Breaking Down The 12 Steps For The Addict

A 12-step program provides just the roadmap some recovering users need to get back on track after substance addiction. This common approach to addiction recovery keeps many people focused on their long-term health and sobriety as they work toward rebuilding their lives and strengthening their resolve to put down the drugs and alcohol for good.

Some popular 12-step programs are:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)
  • Al-Anon and Alateen (a group for people who have been affected by someone else’s drinking)

Twelve-step programs are used to address various kinds of addictions and are incorporated into treatment approaches “always or often” or “sometimes” at about 73 percent of treatment centers, according to the 2016 National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services.

These free or low-cost programs require participants to meet regularly at a scheduled time in a public place, such as a church, to share stories about their experiences with alcoholism and drug addiction. They do so in hopes of encouraging one another in working toward shared goals.

These meetings are intended to be safe spaces for people in recovery who wish to use their weaknesses, doubts, fears, and personal truths and perspectives to help other people who are going through similar experiences. Each of the 12 steps must be worked in the order they appear though there is some flexibility in how sponsors can walk their sponsees through the steps.

Alcoholics Anonymous, an international fellowship Bill Wilson founded in 1935 to help people struggling with alcoholism, is the original 12-step program, and its blueprint has provided the foundation for other programs, both secular and nonsecular.

For some who are on the fence about joining a 12-step fellowship whose foundation is faith-based, the biggest obstacle to adopting the 12 steps is the spiritually focused language wording of the steps. There are, however, objective ways to look at the steps for them to be adaptable to any belief system.

If you will are entering a treatment program or have gone through treatment, you may come to realize that the basic concepts outlined in the steps can be applied to your daily life. This article will focus on the original 12 steps and explain them to help people who are interested in giving them a try.

An overview of the 12 steps

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction—that our lives had become unmanageable.

In the first step of the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotic Anonymous, it is realized that people who are struggling with addiction must admit our lives have become a mess and that we are responsible for creating the messes our lives have become because of our addictions. This step is about admitting the truth, the pull of addiction is greater than us, and that we need outside help.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The second step is about hope, faith, and ultimately, realization. This is a step toward God or what our conception of God is to us. Ultimately, this step is about the process of stepping outside of ourselves and give up control. Whether recovering users are agnostic, atheist, or former believers, everyone can stand together in this step. True humility and an open mind can lead us to recovery. Click here to learn more about how the second step can help people recovering from substance abuse deal with cravings as they abstain from substance use.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

The third step does two things. First, we decide to turn our will over to the care of God, or a Higher Power of our understanding, and to trust God or a Higher power with our recovery. Second, we decide to turn our lives over to the care of God, as we understand Him. This step calls for affirmative action, for it is only by action that we can cut away the self-will and ego that prevents us from being humble and seeking help.

Some have said the third step is an affirmation to take action and finish the rest of the steps, whether your belief that you will is strong or not. It is a step that requires us to engage in a great deal of reflection and acceptance of ourselves.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

The purpose of a searching and fearless moral inventory is to sort through the confusion and the contradiction of our lives so that we can find out and face the facts of who we are. This is important as we aim to understand the new path we are creating for ourselves. This is also a time to reflect on past and present relationships with people who have played a significant role in our lives and think about how our actions have affected them. In the simplest terms, the fourth step is the soul-searching step of the 12 steps, and we chronicle both the good and bad in each of us.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 5 has been called the key to freedom. After we complete the moral and personal inventory in the fourth step, we now have to admit our shortcomings to God, our Higher Power, and others whom we have wronged. This can be hard after believing our own half-truths, excuses, rationalizations, and justifications of what we do for so long. Despite that, this step must be done. For many, this step is the most difficult one, but once it is completed, we have nothing left to hide. We will be on our way to attaining relief on a mental, emotional, and spiritual level.

Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The sixth step is one about preparation and reflection, and upon closer examination, the theme of the sixth step is willingness. Willingness occurs between the time we are ready to make changes in our lives (preparation) and the time we make the change in our lives and behave in ways that support those changes (action). It is also the step where we as newly recovering addicts realize that the journey of recovery is marked by small victories and gradual improvement and progress.

Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

The seventh step indicates a change in attitude that allows our humility to be our guide. According to, Step 7 is similar to Step 3. “[Step 7] is more specific, however, because now I have completed my personal inventory, and so I have a better idea of the roots of my addictive behaviors. I do my best to not play games about these defects of character. In this step I surrender to the ‘surgery of God’ and ask God to remove these defects of character,” it writes on its website. This step is also one of action as it requires us to remove the sources of addiction and temptation that cause us to stumble or fall.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

The eighth step is about making amends to all the people we have wronged. It promotes healing from past hurts and reaching out to others who have been wounded by hurtful actions.

We are putting into action what was started in Step 4. During this step, we must make a list of everyone we have wronged and set out to make amends with these people. This list is a good place to start for having those difficult conversations. It may help to write down any thoughts that come to mind next to each person’s name and reflect on what the proper amends might be for that person.

It is important to note the difference between amends and apologies. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation site writes, “An amend has to do with restoring justice as much as possible. The idea is to restore in a direct way that which we have broken or damaged—or to make restoration in a symbolic way if we can’t do it directly.” It is a sincere change in how we behave and treat others.

The site goes on to explain that borrowing $20 from someone and apologizing for not paying it back is one thing, but giving the person’s $20 back to them is actually making amends.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

The ninth step completes what was started in the eighth step. We should make amends when the first opportunity presents itself. However, there is one exception, and that’s when making amends will cause more harm than good. Sometimes we cannot make amends; it is neither possible nor practical, and we just have to accept that. However, we should never fail to reach out to someone out of embarrassment, fear, or procrastination.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 10 lays out the foundation for the rest of the recovering person’s life. In this step, we are vigilant against addictive behavior and the triggers for the addictive behavior. If we engage in this type of behavior, we admit our shortcomings and move past them.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

The 11th step provides a continual reality check, and we focus on spiritual needs as our base. Whether it is meditation, prayer, or another spiritual way of connecting with your Higher Power, the 11th step is where you begin your journey of spiritual growth.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Step 12, the final step, involves being of service to those who are struggling with abuse by carrying the message that recovery is possible. This mainly points to taking another through the steps the same way your sponsor took you through them. Sharing the message can be as simple as speaking at a meeting, to being a sponsor to just being a nice person. The 12th step is not an end, but a beginning. It is the beginning of the ultimate journey for growth and continued freedom from drugs and alcohol.

Need help with ending addiction?

To truly understand the power of the steps, one must be in a clear frame of mind. The Palm Beach Institute begins educating and assisting our clients through the journey of the steps as soon as they enter treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction, call us today at (855) 617-1839 and take the first step towards continued recovery with The Palm Beach Institute.

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