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AA 12 Steps Explained

The 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are the spiritual, not necessarily religious, foundation of the recovery program. The program addresses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery.

The basis of the program is, simply, to help people stop drinking alcohol. The 12-steps are a guide to a new way of life for the alcoholic.

The philosophy of the original Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program has been adopted by many substance abuse, dependency and self-help organizations throughout the world.

What Are the 12-Steps and What Do They Mean?

Each step has a message and lesson to guide the participant along the journey of recovery. Here are the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable. After years of denial, the first step in recovery is to admit that you have a problem. Lesson=honesty
  2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. This step offers a person the hope and faith needed to return to a healthy life. A power greater than ourselves can be God or anything in which the participant believes. Lesson=faith
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. The spirituality and religious beliefs that help a person feel comfortable and accepted are encouraged. Lesson=surrender.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This is an admission of past and present faults so the person can try to fix them. Lesson=soul searching.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Knowing what a person has done wrong and then admitting it to the group is important. Lesson=integrity.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Participants let go and accept the fact that it is time to change. Lesson=acceptance.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. The spirituality of AA focuses on healing, prayer, mediation, hope and faith. Lesson=humility.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. This is focused on planning and accepting the wrongs in their life, not so much actually completing the task of making amends. Lesson=willingness.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Apologizing to some of those harmed will make some relationships better and for others, it can make a situation worse. Lesson=forgiveness.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. The importance of admitting when a person is wrong, as with a relapse into addiction, is important to the success of recovery. Lesson=maintenance.
  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. Quiet time to reflect on the day, what went wrong and what needs improvement helps a person in recovery. Lesson=making contact.
  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. Giving back to the community that has helped a person in their recovery is how the program works. Lesson=service.

AA has lessons to offer and a 12-step program to achieve the goal of sobriety which can greatly support follow-up treatment care. Following the plan and listening to those who share their personal wisdom and support is imperative to success.


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