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12-Step Programs

A real challenge to those in addiction treatment is the process of reintegrating into society once they’ve completed their requirements. The outside world boasts temptation where relapse is often inevitable. Someone can spend time in an alumni program and still fall victim to old habits. A grim statistic about life after treatment released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) shows that only 40 to 60 percent of those who achieved sobriety will remain sober.

The same effort you put into getting sober is the same approach you must take to aftercare. Relapse is a part of the recovery process. Someone struggling with sobriety may feel alone. They don’t have to feel this way.

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The 12-step program is a tried and true method that has helped millions conquer drug and alcohol addiction over the course of decades. As the techniques have evolved, it’s natural to wonder if the 12-Step program is as effective as it once was. Our guide intends to offer oversight into how effective this aftercare plan still is to this day.

What Are 12-Step Programs?

The 12-Step program is an approach to promote the idea that addiction recovery is achieved through peer support and spiritual growth. If you are unfamiliar with the 12-Step term, it is most synonymous with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which has notoriety worldwide as an alcohol support group.

12-Steps are when someone admits they need help for a substance abuse issue and let go of all control of their addiction to a higher power. You then accept help by realizing abstinence, flaws, past transgressions, and seek to make amends for your these past mistakes.

The 12-Steps are uniquely designed to battle addiction as it affects the three realms of our existence, which are mental, physical, and spiritual.

The 12-Step program is a widely used tool in addiction recovery worldwide. It can also be used for support groups and additional therapy for those who have gone through treatment needing extra help with their sobriety.

The History of 12-Step Therapy

The methodology began in Akron, Ohio, in 1935. A Wall Street stockbroker by the name of Bill Wilson and a surgeon named Dr. Robert Smith spoke in-depth about their alcohol struggles. Wilson, who had lost his career because of alcohol, was hospitalized for his addiction. He sought help from a Christian fellowship known as the Oxford Group, which was a religious movement in Europe and the United States.

The Oxford Group was under the impression that the root of all problems stemmed from fear and selfishness. The solution was to surrender one’s life to God. A friend by the name of Ebby Thacher helped Wilson stop drinking. He was so impressed by their work that he started to apply the standard of purity, honesty, unselfishness, and love as an answer to alcohol problems.

Wilson shared his experience with Dr. Smith, and thanks to Wilson’s ideas, Smith got sober and never drank again. The men started to work together and treat people with alcohol addiction at an Akron hospital. The more people that were helped led to the beginning of AA.

In 1939, Wilson wrote a book titled “Alcoholics Anonymous,” which is best known as the “Big Book.” It highlighted the philosophy and methods and how the 12-Steps of Recovery were an important part. AA would then expand into an international fellowship. There is no record of active members, but the organization estimates that it has two million active members worldwide.

How 12-Step Programs Work

Treating addiction requires a singular approach since we all possess different qualities and addictions. 12-Step programs adopted this tailored approach to cover various addictions, but they follow the original 12-Steps created by Wilson and Smith in the 1930s. 

The goal of the program is to build your spiritual well-being and connect you to those empathize with your current challenges. Here are some of the ideologies that help members achieve and maintain their sobriety.

The Steps

The Big Book will guide you through the process of acceptance and spiritual awakening. In a majority of 12-Step programs, ranging from Workaholics Anonymous to Narcotics Anonymous, the same 12-Steps are always in use. The type of addiction is the primary difference for the approach.

The 12-Steps for Alcoholics Anonymous go as follows:

  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 all 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 a 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.


Meetings are a vital component of all 12-Step programs. It is through meetings where members connect with others on the same spiritual path. Meetings are places where the members can share their addiction stories of failure and success without judgment. There are meetings open to the public, where friends and families can attend. There are closed meetings as well, but these are limited to members only.


Once you work your way through the 12-Steps or have shown dedication and progress to the program, you can serve as a mentor to others. When you enter into these programs, you have the option of choosing a mentor or having one referred to you.

A mentor will be by your side to help you through the process, but they can also assist you with other needs new to you in sobriety. These can include balancing a budget or applying for a job. You are welcome to change your sponsor at any time.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Treatment and Recovery. from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What is drug addiction treatment? from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. from

(n.d.). Videos and Audios. from

Treatment, C. for S. A. (1999, January 1). Chapter 4-Twelve-Step-Based Programs. from

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