Two men discuss, "What is a 12-step program?"

What Is a 12-Step Program?

“Just what is a 12-step program?” We’ve heard this question a thousand times. Even though the notion of “12 stepping” or “working the steps” has become ingrained in popular culture, many are still unfamiliar with the inner workings of “the Program.”

So read on below for a short explanation of the 12-step addiction recovery program and how they can treat alcoholism and drug addiction.

The History of The 12-Step Program

The 12-step program was designed by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith (or “Dr. Bob,” for short) over the course of a few years around 1935. These men, having struggled with alcoholism for much of their lives, hoped to find an alternative to the then-current state of addiction treatment. Then, treatment often consisted of involuntary admission to psychiatric hospitals for extended periods of time.

Since then, what became known as Alcoholics Anonymous was adapted to many other addictions, including:

What Is a 12-Step Program About?

What is a 12-step program?

Basically, the steps come from the “Big Book" written by Wilson and Smith in the 1930s. As a result, the steps in all programs are identical:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  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.
  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.


12-step programs are some of the most popular and common recovery programs across the globe. These programs have expanded to include more than 300 different categories of addiction and habitual behaviors. Consequently, they are available in virtually every country in the world.

Do 12-Step Programs Work?

Do step work? The answer is complicated. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, as the effectiveness of 12-step programs depends on a variety of factors. Here are some things to consider:

  • What is your motivation for attending a 12-step program? If you are attending because you are court-ordered to do so, or because you feel like you have no other choice, your motivation may not be strong enough to make the program work for you.
  • Are you committed to the program? Attending meetings is only a small part of what it takes to make a 12-step program work. You need to be willing to do the work required to make progress.
  • Do you have a strong support system? A 12-step program can provide you with a support system, but it is also important to have family and friends who are supportive of your recovery.
  • Do you have other resources? In addition to a 12-step program, you may need other resources, such as therapy or medication, to help you recover from addiction.

The bottom line is that 12-step programs can be an effective part of recovery, but they shouldn't be viewed as a cure-all. If you are considering a 12-step program, it is important to consider all of the factors that may impact its effectiveness for you.

How We Can Help

At the San Antonio Recovery Center, we provide 12-step programs in conjunction with other forms of treatment and care, including:

  • Residential treatment and inpatient rehabilitation
  • Intensive outpatient programs
  • 90-day treatment
  • Aftercare program
  • Family counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy

If your substance abuse has got you wondering whether a 12-step program is right for you, give us a call at 866.957.7885. We’d love to help you learn about recovery and how you can advance down your own path of healing.

Now is the time to focus on your recovery.


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