12 Step

There are several main types of treatment for drug and alcoholism, but the most well-known and the most used around the world is the 12-step program. You’ve probably heard of the 12-step program or seen it mentioned in a TV show or movie, if you didn’t know what it was called. It has become a staple of movies and other popular culture for when a character needs to go to drug rehab.

What is a 12-step program, though, and are the representations in popular culture accurate? Let’s discuss what actually makes up a 12-step program and where they came from.[1]

The Original 12-step Program

The first, and still most famous, 12-step program was Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous was started by two men, Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. They established most of the practices and traditions that are still followed in Alcoholics Anonymous today. This program and fellowship was started on August 11, 1938.

These two men decided that they wanted to help others by forming a group that could conquer alcoholism together. Dr. Bob had been a drinker himself but had found the courage to stop. He felt that he could help others to do the same. Over time, many people found that this approach was successful for them, so it was adapted to other types of addiction, as well. Nowadays, you can find 12-step programs for all types of drug abuse and even other forms of “behavioral” addiction, such as addiction to shopping or addiction to sex.

What are these “12 steps” that keep on getting referred to, though?

The 12 Steps

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are still the main steps used by other programs (only in adapted forms that are specific to the other types of addiction.) A key part of the steps is a religious idea—Alcoholics Anonymous and many other 12-step programs feel that you have to give up control over your alcoholism, admit that you are powerless and give up control to “a greater power”, or, more specifically, God. This aspect of the program has made it controversial for many people that don’t believe in the traditional, Christian view of God.

Here are the 12 steps, in full:

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.

While not everyone agrees with the viewpoint of giving up responsibility for your actions to a higher power, many former alcoholics feel that this type of program has worked very well for them.


[1] 12step.org: The 12 steps 12step.org