12 (Twelve) Step Programs: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc..What Are They?

12 (Twelve) Step Programs: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc..What Are They?

Nobody wants to be judged; especially when they’ve done something they aren’t proud of. That is the beauty of the twelve step program. These programs are based on the idea that their only purpose is to work on personal recovery. The most famous of the twelve-step programs include Alcoholics Anonymous, which is basically a recovery guide from alcoholism. Since the onset of A.A., there have been many different groups that have used the AA principles for recovery. A few examples are: Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Co-Dependents Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous.

As the name implies, there are twelve steps or principles by which the program is run.
They are 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 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.


How are these principles used to recover?

Being involved in the twelve step program involves working the steps. Working the Twelve Steps involves: admitting to having a serious problem, recognizing there is an outside power that could help, consciously relying upon that power, admitting and listing character defects, seeking deliverance from defects, apologizing to those individuals one has harmed and helping others with the same problem.

How did the other programs develop from Alcoholics Anonymous?

As said prior, the original twelve step program began with Alcoholics Anonymous. It was found, that when an individual did adhere to the principles of the twelve step program quality of life improved within the family unit. This resulted in approximately fifty different twelve step program groups. The reason for this is simple. The beauty of A.A., why it works so well, is that the people involved in the program have themselves gone through recovery and understand the problems current participants are experiencing. For this reason, groups for different substances arose. In addition, other groups that deal specifically with behavioral problems sprouted up as well. The twelve steps are used to work out problems like: sexual compulsion, gambling and even dealing with debts.

How did the twelve step program begin?

The first program was Alcoholics Anonymous and began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. Most of the ideas of the twelve step program were derived from the Christian Endeavor Movement as well as ideas about abstinence, conversion, elimination of sin, obedience to God, and growth in Fellowship through Bible study and prayer and religious literature.

From the twelve steps, arose what is called The Twelve Traditions, a set of guidelines for running groups. In effect, The Twelve Traditions is the establishment or constitution of the Twelve Step programs.

What are the Twelve Traditions?

They are as follows:

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. 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 A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; 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 A.A. 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.


How Does the Meeting Process Work?

"Hi, I'm Eric and I'm an alcoholic.” At these meetings it is recognized that one must recognize that they have a problem, so many members open by actively admitting they have a problem. One is supposed to share experiences with the group whether they are good or bad and the group is to provide peer support. There is some controversy because twelve steps are associated with religion, which not everyone adheres to.

How Does Sponsorship Work?

A sponsor is an individual who is more experienced then the sponsee in following the twelve steps. In fact, individuals new to the program are encouraged to form a relationship with a sponsor right away. Sponsorship is important not only for the sponsee, but also for the sponsor. By helping the new individual, the sponsor themselves continues to work on themselves. Therefore, the benefits of this program works two fold.

What is Acceptance of a Higher Power?

For most afflicted persons, holding on to willful self-reliance, instead of relinquishing control can work against them. Therefore, one of the main characteristics of the twelve step program is to start relying on “God” or another Higher Power—whatever that is to that person. Even for agnostics and atheists, if they can identify a power larger than themselves, thereby admitting their powerlessness, they can recover.

What is the success rate of Twelve-Step Programs?

Twelve step programs have a reputation for working well. Of course, everyone is different, and often time addicts use more methodology than just the twelve steps. Going to for rehabilitative therapy may also accompany utilizing the twelve steps for a more secure recovery.

Rachel Hayon, BSN, MPH

1. APA Dictionary of Psychology, 1st ed., Gary R. VandenBos, ed., Washington: American Psychological Association, 2007.
2. Alcoholics Anonymous: the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. 4th ed. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2001.
3. The Basic Text Chapter 8 - "We Do Recoverpp 70-71: The Basic Text 4th Ed. Van Nuys: Narcotics Anonymous World Services
4. How Al-Anon works for families and friends of alcoholics. Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters, Inc. Virginia, 1995.
5. Narcotics Anonymous Chronology at na-history.org. Note the 1953 Events Detailing step adaptation: NA emphasizes the unity by starting all steps with "we
6. Sponsorship: Revised Informational Pamphlet, Revised ed., Van Nuys, CA: Narcotics Anonymous World Services
7. Sponsorship Q&A Pamphlet, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services
8. New York CMA Sponsorship Pamphlet, New York: Crystal Meth Anonymous Intergroup
9. Pass It On: The story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984, pp. 127,128.

Topic Discussion

  1. Addict


    • Addict

      It is a"God of our understanding" or as I have also heard it called, a"God of our misunderstanding". This is not about religion. It's about believing in a Power greater than Ourselves. That power could be an NA or AA group, or it could be the ocean, or the wind...any power greater than ourselves. the point is...this disease centers in our mind so if we are using our mind to fight our mind it probably isn't going to help much. It's about relying on something other than our own minds...I hope this makes some sense to you and I hope that I was able to help.

  2. Addict

    Refreshing to see this site after all the other garbage I've come across about how 12 step programs don't work.... They work!

  3. Addict

    My name is Justin and I'm a grateful recovering addict. i am 14 and i have 1 year clean i love NA because it has taught me a new way to live i haven't had a relapse and i have stayed clean since March 26, 2010 i try to help carry the message to the addict who still suffers.

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