The 12 step programme has long been a way in which people with addiction achieve and sustain recovery. In professional settings, the 12 step approach to addiction treatment has a proven track record of helping people throughout their recovery process. So, whether you have heard about the 12 step programme before or you’re not sure what it entails, here is everything you need to know.
The 12 step programme is a series of principles with associated actions and activities, first conceived in 1930s America to help people recover from alcohol addiction. There are some misconceptions, which we will cover off shortly, but essentially, the 12 step approach offers a process and a set of recovery tools, to help guide you towards recovery and to maintain your new way of life, free from addiction.
There is no one formula for addiction recovery, and the 12 step programme is just one avenue. The 12 step approach can be used by itself, or it can be combined very effectively with other therapies such as CBT, person-centred counselling, trauma therapy and family therapy, as we do at Help Me Stop. Still, as a foundation for addiction recovery, the 12 steps has proven to be the most widespread and effective approach over the years. From its beginnings in Alcoholics Anonymous, now the 12 step programme has been adopted by many other fellowships, as well as professional addiction treatment settings worldwide.
Step 1, 2 and 3 give you the tools and foundations you need, to understand the nature of the disease of addiction, then identify and start depending upon healthier sources of help, support and guidance. Steps 4 to 9 offer people the opportunity for deep self-reflection and growth, identifying patterns of thinking and behaviour that are harmful, as well as ways to change going forward. Steps 10, 11 and 12 help people with addiction to maintain their recovery day-to-day, with regular self-appraisal, tools for healthy self-development and a focus on helping others. It is also recommended that you practise the 12 steps every day, which is simpler than it sounds! In essence, that’s about approaching each day with honesty, openness and willingness to do things differently.
So, What are the 12 steps?
As described by Alcoholics Anonymous they are:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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 steps in the 21st century
Now, there are a few things to cover off and unpack here, as there is a lot in there. The 12 steps were written in1930s America in a prevailing Christian culture, so there is a little work to be done to bring them into 21st century practices and our multicultural society.
First of all, you don’t have to be religious to follow the 12 steps. When God or ‘Him’ is referred to, you are free to interpret that as you wish, with whichever entity or power you choose. Step 3 sets it out: ‘God’ is as you understand God, so feel free to define your best sources of guidance and support in life. For some, this is attending addiction treatment and then regular 12-step meetings in their community. Others turn to their pre-existing religion. Others find great solace and spiritual uplift in nature. In this way, the 12 step programme is available for everyone, regardless of faith or beliefs.
Secondly, these 12 steps are designed to guide you on the route to recovery and can be used alongside other tools and methods to help you on that path. From counselling sessions to group therapy, GP support for co-existing conditions, peer mentoring and so much more, your recovery journey will be completely unique to you.
Another vital part of the 12 step programme is abstinence. A central concept in the 12 step programme is that people with addiction are unable to control their addiction with will power. The phrase, ‘one is too many, a thousand never enough’ is commonplace in 12 step meetings: centering around the idea that the power of choice is lost after the first drink or drug goes into the system. This highlights the fact that the disease of addiction centres in the mind. By accepting abstinence, the foundation stone for recovery is laid. Abstinence frees up mental space for recovery because we are no longer trying to control what has proven impossible to control.
Origins of the 12 step programme
The 12 step programme was written into the first edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which then set in motion the growth of the worldwide fellowship that we know today. The Big Book was written by a New York stockbroker named Bill Wilson, who together with a physician from Ohio, Dr Bob Smith, were the founding members of the AA fellowship. Together, they wanted to help others recover from alcoholism, so that they could maintain their own sobriety. And so, AA was born, along with the 12 steps.
Part practical skills and part inward reflection, the 12 step programme looks to identify the things inside us that lead us to addiction, the results of that behaviour and how it has impacted other people in our lives. There is no right or wrong with following the 12 steps, as it is a personal journey for each and every one of us.
The 12 step approach at Help Me Stop
We ask clients to write a life story and work through steps 1 to 3 while going through our intensive addiction treatment programme. We also ask our clients to attend a minimum of two 12 step recovery meetings in the community per week, so they have the opportunity to express themselves amongst supportive peers.
As clients prepare to leave our programme, we will work with them to create an ongoing recovery plan, which includes the recommendation to attend aftercare with us and continue with 12 step meetings and the 12 step programme, working with a recovery sponsor of their choice.
If you would like to speak to someone about Dayhab and addiction recovery, please contact the team at Help Me Stop. We have a range of treatment options including our Online Rehab and our face-to-face addiction treatment programme in our London Dayhabs. We are here to listen, without judgement, and help you find the help you need.