therapy options, just give us a call and we can go from there.

Call 01253 847 553, or text HELP to 83222 to find out more.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: December 14, 2021

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.