Home / Resources / Blog / What is a 12-Step Program and How Does It Help People Recover?

What is a 12-Step Program and How Does It Help People Recover?



For many, attending a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) comes to mind when they think of addiction recovery. Since AA was first established in 1935, this program (and other 12-step groups) has helped thousands of people treat their substance abuse issues. What exactly is a 12-step program and how do these groups help people recover from drug or alcohol misuse?

How 12-Step Programs Work

The basis of 12-step programs is a set of guiding principles, also called “the 12 steps,” that provide someone in recovery with a plan of action they can follow as they start and continue their sober journey. These steps also provide a new way of thinking and living without addictive substances. A 12-step program is not an addiction treatment program. Instead, these groups are peer-based mutual help programs.

Core components of a 12-step program include trust, acceptance, love, goodwill, and forgiveness. Participants are expected to accept that they are “powerless” over alcohol or drugs. They are also required to make a list of people that they have harmed because of their substance abuse and to try to make amends with those people. Another expectation of these programs includes taking an ongoing personal inventory of how the individuals have hurt themselves, their loved ones, and their relationships through their substance use.

Needing to regularly attend meetings provides an accountability measure that helps someone working to become sober or maintain their sobriety. Additionally, the group dynamic offers inspiration, education, and connection and reinforces healthy thinking and behaviors.

What to Expect at a Meeting

All are welcome to attend 12-step meetings. There are no requirements for attendance, including a belief in God. The only rules are to be on time, be respectful, and to not talk over others. And while abstinence from drugs or alcohol is the goal of a 12-step program, individuals are welcome to attend even before becoming sober, so long as they have the desire to stop drinking or using.

A 12-step meeting is free and participants remain anonymous. Sharing at a meeting is not required and is always optional and voluntary. A person in early recovery may want to attend several different meetings to find the group that best suits them. Many attendees receive help navigating the steps with a sponsor. This is someone who is already familiar with the recovery program who can provide the person with one-on-one support beyond the group meetings.

Finally, going through the steps to completion is not viewed as the goal of a 12-step program. Rather, the steps are seen as an ongoing process that individuals may repeat multiple times as they strive to maintain their sobriety.

What Are The 12-steps?

The 12 steps in a peer support group vary from group to group, but are generally:

  • Step 1. Make an admission that you’re powerless over substance use.
  • Step 2. Find a “higher power” to help you reach recovery.
  • Step 3. Put yourself in the hands of that higher power.
  • Step 4. Think about ways you have not lived up to your moral standards.
  • Step 5. Share your flaws with yourself, other people, and a higher power.
  • Step 6. Believe that you can overcome these flaws with the support of others and a higher power.
  • Step 7. Ask a higher power and your peers to help you.
  • Step 8. List all the people you have hurt through your addiction.
  • Step 9. As best as you can, make amends for the wrongs you have committed.
  • Step 10. Quickly admit when you have done something wrong.
  • Step 11. Connect with your higher power.
  • Step 12. Help others who are struggling with addiction.

When it comes to treating any form of addiction, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Some people may benefit from a 12-step program while others may find other methods work better. It is important to try different methods of achieving and maintaining sobriety to find what works best for you. It is even possible that over time, what has worked for you in the past can stop working as well, and you may need to consider a new type of treatment. What matters is staying focused on recovery from substance abuse and adapting to your changing needs.

If you are in the Houston area and searching for a 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or another support group, there are a number of great options and recovery resources to choose from; no matter where you are on your recovery journey.

Building on a belief that spiritual development and healthy recovery can bring inner peace to clients overcoming addiction and substance abuse, we take a people-centered approach to recovery here at Into Action Recovery Centers. We’re conveniently located in Houston, Texas, and our programs are led by experienced master’s level counselors and medical professionals who specialize in personalized treatment for drug and alcohol abuse.

You Might Also Like: