What is a 12-Step Group and How Can It Help You?

Are you looking for a way to overcome an addiction or other dysfunctional behavior? 12-step programs may be the answer. 12-step programs are peer-based mutual aid programs that provide a framework for individuals to work through their addiction or other issues. The most well-known of these programs is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was founded in 1935. Since then, many other 12-step programs have been created to address different types of addiction and dysfunctional behavior, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Overeaters Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Al-Anon. The 12 steps were created by the founders of AA to provide a set of guidelines for overcoming an alcohol addiction.

The steps are very similar across all 12-step programs, and they are designed to be practiced every day. The 12 steps are:

  • We admitted we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  • We 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.
  • 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.
In addition to the 12 steps, there are also 12 traditions that govern how groups function and relate to each other. These traditions include the practice of anonymity using only one's first name and the tradition of “uniqueness of purpose”—that AA would have “only one main purpose: to bring its message to the alcoholic who is still suffering.” The success of AA led to the formation of other 12-step programs for different types of addiction and dysfunctional behavior. Today, there are over 200 different 12-step programs available.

While most deal with drug or alcohol addiction, there are also programs for mental health issues, debt problems, eating disorders, love and sex addiction, and more. The benefits of participating in a 12-step program are numerous. It provides an opportunity for individuals struggling with addiction or other issues to gain new coping skills, feel supported by a loving community, transition into sobriety, and foster long-term recovery from their problem. It also provides an opportunity for non-Christians to modify the steps according to their own spiritual or religious practice.

12-step programs can be used in any practice setting by social workers or in specialized treatment programs. While attending meetings and participating in recovery activities is necessary for full benefit from 12-step programs, attendance may be limited or inconsistent. If you're looking for help with an addiction or other issue, consider joining a 12-step program. With its proven track record of success and its wide range of options available, it may be just what you need for long-term recovery.