I love the 12 Step fellowships as a free, ongoing, daily, peer-led resource that can help you to recover and remain well. Where appropriate I often encourage my clients to check them out and see if meetings feel like a fit for them. During Covid 19 most meetings are being held via zoom, and are still – perhaps even more so- an invaluable resource.

What is The 12 Step Recovery?

The 12 step recovery programme was first created as the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), co-founded by Bill Wilson, it is now the heart of many other 12 step fellowships. Since 1935, 12 step fellowships have provided a community-based, mutual-support programme of recovery that has been helping addicts of all kinds get and stay sober.

The 12-step model has been adapted and successfully applied to many kinds of addiction treatment. There are 12 step programmes for every kind of addiction, from Narcotics Anonymous to Gamblers Anonymous to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. The 12 step programme offers recovery to all sorts of people, if you are struggling with any kind of addiction the likelihood is that there is a 12 step programme to fit you.  

The 12-step approach has been successfully woven into the therapeutic programmes offered by many rehabs. There are meetings held in all parts of the world, which means there are plenty of opportunities to connect with a recovery fellowship at any point in your recovery journey.

As a member of any 12 step fellowship you will guided and supported through the process of the 12 steps by a ‘sponsor’.  A sponsor is a member of the programme who is successfully working their 12 step programme and who is equipped to coach you through your process.

12 Steps.

The 12 Steps outline how to recover from addictive processes and behaviors and restore manageability and serenity your life. Below are the 12 Steps with a brief explanation of each step.

Step One – “We admitted we were powerless over addiction– that our lives had become unmanageable.

You may have heard experts say that you cannot change before you admit you have a problem. Step one addresses this problem by working on the denial and self- deception that often accompanies addiction.

Step one works on encouraging you to fact that your addictive behavior is beyond your control. The addiction is in charge of you.   Being powerlessness means that achieving sobriety is not about “having more willpower” instead it describes powerlessness as the nature of addiction.

Step Two“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Step two really offers HOPE. Through working this step you will come to believe that recovery is possible.

Step two tells us is that it is possible to gain strength, inspiration, and guidance from something outside of and greater than your own will. The choice of what you use as a higher power is very personal. It only must be something that can help and guide you in the right direction.

Step Three – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

The third step is an action step. The first two were about contemplation and awareness. In this third step you will start to act less on your own compulsions, relying more on an intuitive understanding of what your higher power’s will for you is.

The Third Step can be problematic for some people because of the word God, it is important to acknowledge the qualifier that it is God, as we understand him. For some, GOD is an acronym that stands for “Good Orderly Direction”. For others, it can even stand for a “Group of Drunks/Druggies” – the fellowship they receive from others in their fellowship meetings. Again, the journey is a personal one and you are free to make it your own.

Step Four “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Through Step four you will take an honest – and sometimes uncomfortable – at yourself, your behaviour, and the effect it has had on yourself and those around you.  

Your personal inventory is:

  • Fearless – meaning that you might be facing truths about yourself that you may not like.
  • Searching – you will take time to thoroughly examine your thinking, feelings, and behavior.
  • Moral – as you examine your thoughts, feelings, and behavior you will think about whether or not they seem right to you and if not have a look at what your motives might be.

Step Five “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

This Step can be highly therapeutic, having taken a look at the harm that your addiction has done sharing your story and insights can be a powerful release. Often the person you share you story with will share some of their story with you, you will find that you are only human, and not uniquely imperfect.

Step Six -“Were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character.”

Practicing step six means letting of the patterns, behaviours, and attitudes that are holding you back.  Though some of your behavior and thinking isn’t serving you well it is hard to change ingrained ways of coping. This step requires commitment but it is good to remember when practicing this step that progress not perfection is key.

Step Seven -“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Much of your negative behaviour has probably been intertwined with active addiction and as such you have been powerless to amend it. You were not responsible for your illness but you can be responsible for your recovery.

Some people may balk at the word humble, but it is a necessary quality in working this step. Humility does not mean cowering or groveling, it is not about making yourself small, rather it is about making yourself right sized.

Step Eight “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

Step eight is about housecleaning. Through this step you begin to clean up the mess that your addiction has left around you. Through this step you will become willing to make amends, and work on repairing the damage done through your active addiction. Willingness is the most important aspect of this step because as we will see in step nine it is not always possible to make direct amends.

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

Step eight was about awareness and contemplation, step nine moves you into action. You will have looked at the damage we have done and now it is time to take action to put things right.

“wherever possible”–

Sometimes making amends personally with someone you have harmed in the past can be a dangerous or negative thing. You do not want to cause difficulties in someone’s current life. Everybody will have a different and personal journey through each of these steps.

Step Ten“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.”

By this point you will be really adept at being honest with yourself, recognizing triggers and noticing when your thinking is getting a bit off track. The tenth Step is about flourishing and vigilance.

Keeping on top of your behaviour and thinking will allow you to steer clear of collecting more emotional baggage and consequences that might get in the way of your growth.

Step Eleven “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.”

By this point in your journey you may have developed a working idea of what ‘God as you understand him’ means to you. “Prayer and meditation” means making an effort to improve our understanding of the path that our Higher Power has for us.

Often you will hear prayer described as talking to your higher power – expressing gratitude, asking for help, sharing struggles. Meditation is often described as meaning listening, in quiet contemplation for guidance and insight.

Step Twelve “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”

This step is about helping yourself and helping others in one go. There is much satisfaction and sense of purpose to be gained from helping others who are struggling. Working with others will keep you moving forward and will help you to build lasting and meaningful relationships with others.

Why Is It Useful?

The 12 steps offer an ongoing recovery programme and a fellowship of clean and sober peers to help you through all the stagesyour recovery – from getting clean and sober, to getting well, to helping others, and maintaining freedom from addiction and emotional sobriety.

The fellowship provides an amazing opportunity to form relationships and friendships with sober people, these friendships can last a lifetime. Working with others in the fellowships puts you in a position to really be able to help others. Perhaps other members of the fellowship will trust you more than others because they know you have been through similar experiences. Having been an addict and now be living free from your addiction you have a powerful message of hope to share!

Whilst there is much anecdotal evidence about the efficacy of the 12 steps programmes the fellowships are not easily studied so it is difficult to come up with a statistic that illustrates how effective the 12 steps are:. “Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals,” states the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

The 12 Steps are guiding principles that allow you to embrace sobriety, sanity, and serenity.

Who Can Benefit From It?

Researchers working in the field of substance abuse for well over a century have produced a substantial body of theoretical models and empirical data. The concepts that have helped to define substance addiction, particularly in relation to alcoholism, have been applied to behaviours and processes as well as substances. This process has not just happened in the academic field of psychology, there has been a grass roots broadening of understanding of addiction. This means that there are now 12 step programmes available for you if you are experiencing all kinds of addictions.


There are many different types of substance addictions. There are also now many recognized process/behavioural addictions. It might be useful to understand process addiction or behavioural addiction as a persistent engagement with a particular behaviour despite increasing negative consequences 

Scientific studies have shown that whilst the neurological reward system more powerfully by certain substances than by behaviours the chemical neurological process is the same. [i]

There are 12 step fellowships for many addictions now, if you need help you may be able to find it in at least one of these fellowships:

  • AA – Alcoholics Anonymous
  • CA – Cocaine Anonymous
  • CMA – Crystal Meth Anonymous
  • CoDA – Co-Dependents Anonymous
  • COSLAA – CoSex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • EA – Emotions Anonymous for recovery from mental and emotional illness
  • FA – Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous
  • FAA – Food Addicts Anonymous
  • GA – Gamblers Anonymous
  • HA – Heroin Anonymous
  • MA – Marijuana Anonymous
  • NA – Narcotics Anonymous
  • N/A – Neurotics Anonymous for recovery from mental and emotional illness
  • OA – Overeaters Anonymous
  • OLGA – Online Gamers Anonymous
  • SA – Sexaholics Anonymous
  • SLAA – Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • WA – Workaholics Anonymous

Eating Disorders.

Though initially intended for recovering alcoholics in Alcoholics Anonymous, the 12 steps have been tailored to fit with all kinds of issues. The 12-step process for recovery from addiction can be equally effective for those struggling with an eating disorder. 

Treatment programmess that utilize the 12-step process for addicts often offer the same or a very similar programme to eating disordered clients whilst offering specialist counselling and an integrative therapeutic programme.

Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) is a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their shared problems and assist others in recovering from their eating disorders.

The shared history of struggling with an eating disorder coupled with the shared common solution serves to really unify the group and there you can really make deep connections with others. EDA shares that their “primary purpose is to recover from our eating disorder and to carry this message of recovery to others with eating disorders”.

To learn more about 12 step support for eating disorders you can contact:

  • Overeaters Anonymous:  A program of recovery from compulsive eating using the Twelve steps and Twelve Traditions.
  • Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous (ABA) is a fellowship of individuals whose primary purpose is to find and maintain recovery from eating disorders.

Depression and Other Mental Disorders.

Whilst all the 12 step fellowships seek to increase your capacity for serenity, joy and wellbeing there are specific fellowships you can join if you are struggling to regulate your emotions.

For example The Emotions Anonymous 12-step recovery programme might be for you if you are experiencing anxiety, grief, depression, anger, low self-esteem, and other emotional regulation difficulties. Emotions Anonymous was founded in 1971 and is a 12 step programme adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous Approach. Anyone who wants to cultivate emotional wellness is welcome.

As it does with addicts, the fellowships for those experiencing depression and other mental disorders provide an invaluable resource in the form of other recovering peers who offer a supportive network which is really useful for sustaining recovery long-term.

Zoe Southcott

[i] Childress  AR,  Ehrman  RN,  Wang  Z,  Li  Y,  Sciortino  N,  et  al.  (2008)  Prelude  to  Passion:  Limbic  Activation  by  “Unseen”Drug  and  Sexual  Cues.  PLoS  ONE3(1):  e1506. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001506

Categories: 12 stepsAddiction