The 12 steps are a framework designed to help people who are struggling with addiction and helping them achieve the goal of abstinence from all drugs, alcohol and addictive behaviours. These principles are set out to help provide support and highlight the importance of accountability in recovery.

These steps were formed as part of Alcoholics Anonymous, which became the foundation for recovery in the 1930s. Due to its success, these methods were later adopted by other mutual aid societies such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous. Many people are familiar with the Twelve Steps of Recovery for drugs and alcohol; however, they are also used in treatment for other non-substance related disorders such as sex addiction to overeating. While some of the language has been updated to include different addictions, the programme’s original message remains the same.

How Does 12 Step Therapy Work?

The 12 step therapy model is largely based on group interactions rather than individual counselling and provides no medical intervention. While counselling and medical intervention are also part of addiction recovery, it is the 12 steps participants go through that provide a bridge between past behaviours and an addiction-free future.

To achieve and maintain sobriety, the 12 steps programme should be followed in sequence. While some steps may be more challenging than others, each one is essential to long-term success. A sponsor is recommended when going through the Twelve Step programme, as you will require guidance and advice during the process. A sponsor is someone who is happy to share their own experience and journey through recovery, thereby supporting new members of the community.

12 Steps

What Are the 12 Steps and What Do They Mean?

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

Step one is about finally accepting that you are powerless over your addiction and seeks to reclassify addiction as an illness. This step focuses on emphasising that addition cannot be cured by the simple power of will. This lack of control must be understood before you can proceed with the programme.

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

The language used in this step can be somewhat misleading, with many people believing there are religious connotations attached. However, it must be reiterated that the 12 Step programme is not allied with any religion or sect but is designed to be spiritual. Members are encouraged to find their own higher power, examples of which can include a religious God, the universe, karma, or another individual. Step two aims to highlight that recovery is possible once you abandon the illusion of control.

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

While some people might feel more comfortable reframing the language of Step three to allow for more inclusion, the message remains the same. ‘Turning over your life’ refers to the importance of accepting outside help whenever you feel overwhelmed. This could mean connecting and engaging with your higher power and allowing yourself time to reflect upon your experiences.

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

Step four aims to explore the root causes of the illness, and in this case, a ‘moral inventory’ refers to any weaknesses which may have contributed to your addictive behaviours. Taking the time to identify these issues allows you to better understand what needs to change and understand personal strengths that can help support your recovery.

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

Living with guilt and shame can lead to relapse, which is why step five is focused on the act of confession. The goal is to lower the risk of destructive coping mechanisms by unburdening yourself and admitting harmful behaviours. The programme operates on the belief that true cleansing comes from speaking about experiences.

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

Step six is the opportunity for release. Releasing the negative behaviours identified in the previous steps is a massive hurdle. ‘Defects of character’ are reshaped by replacing old coping behaviours with healthier decisions.

Step 7: “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Step seven connects with the idea of humility. Now that you know what to remove, they can allow their higher Power to assist. Remaining humble keeps the recovering individual from downsizing the impact of behaviours. It also causes one to check the limits of their will over disease.

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

Step eight is like a moral inventory of one’s social damages. Guilt management is vital to averting one’s destructive coping behaviours.  As in Step four, this is a form of assessing guilt for hurting others and taking action to admit it. ‘Persons we had harmed’ makes us accountable for the danger of an unmanaged addiction.  Facing this truth gives the affected another chance for progress.

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

Step nine requires you to take action for the harm you might have caused whilst in active addiction. The term ‘direct amends’ suggests that this should be a face-to-face apology, however, this isn’t always possible. If the apology is likely to cause further harm to the person or yourself, then the amends cannot be made. This will also require acceptance in order to move forward with your recovery.

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

Working step ten of the programme requires you to keep your behaviours in check, to avoid falling back into bad habits and adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms as a way of dealing with stressful situations. Keeping a log of certain incidents allows you to track your progress and learn from experiences. Working step ten doesn’t mean that you don’t get angry ever again, or that you don’t make mistakes. It means that if you do, you admit when you’re wrong and move forward with a better understanding of how to handle things in future.

Step 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.”

‘Prayer’ and ‘meditation’ in this context can simply refer to talking and listening to your higher power. You must remember that new situations will influence you, so step eleven aims to highlight the importance of keeping connected to your higher power and continuing to ask for help when needed.

Step 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.”

Once you have achieved sobriety and built a new life free from addiction, step twelve requires that you inspire and guide new members on their journey through recovery.

As a newly sober individual, you are encouraged to continue carrying the Twelve Step message to those in need. One must ‘practice these principles in all affairs.’ Imperfection is the only guarantee, so some may relapse and revisit previous steps.

Treatment at CATCH Recovery

At CATCH Recovery, we create treatment programmes based on the 12 Step philosophy and harness therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) and MI (motivational interviewing). As experienced addiction professionals, we know that structure is effective when it comes to helping you overcome the psychological aspects of addiction, avoiding relapse, and continuing a stable life after rehab.

Our clinic located in Kensington, South West London, offers exceptional and bespoke treatment plans, whether you’re being treated on an inpatient or outpatient basis. We also offer therapy online so that you can benefit from our therapy no matter your location.

Becoming familiar with the 12 step programme means you can continue attending groups as part of your recovery once you leave our clinic and benefit from the global recovery fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous, among many others.