What Are the 12 Steps of Recovery?

What Are the 12 Steps of Recovery?

By In Addiction Recovery
Posted May 9, 2018

You’ve probably heard of the “twelve steps,” a set of principles guiding recovery from addiction or compulsion. During your first year of recovery these principals will come in handy.

Originally, the twelve steps were proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous and published in the 1939 book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism.

Over time, these steps have been adapted by over 200 self-help organizations and fellowships, including:

  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Cocaine Anonymous
  • Marijuana Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • Sexaholics Anonymous
  • Al-Anon
  • Nar-Anon
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous

This philosophy is also utilized by about 74 percent of treatment centers. The basic idea is that individuals can help one another achieve and maintain sobriety, but healing isn’t possible without surrendering to a higher power. In most cases, alternatives are available for those who are opposed to the religious aspect of the program.

But what exactly are the twelve steps? Here’s a quick look. (Note that we’ve used the original wording from Alcoholics Anonymous, but these steps have been adapted for a variety of purposes.)

Step One

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

It’s a common belief that the first step toward recovery is admitting that a problem exists. In this case, the first step also means recognizing that the addiction has taken over and is negatively impacting the individual’s life.

Whatever the individual has done to address the addiction is not working, and further action is required. Additionally, the addict can’t control his consumption, meaning no amount of drugs or alcohol is safe.

Step Two

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

While the first step is about admitting the extent of the addiction, the second step focuses on hope. Although the addict is powerless in the face of addiction, this step recognizes that a higher power can guide the individual in the right direction.

Step Three

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”

The third step requires you to take action, turning your life over to the care of a higher power. This means practicing acceptance, asking for help, and learning to pray and meditate.

Of course, some individuals aren’t religious, which is why the step specifies God “as we understood Him.” Your higher power doesn’t have to be a deity. It can also be fellowship, inner strength, your support system, or the recovery process itself.

The key is that you’re willing to place your faith in something that is separate from and greater than yourself.

Prayer and Meditation

Step Four

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

It’s crucial to be honest—even uncomfortably honest—with yourself about how addiction has impacted your behavior and the people around you. You must understand why you need to change and what you need to change before transformation is possible.

Step Five

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

After taking a hard look at yourself and your addiction, relieve this burden by confessing to your higher power and to a loved one. Unburdening yourself through communication is a much better coping mechanism than turning to drugs or alcohol.

Step Six

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

This step is one of the most challenging, and it’s one that you may revisit several times throughout your recovery. In order to gain and maintain sobriety, you must let go of the attitudes and behaviors that are holding you back.

Step Seven

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

In this step, you must recognize your limits and ask your higher power to help you overcome your shortcomings, many of which are tied to addiction.

Step Eight

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

To move forward in a positive direction, it’s important to acknowledge the damage you’ve done and be willing to repair it. This is a healthy step for both you and others in your life.

Step Nine

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

The previous step was about reflection, while this step requires taking action by making face-to-face apologies to those you have harmed.

Exercise judgement, however. Although you should be willing to make amends to everyone, it may be best not to see certain people in person (an ex, someone you have physically harmed). In these cases, write a letter instead.

Making amends for past wrongs

Asking for forgiveness allows you to close the door on the negative actions of your addicted past and move forward into a sober future.

Step Ten

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

Keep yourself on track by continuing to honestly evaluate your actions and attitude. Be aware of potential triggers or behaviors that could result in a relapse.

Step Eleven

“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.”

This step is about talking and listening to your higher power through prayer and meditation.

Step Twelve

“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 final step is to serve others and your own sobriety by passing the principles you’ve learned to others who struggle with substance abuse.


These twelve steps aren’t intended to “cure” your addiction. Addiction will be a lifelong fight, and these guiding principles will help you maintain sobriety and serenity along the way.

If you think the twelve steps could benefit you, try finding a nearby support group to get started.

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