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What are the 12 Steps?

12 Step Programs In Recovery

In the 1930’s Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith founded Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The organization helped those living with alcohol addiction to maintain sobriety by working the “12 Steps” of recovery. AA became a household name over the years, and sparked new 12 step groups for other substances and challenges. Many treatment centers still utilize or encourage patients to attend 12 step groups as part of their recovery. Working the 12 steps and attending meetings are considered evidence-based solutions in the recovery field. Here, we will look at the following:

  • What do the 12 steps teach
  • How do 12 step meetings work
  • What is a sponsor
  • Who can benefit from a 12 Step Program
  • How 12 step meetings can fit into treatment

What 12 Step Programs Teach

The 12 Steps are designed to help members admit powerlessness over addiction and to seek daily abstinence. AA teaches that alcoholism (known today as Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD) cannot be cured. However, by “working the steps”, the condition can be arrested. The 12 steps themselves encourage members to seek spiritual help for strength and clarity. They also encourage members to take a “fearless and searching moral inventory” of themselves. The last step encourages members to serve others by helping them work the steps as well.

How Do 12 Step Meetings Work

AA and related groups don’t have an official membership policy.  There are generally two types of groups; open groups and closed groups. Open groups are for anyone who wishes to attend a meeting. These groups are generally a good starting place for newcomers. Closed groups are for a dedicated group of individuals to work the steps together for a certain period of time. This can be anywhere from a few months to a year or more. Most larger cities in the US have groups meeting throughout the week. This way, meetings can be made to work for most schedules. This also allows anyone feeling the urge to drink again to find an open meeting quickly.

Meetings are not professionally managed but are generally facilitated by more tenured members of the group. These meetings can be either gender-specific or open to all genders.

What Is A Sponsor?

Once a participant has worked their way through the 12 steps, they often mentor those new to the program. This is called sponsorship. A sponsor is generally someone who has at least one year of sobriety. The sponsor’s role is to serve as a support contact for the person they are sponsoring. It is generally up to the sponsee to ask someone to sponsor them. Likewise, either the sponsor or sponsee can end the arrangement at any time. Many sponsors will work with numerous sponsees over the course of their time in AA.

Who Can Benefit from A 12 Step Program?

According to AA, anyone can benefit from participating. Some open meetings welcome spouses or families of newcomers to help them feel welcome. There are also sister organizations life Al-Anon and Alateen that work with families of those living with addiction. AA has modified the language of the 12 steps over the years to be more inclusive of all religious backgrounds. There are now groups focused on narcotics, problem gambling, and sex addictions. Some religious groups have adopted modified forms of 12-step programs for their own recovery programs as well, such as Celebrate Recovery.

How Do 12 Step Programs Fit With Treatment?


Many treatment centers still offer 12 step groups as a part of their overall treatment program. The reason why is simple. The 12 Step programs have been proven effective.   This is especially true when attendees actually work the steps and invest in the program. However, these groups are only part of the whole treatment picture. If you have been diagnosed with AUD, it is important that you seek medical help to properly manage withdrawal. You will also need a comprehensive care plan to pursue long-term medical and psychological treatment. 12 step programs can be helpful for those who have completed some or all of their treatment program. Many patients benefit from a close sponsor relationship and ongoing group support as they reintegrate with daily life. As many 12 step participants like to say, “we are here to support one another, not fix one another.”

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Wondering if a 12 step program can be right for your recovery plan? Let’s start a conversation. We can help you decide what treatment plan makes the most sense for you or the person you love. Let us help you reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve!

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