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12 Steps to Recovery

In any search for a drug or alcohol rehab programme, you are likely to run across clinics or support groups offering what is known as a ‘12-step recovery programme’. The 12-step model is widely accepted as one of the most effective for treating compulsive behaviours of all sorts.

The key to the 12-step philosophy is that it is holistic in nature. In other words, it treats the individual as a whole being rather than just focusing on only the physical or psychological components of addiction. The holistic approach looks at the physical, emotional, and spiritual.

Don’t let the spiritual component scare you away from a 12-step programme. Many programmes don’t adhere to a specific religious philosophy other than to recognise that human beings have a spiritual aspect to them. If you are interested in a specific religious belief, there are religious organisations offering that type of rehab.

History of the 12-step Programme

The modern 12-step programme traces its roots back to the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1938. This American group was established as a spiritual fellowship designed to help those struggling with alcohol overcome their addictions. The 12-steps that were followed by this group were later published and eventually went on to become the standard for addiction recovery.

As Alcoholics Anonymous proved successful enough to spread around the United States, a second set of 12 Guiding Principles also began to emerge. These principles replaced the 12-steps for organisations attempting to keep the spiritual component to a minimum, while organisations embracing the spiritual component integrated the additional principles into the existing 12 steps.

The combination of the two proved so successful that Narcotics Anonymous asked permission to adopt the 12-step approach themselves. Alcoholics Anonymous granted that permission without reservation. Today the 12-step philosophy dominates the addiction recovery landscape.

The original wording of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme is as follows1:

  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.

Why the 12-step Programme Works

Though there remains some debate over genetic influences as they relate to compulsive and addictive behaviour, one thing experts agree on is that no addict can be helped until he or she makes the choice to seek help willingly. The fact that successful treatment requires a willing choice suggests that addictive behaviour is more than just a physical issue.

The 12-step programme works because it recognises the need for the holistic approach. It’s not enough to simply break the physical addiction to alcohol and leave it at that. Why? Because long after detox is over the recovering alcoholic or drug addict will still be faced with the same pressures and temptations that lead him/her to drink or take drugs in the first place.

If recovery is not approached from a holistic viewpoint, it becomes extremely difficult for the recovering addict to deal with future temptations. Those future temptations are more than merely physical; they are mental and emotional. Thus, the mental and emotional must be dealt with in a rehab programme.

The Spiritual Component

As you read the original wording of the 12 steps, you likely noticed a conscious recognition of the existence of God. That is the basis of the spiritual component. The 12-step philosophy recognises that there is a higher Being, above and beyond mere humanity, which possesses the power to heal and restore. It also recognises the addict must submit to that Being if true recovery is to be achieved.

That said, the 12-step philosophy does not specifically name the God of Christianity, Judaism, or any other faith system. It simply recognises God ‘as we understand Him’. That leaves the door wide open for any number of faith systems to find success within a 12-step programme.

Other Programmes

We would be remiss if we did not let you know there are alternatives to 12-step programmes. Not every private clinic or alcohol charity relies on this philosophy for their treatments. In fact, some go out of their way to avoid the 12-step model because they do not want to limit their options. That’s certainly a legitimate choice to make.

As someone in need of alcohol treatment, you can choose to use a 12-step programme or one that embraces a different philosophy. What’s most important that you choose to get help. Should you refuse, you are only increasing the damage alcohol is doing while making it more difficult to quit down the road.

We urge you to get in touch with us right away if you suspect you may have a drinking problem. Every day you delay, you’re only making your problems worse. Every day you delay is another day your life is being controlled by something you should be controlling instead.

If you’re visiting our website on behalf of someone else, we want to help you as well. Our goal is to arm you with all the information you need so that if your friend or loved one eventually does agree to seek help, you are ready to go instantly. When you contact us, we will make sure you have all the treatment option information you need.

  1. From Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism (3rd edition) by Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1993.

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