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The 12-step program for addiction treatment is one of the best-known models of addiction recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous is the largest 12-step organization, with an estimated two million members in over 117,000 groups worldwide.

A Spiritual Guide for Recovery

The 12-step program for addiction treatment is based in spirituality. The Steps act as a clear guide for overcoming an addiction. As you move from the first step to the last, you complete essential tasks that lead to greater self-awareness, better relationships and a higher level of honesty, self-love and compassion.

A 12-step program requires regular attendance at meetings that are designed to promote constant awareness of your thoughts, emotions, attitudes and behaviors. Members partner with sponsors who “adopt” them and serve as a mentor and around-the-clock support system.

What Science Says About the 12-Step Program for Addiction Treatment

An article in the journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly cites a study that found that people who engaged with a 12-step program were twice as likely as those who didn’t to remain abstinent for the long-term.1 Another study found the people who attended 12-step meetings stayed in treatment longer and were more engaged in treatment than their non-attending counterparts.2

Although the scientific evidence is largely inconclusive, the fact remains that many people credit a 12-step program for addiction treatment for helping them end an addiction and restore their lives.

How It Works: 12-Step Program for Addiction Treatment

A 12-step program for addiction treatment is as much about helping individuals transform their lives on every level as it is about helping them end their substance abuse.

After admitting powerlessness over drugs or alcohol, which is the first step, you move to the second step, which involves identifying a higher power—in whatever form that takes for you—and appealing to it for help. In the third step, you turn your will over to your higher power. This helps you let go of the guilt, shame, frustration and other negative emotions that often plague people in early recovery.

Step Four is where the hard work begins as you take a thorough moral inventory of yourself in a comprehensive list of all the wrongs you’ve done to others. In Step Five, you admit to yourself, your higher power and another person the exact nature of your wrongs. This brings a shift in your thinking so that you’re no longer defined in your own mind by your unsavory deeds. Step Six finds you ready to turn your defects and past deeds over to your higher power, indicating that you’re ready to make the effort required to make real and lasting changes in your life.

In Step Seven, you turn your shortcomings over and ask your higher power to remove them. This step is all about humility and the ability to see yourself as you really are. Once you let go of your shortcomings, you can focus on your strengths and overcoming hurdles that may still come your way.

In Step Eight, you make a list of people you harmed during your addiction, and in Step Nine, you make amends. In Step 10, you commit to staying ever vigilant in recovery. In Step 11, you work to elevate your spiritual state. When you’re ready, you move on to the twelfth and final step, where you become a sponsor and dedicate at least part of your life to helping others recover.

Recovery, Step by Step

Making a commitment to a 12-step program can help you through the challenges of recovery, which is why participation in such a program is often part of a high-quality treatment program. There are many pathways to recovery, and a 12-step program for addiction treatment is worth considering if you’re ready to get sober once and for all.


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