Many people ask me whether or not I recommend 12-step programs. The answer is yes!

For those of you who don't know, the first 12-step program was Alcoholics Anonymous. After the co-founder (Bill Wilson) penned the 12-steps they became universally accepted as an effective way to treat alcoholism. Eventually, people discovered that the 12-steps and 12-step programs were an effective way to treat other addictions as well.

While 12-step meetings provide a supportive environment, the heart of the program is the 12-steps. Anyone attending a 12-step program should consider working the steps.

The 12-steps promote change by giving us tasks that can be accomplished, and by reminding us that we must do something in order to change.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over [something] that our lives had become unmanageable [without God].

    This step introduces us to self-honesty and humility. We admit that we have a problem. We admit that we need help. This is the step of awareness. It is a preparation for inviting spiritual healing into our lives.

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

    This step brings us hope. Admitting our powerlessness has deflated our ego. This can be very frightening. What shall we to do if we are powerless over a life-threatening disorder? The answer to this dilemma is step two. Yes we are insane, but there is a power greater than ourselves that can take care of the problem - wonderful. When we take this step we acknowledge that spirituality can heal us. We do not have to be convinced at this point, just open-minded.

  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood God.

    Healing comes from a relationship with a Higher Power. To begin this relationship we must surrender. The ego hates this. This surrender begins with a decision to turn our will and our life over to the care of God. This is crucial. It is like putting ourselves in the hands of a doctor once we have discovered that we have a life-threatening disease.

    Note: This step can be taken even if we still have some doubts. No one is entirely convinced that this will work the first time they take this step. Later, as we get better, we will see the results of this step and it will be easier to keep making this decision to "turn it over."

  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    This step is like a diagnosis of our problem. When doctors are looking for a cure they begin by isolating the virus that is causing the disease. We must do the same. We must take a good hard look at ourselves. We must isolate distorted values, thoughts, and behavior. We must find and write about all the negative personality traits that cause our problems. We must consciously define what has to be changed if we wish to heal. We must know what parts of ourselves we wish to keep and which parts we want to get rid of. Some people call the fourth step a blueprint for change.

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

    In this step we share or confess the negative information we have gathered in our fourth step. We share this information with "ourselves," (this represents self-honesty); "God," (this represents our unconscious); and "another human being," (this represents the world). This step is designed to help us share our secrets. Secrets are a by-product of shame. They must come out of hiding if we are to heal. In 12-step meetings you will hear it said that we are as "sick as our secrets."

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

    This step promotes readiness. We are reminded by this step that while we are consciously ready to have God remove all our shortcomings, we unconsciously cling to them out of fear and habit. When this happens we must pray for willingness. Prayer alters our unconscious reservations.

  3. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.

    This gesture acknowledges the superiority of our Higher Power. It reminds us that he or she can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. This step, in the form of a prayer, also helps transform our conscious willingness into an unconscious willingness. When the conscious desire becomes rooted in our unconscious we begin to change.

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

    This step is designed to help us let go of residual guilt. It promotes honesty and change. It is an expression of our desire to put the past behind us and start over again by acknowledging the mistakes we have made. It is also a simple way to get organized for the ninth step.

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

    This step is how we implement our desire to put the past behind us and let go of residual guilt. It is our opportunity to take action. It takes courage to take this step. This step is not designed to improve our relationship with all the people we have hurt (although it may do this). Nor will it always result in being forgiven by the people we have hurt. This step is designed to help diminish the guilt we feel. It will also help us get our self-respect back. Self-respect comes from doing the right thing even if we don't feel like it.

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

    This is the first of the maintenance steps. Like steps eleven and twelve, this step is designed to help us keep what we have gained from the first nine steps (self-respect, peace of mind, freedom from addiction, etc.) In this step we periodically access how we are doing and make note of our wrongdoings. Then we admit our mistakes and make amends. This step is crucial if we are to avoid regression.

  4. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God's will for us and the power to carry that out.

    This step helps us keep and enhance our spiritual condition. It does this by reminding us to practice spiritual disciplines. This is what keeps us in remission. Spirituality is a state of mind, but like muscles that atrophy without exercise, spirituality will grow weak without prayer

  1. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

    To keep what we have gotten, we have to give it away. This is a spiritual law. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, discovered this when he tried to keep Dr. Bob sober as a way of saving his own sobriety.