12-Step Program: What Is It and How Does It Work? 

The 12-step program

The 12-step program began in the 1930s as a spiritual foundation for recovering alcoholics participating in Alcoholics Anonymous. Now the 12-step methodology has been applied to other recovery programs. Many people find it extremely helpful and are able to apply its principles to other aspects of their lives.

How It Works

For addiction treatment to work, it helps to have an approach that helps addicts work through their addiction in a manageable way. The 12-Step Program can be used alone or as a complement to another form of treatment. Part of its power is rooted in social interaction. Because it is more like a support group, attendees are able to share with one another, support one another, and encourage one another. This social aspect can help to prevent relapse and shore up recovering addicts.

The 12 Steps

Although the 12 steps aren’t exactly the same as they were at their inception, they still hold the same premise and spirit as the original model. Here are the steps and their principles:

  1. Honesty. It’s important to be able to be honest and admit that there is an addiction present and that the addict is powerless over a substance.
  2. Faith. It can be helpful for an addict to acknowledge that there is a higher power that can help them in overcoming their addiction.
  3. Surrender. Giving into the fact that assistance is needed to recover from addiction is a big help in ending the cycle of self-destruction.
  4. Soul Searching. It’s important to gain a firm understanding of the problems that have driven an addict into addiction and how their behavior impacted themselves and others.
  5. Integrity. This step involves admitting their wrongs in front of a higher power and another individual.
  6. Acceptance. It is essential to accept yourself, flaws, defects, experiences, and all and be willing to not hold on to them.
  7. Humility. Addicts need to be humble enough to ask for help from a higher power in overcoming addiction.
  8. Willingness. This step asks addicts to make a list of people their addiction has caused them to wrong.
  9. Forgiveness. It’s not always easy to apologize or ask for forgiveness, but this step helps to get addicts on the road to healing relationships.
  10. Maintenance. Here is where you have to admit that you were wrong in order to maintain progress in your recovery.
  11. Making Contact. Uncovering the plan for your higher power has for your life and self-discovery are at the core of this step.
  12. Service. Addicts in recovery need to apply the 12 steps to other aspects of their lives and share the message of recovery with others.

The Pros and Cons of a 12-Step Program

These types of programs are helpful for many people in recovery. But they are not the best form of treatment for everyone, because some people will respond better to a non 12 step rehab program. Some benefits include it being a free community-based resource that’s readily available, allowing participants to play an active role in their recovery, and offering both online and in-person meeting options. Some of the disadvantages include it placing full accountability on the addict, not addressing co-occurring mental health issues, the program hinging on a “higher power,” and not dealing with physical symptoms of withdrawal.


Mutual support groups are an excellent addition to treatment protocol. They are safe spaces for addicts to share and find support when going through recovery or feeling tempted to relapse. The needs and circumstances of an individual should be assessed and considered before choosing an addiction treatment plan, so be sure to speak with your healthcare or mental healthcare provider to create the right plan of care for your needs.

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