How Does the 12-Step Program Work?

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You have probably heard of the 12-step support group but many people aren’t aware of all the steps or how they help. If your treatment center or your recovery support network suggests you join one, what should you expect to gain from it? 

The 12-step program was first designed by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 as a guideline to overcome alcoholism. Initially, the program used spiritual principles or a worldview premise that were incentives to help participants. 

Over the past decades, its success has invited more recovery professionals to integrate the 12-step program with other kinds of addictions. Nonreligious people also found the principles applicable without using spiritual language in their recovery process. 

What’s the Rationale Behind the 12-Step Program?

The basic rationale behind the 12-step program involves a holistic understanding of what human beings are—creatures with physical, mental, and spiritual selves. They each correspond to biological, cognitive, and moral capacities. Because addiction affects all of them, addicted people are compromised in these areas. This sets up a profound base of humility about the true state of an addicted individual and acknowledges addiction as a disease. Honesty and humility are two guiding principles for the 12-step process. This is also why when a new member joins the group, he or she begins with a ritualistic statement, “Hi, I am [name], and I am an alcoholic.”

The reason why these 12 steps are so powerful is that they are built on a holistic philosophy that understands addiction as a disease of the mind, body, and spirit. This well-rounded approach also builds upon group accountability and motivation mechanism. These all make the 12-step program a good supplement to detox treatment and long-term recovery.

What Are the 12 Steps? 

Below is a breakdown of the 12-step principles with their corresponding statements where the word “God” is replaced with “Higher Power”.

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

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

Step 3: Surrender: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the Higher Power as we understood it.”

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

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

Step 6: Willingness: “Were entirely ready to have the Higher Power remove all these defects of character.”

Step 7: Humility: “Humbly ask the Higher Power to remove our shortcomings.”

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

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

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

Step 11: Awareness: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with the Higher Power as we understood it, praying only for knowledge of its will for us and the power to carry that out.”

Step 12: Service: “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.”

What Is Considered Progress and Milestones? 

There is no standard timeline for the 12-steps program. They are designed to work out in sequential order, but there is no “right” way to approach them. Everyone’s progress differs. Some people might need to work on one step for much longer than others. Other people make working the 12 steps a life-long task. Nevertheless, there are a few widely recognized milestones.

The first milestone is 24 hours after a person quits drugs and alcohol. This is also known as their sobriety birthday. Then people typically mark one month, three months, six months, and one year sober. Reaching each of these milestones means that one has relearned an important aspect key to sustainable recovery, whether it is honesty, surrender, humility, or service.

How Do You Best Utilize a 12-Step Group as a Support System?

After achieving sobriety, a recovering individual begins a new journey like a fragile plant in a hostile environment. Social triggers, cravings, and peer pressure are still around so one needs a strong support system to continue. 12-step groups foster a collaborative and inviting environment that contributes positive peer support. Having a sponsor within the group builds close-knit relationships within the recovery community.

For these above reasons, many treatment centers incorporate the 12-step program into their services. It has become part of the standard treatment formula. Moreover, the 12-steps format can also be helpful in aftercare programs that support people to achieve long-term recovery.

Do you know the rationale and philosophy behind the 12-steps program? What are the core principles of this program that help people succeed? Are there milestones you can expect once you join a 12-step group? Some people hesitate to join a 12-step group because they are not informed about how it works. Meanwhile, they may not be able to find a safe space to process all the complicated emotions during treatment and recovery. If you are struggling with the stigma and isolation brought by addiction, consider joining a 12-step program. It is one of the most successful methods. At Laguna Shores Recovery, our licensed mental healthcare professionals and therapists have worked with many people who benefited from the 12-step program. Our full medical facility offers custom treatment plans including medical treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relationship skills coaching. We believe in a holistic approach and are committed to serving your needs. Call us at (866) 906-3203