What Are the 12 Steps of Recovery? – Addiction is a complicated brain disorder that affects those suffering physically, psychologically, and socially. It also adversely impacts those around him or her. Recovery can be aided by treatment programs and support groups that offer hope, encouragement, and positive peer interactions.
These groups allow people with similar goals – such as abstinence from alcohol or drugs – to gather in a supportive environment conducive to sharing and healing. The 12-step program genre began with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a program that was developed to support persons battling alcohol addiction.
The 12 Steps of Recovery
Step 1 – Admitting That One is Powerless Over Addiction
Addiction is a disease that alters brain chemistry and function, thus affecting reward, motivation, willpower, and memory. The first step asks people to accept that they are not able to control their substance abuse and that their motivation and willpower have been compromised.
Moreover, when a person battles addiction, they are no longer able to regulate how much or how often they use drugs and/or alcohol. Identification of this loss control and the admittance of powerlessness over addiction is typically the first step in recovery.
Step 2: Accepting a Power Greater than Oneself
The second step in the 12 steps of recovery asks people to accept a higher power and that this power is necessary to restore sanity. This higher power is traditionally thought of as “God” but can come in many forms – in fact, for those who don’t believe in a god per se, this higher power can represent something else, such the Earth or the Universe.
Other 12-step groups exist, however, for people who are non-religious or are wary of the religious overtones of AA, such as AA Agnostica. Step 2 is often taken as simply that the individual requires the help of something greater than themselves to move forward in recovery.
Step 3: Agreeing to Turn One’s Life Over to a Higher Power
Each individual will have their own conception of who or what their higher is and what it means to them personally. In step 3, people are called to turn their lives over to this power to help them heal and recover. While the first two steps are mostly about insight and reflection, step 3 asks people to take action and engage their willingness to move forward.
Step 4: Taking a Moral Inventory of Oneself
This moral inventory of self should be, above all, nothing less than soul-searching and fearless – moreover, the individual should be compelled to overcome fears and be honest about faults and weaknesses. Step 4 requires a significant amount of list writing, as people are asked to identify events, thoughts, feelings, and past experiences that are difficult and troubling to think about.
In this step, self-reflection and introspection into how past events have affected those close to the alcoholic or addict, in addition to personal feelings regarding these matters. Some people choose to start a journal and may spend a considerable amount of time on this step – engaging in writing, praying or meditation, and receiving support from others in their group.
Step 5: Admitting Wrongdoing to the Higher Power, Oneself, and Others
In step 5 of the 12 steps of recovery, people will choose someone they trust to share stories, thoughts, and feelings identified in step 4. People are called to admit their weaknesses to their higher power and seek forgiveness.
It can be difficult to admit to oneself and others the wrongdoings and the shortcomings that one possesses. At this time, people are often humbled and feel cleansed moving forward and leaving adversities in the past. Because addiction is so isolating, step 5 is frequently the first step toward opening up fully to others.
Step 6: Becoming Ready for the Higher Power to Remove Character Defects
Step 6 is about liberation from negativity and the past and moving onward with the aid of the higher power. People may pray or meditate and ask their higher power to remove character defects and to absolve them of their moral failings.
Individuals may review their list of wrongdoings or opt to write a new list. They can then choose something healthy and positive with which to replace these defects. For example, deception and secrecy can be replaced with honesty and integrity.
Step 7: Asking the Higher Power to Remove Shortcomings
Step 7 is steeped in humility, and people are asked to seek God’s will (or their higher power) in how their life will be lived. Humility is important in recovery and is defined as the ability to think less of oneself than of others. Meditation is often beneficial during this step as a means of self-introspection and to learn how to employ humility in one’s life.
Step 8: Listing Wrongdoings and Becoming Willing to Make Amends
During this step, people frequently begin to write lists again to help foster forgiveness. The two lists featured in this step consist of (1) those who need forgiveness from the individual and (2) those whom the individual needs to seek forgiveness from. There will likely be some who appear on both lists.
Addiction has a ripple effect, and people are encouraged to be thorough in their lists, as no one should be overlooked. Individuals are asked to consider anyone who they may have harmed either directly or indirectly as a result of their addiction, as well as to liberate themselves from past anger and old resentments.
Step 9: Making Amends When It Is Not Harmful to Do So
Step 9 in the 12 steps of recovery consists of persons attempting to make amends for wrongdoings done to others, and are encouraged to contact these individuals and let them know that they are interested in approaching them to make amends.
In some cases, however, it is not possible to engage in these conversations directly, or doing so would cause more harm. Instead, one can write a letter to the person (regardless if it will never actually be delivered) or may donate to a charity in another’s name/honor or help someone else who is less fortunate.
During step 9, people apologize for their behaviors while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and for the destruction that their addiction has caused. Individuals may then offer restitution and ask for forgiveness and reconciliation, but also need to be aware that they may not receive it.
Step 10: Daily Accountability
The purpose of steps 1-9 is to build a strong spiritual foundation, and in
step 10, people seek daily accountability for their actions. Persons continue to analyze how their thoughts, behaviors, and actions affect their daily life and how to keep themselves in line with their higher power. People are encouraged to take a daily inventory and immediately correct any wrongs that are identified.
This can be accomplished by maintaining a journal or by designed another means of self-examination. This step, moreover, involves personal reflections/insight and a checking system to keep oneself emotionally balanced.
Step 11: Praying to Improve Contact with the Higher Power and Engage In What Is Right
Meditation, prayer, and journaling are included in step 11 as persons wield these tool to develop a spiritual connection with their higher power. When a person is in tune and aligned with themselves emotionally and physically, the spiritual connection is also strengthened. Journaling during this time can also be a helpful way to examine thoughts and emotions more completely.
Step 12: Experiencing a Spiritual Awakening and Conveying the Message to Others
In the final step of the 12 steps of recovery, individuals are asked to give back to others who are also struggling with addiction and to share their new-found spirituality and support peers in their recovery. People are urged to share stories, feelings, and struggles with others to foster encouragement and hope.
Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Addiction
The 12 steps of recovery can be essential agents in the fight against addiction, but they are not the only ones. Research has found that outcomes are improved when people also undergo inpatient and/or intensive outpatient treatment that includes evidence-based approaches such as behavioral therapy and counseling.
Our professional staff offers expertise in addiction and provides clients with the tools needed to recover and maintain long-lasting wellness and sobriety.