The 12 Step Programme in the UK

A simple addiction treatment programme

About 99% of all UK residential rehab centres and addiction clinics will offer their treatment based on the model of the 12 Step Programme. There is no doubt that our addictive thinking and behaviour has led to our lives being totally out of control.

Everyone is different and we will all have our different levels of unmanageability. Therefore, it is good that there is a simple addiction programme that we can follow which will restore order and direction in our lives. However, the main problem is that it is a simple addiction treatment programme for over complicated people. 

People, as a rule, are very reluctant to ask for help.  If there is a heavy table to be moved, we quite happily ask someone for assistance with moving it, but with our addiction we suddenly become more than reluctant to ask for help. 

Help for alcoholics and addicts

The very first word of Step 1 is “WE,” and the very essence of the addiction treatment programme is structured around our seeking help from others.

Unfortunately, we find it hard to accept that just liquid in a bottle can beat us: surely we can beat it?  In part this is down to our arrogance and also the denial that we have a problem in the first place and that the problem will not plateau out but get worse.  It is like peeling the layers of an onion, we get to a bad level of drinking or drugging and think it can’t get any worse and then we go to another lower level.   

For everyone it depends to what level they get to before they seek help. 

The 12 Step Programme is not religious

The 12 Step programme was developed about 85 years ago. The wording has never been changed and the old Americanise has put many people off the programme. The word GOD is used four times and the most common voiced complaint is “it’s a religious programme, which is not for me.” It certainly isn’t religious based or we would simply have a detox and then go and pray to our respective religious Gods.  

No, this is a structured set of Steps that guide us, with the help of others on this planet, who have a similar problem to ourselves and are doing something about it and with whom we can communicate.

Alcoholics talking to other alcoholics helps

The AA 12 Step programme and the support groups of Alcoholics Anonymous were established in 1935 when Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith found that the simple process of talking to another alcoholic when feeling the urge to have a drink could be of great help.

The fact that the other alcoholic was not feeling the urge meant that the one who was wanting a drink could get that urge to pass. 

The first AA meeting in the UK was held in Room 202 of the Dorchester Hotel in Park Lane, London on 31 March 1947. Since then, the number of AA meetings has grown to currently approximately 4,661 a year in the UK. 

The importance of Step 1 – accepting never being able to drink safely again

One of the most common statements that we hear at The Haynes Clinic from someone who has been in treatment in rehab before and then relapsed is “well I have done the 12 Step Programme.” Well, to put it simply, if they had they would not have relapsed.

The Steps are in a carefully thought out order and for a reason that sees one Step naturally move to the next. There is no time limit on working through the Steps or when you move from one Step to the next. However, in treatment for 28 days you will have normally worked through to Step 5.  

If anyone relapses it is generally down to their incorrect understanding, or lack of understanding of Step 1, whereby they acknowledge and admit that there is a problem but stop accepting that they can do something about it.  There is a big difference between admitting and acceptance and generally that is the difference between staying well or relapsing.

A total abstinence programme

The 12 Step programme is abstinence based, and it isn’t going to work whilst someone is still drinking (or using any other mood altering substance).  So, for any drinker with an alcohol problem then they need to have a medically assisted detox from alcohol first. Legislation has changed and now even a hospital is reluctant to have someone occupy a bed with an alcohol problem so that means that a residential rehab clinic or addiction treatment centre is the most likely option to get detoxed.  Also, by going into residential rehab treatment,  following admission you will probably start group therapy within the first 24 hours.  This addiction therapy process will also involve the start of your understanding of a 12 Step programme.

The 12 Step Programme works

Over the years, Alcoholics Anonymous using the 12 Step modality has helped many thousands of people get well and to go on and lead a life of sobriety. Other support groups are also using the same Steps and methodology.  They simply change the one word in Step one to fit the nature of the addiction support group.


Step 1 says “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives became unmanageable”. The one word that can be changed is alcohol and that can be changed to Cocaine, Gambling, Heroin, Eating and will be used in the respective support groups of Cocaine Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous  (for people with all forms of eating disorder, not just overeaters)etc.   

We need to break down the denial of the extent of our addictive thinking and behaviour and to do that we need to become more honest with ourselves.  Also, in order to actually ask others for help, we need to find humility. Both honesty and humility are born out of understanding and working the Steps. 

We don’t like change but, by working the Steps “a day at a time”, we will be able to monitor the changes that take place within ourselves and the positive impact  that will have on our family and friends and our lives overall.  The changes we have tried to make have not worked. So we need to try something that has a proven track record that does work. That is the 12 Step Programme and the fact that it has been proven to work cannot be challenged.