A Twelve Step Programme of recovery

What is the Twelve Step Programme?

The Twelve Step programme of recovery was created by Dr Robert Smith and Bill Wilson, the two men responsible for founding Alcoholics Anonymous. Millions of alcoholics have used and use this programme of recovery to this day to maintain their sobriety. It is the most successful way of keeping people sober, certainly based on the numbers of people who have got and stayed well who have used it. It has even been adopted by other recovery groups, including those for drug addicts (adopted by Cocaine Anonymous – CA – and Narcotics Anonymous – NA). It has also been adopted by groups such as Co Dependents Anonymous (CODA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and Sex and Love Addiction Anonymous (SLAA).

This is why many addiction treatment centres use the Twelve Step Programme as the fundamental basis of what they teach people who want and need to get into recovery. They will also advise people in treatment to attend 12 Step Fellowship meetings – the ones most appropriate for their addiction.

The original Twelve Steps for alcoholics are as follows:

  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.

The 12 Step Programme is adapted as appropriate for the different fellowships.

Many people look at the 12 Steps and fix on the word – God. They then say that they are not religious and that the 12 Steps are not for them. However, the 12 Step programme as practised in treatment centres and AA is not religious. It is more spiritual, recognising that we cannot get well on our own and need to have some sort of help. Everyone has an inner spirit that is unique and individual to them (the essence of their personality) and present from the day they were born. When we are in the midst of an addiction that spirit is dead. The inner spirit needs to be stirred and moved and to have hope for the future. Something from outside of us (referred to as a Higher Power) will help us get that spirit raised.


So to summarise the 12 Step programme – our lives are chaotic and unmanageable. Our behaviour is ‘insane and our inner spirit is dead. We need to stop behaving in the way we have been and get help to change. Other people can help us but there is only so much they can do. Our inner spirit needs to feel hope and to want to live.

Something from outside can awaken it (the beauty of nature, the wonder of the universe , a God ‘of our understanding’.) We need to look at our character and what aspects of it are not good either for us or for other people and we need to admit to another human that we have these defects. There is a need to want to change and become better people and recognise that we need help to do it. We need to look at the things we have done wrong in the past and make amends to people we have harmed (to set our consciences free).

Then on a daily basis we need to make sure we live our lives as we would wish and as we should, correcting our wrongs as we go along and keeping our inner spirit healthy. We then share our experience with others and help them to recover with hope.

Not for everyone

Not everyone wants to follow the 12 Step Programme sometimes because they want to believe that they can be in control of their drinking, using and lives. However all the evidence is that we cannot control our drinking and using – if we could we would have done so. And obviously we are not entirely in control of everything in our lives. So believing that there is something out there looking out for us is comforting.

The Haynes Clinic is a 12 Step Treatment Centre. We have seen many hundreds of people get well and thrive on the programme. If you have an addiction – even if you do not! – try it!

A Twelve Step Programme of recovery