Embracing Recovery: Understanding the 12 Steps Program

Learn more about a 12 steps program. Explore the benefits and adaptations of this program to determine if this is the right treatment for you.

What is the 12 Steps Program in Addiction Recovery?

12-step program is a therapeutic framework. It guides individuals toward recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other unhealthy behaviors.1

While initially developed for Alcoholics Anonymous, the model has been adapted to tackle various issues. Its versatile and inclusive approach to recovery makes it effective for treating a variety of conditions. 

Continue reading to learn more about the 12 steps programs.

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What is Addiction?

Addiction is a complex brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli. It is often marked by an intense focus on using a substance or engaging in behaviors to the point where it takes precedence over other aspects of life.2

The disorder can lead to impairment or distress. It often involves cycles of relapse and remission, which can affect an individual’s quality of life and well-being.

How is Addiction Treated?

There are many treatment opportunities available for individuals battling addiction. The approach used depends on the specific needs of the individual. 

Some available treatment options include:

  • Detoxification: The first step to recovery often involves medically managed withdrawal or detoxification. It is designed to safely manage the acute physical symptoms of stopping drug use.
  • Inpatient Rehabilitation: These programs provide a structured environment where individuals receive round-the-clock medical and emotional support.
  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Programs: These programs allow individuals to live at home while receiving treatment. They can vary in intensity and can be used as follow-up support after an inpatient stay.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): MAT combines behavioral therapy and medications to treat substance use disorders.
  • Behavioral Therapies: These involve working with a mental health professional to address thought patterns that lead to substance use.
  • 12 Steps Program: 12 steps programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer peer support for individuals in recovery.
  • Holistic or Alternative Therapies: This may include things like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and art therapy. These practices can supplement more traditional treatments.
  • Aftercare and Sober Living Home: These provide supportive, drug-free environments for individuals in recovery. These resources help them transition back into everyday life.

Selecting the Treatment That’s Right for You

Remember, successful treatment often requires a combination of these methods tailored to the individual’s unique needs and situation. 

It’s important to note that recovery is a long-term process. It may require multiple attempts and different strategies to be successful. 

What is a 12 Steps Program?

Wilderness therapy programs involve participants engaging in activities such as:

A 12-step program is a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction. The model was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1930s. It is grounded in the idea of mutual support—the concept that individuals can help one another achieve and maintain sobriety.3

The general philosophy is that recovery is a process, and the support of a peer group can be a critical element of that process. The steps of a 12-step program follow a linear path, but participants can revisit any step at any time.4

What are the Steps in a 12-Step Program?

12-step programs follow a specific process to help individuals achieve recovery. These steps are: 

  1. Admitting powerlessness over the addiction
  2. Believing that the higher power (in whatever form) can help
  3. Deciding to turn control over to the higher power
  4. Taking a personal inventory
  5. Admitting to the higher power, oneself, and another person the wrongs done
  6. Being ready to have the higher power correct any shortcomings in one’s character
  7. Asking the higher power to remove those shortcomings
  8. Making a list of wrongs done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs
  9. Contacting those who have been hurt, unless doing so would harm the person
  10. Continuing to take personal inventory and promptly admitting wrongs
  11. Seeking enlightenment and connection with the higher power via prayer and meditation
  12. Carrying the message of the 12 steps to others in need

This model has been adapted and used by many other groups for recovery from various addictions and compulsions. This includes Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous. 

Why Choose a 12-Step Program?

A 12 steps program can be a good choice for several reasons, including:

Community Support

A 12 steps program offers a supportive and inclusive environment where individuals can share their experiences and gain strength from others who have gone through similar struggles.

This peer support can foster feelings of understanding, reduce feelings of isolation, and provide practical advice on coping strategies.


A 12 steps program provides a clear path to follow, offering individuals a sense of structure and guidance. This can be especially helpful during the often chaotic early stages of recovery.

Spiritual Growth

Although not tied to any specific religion, a 12 steps program does promote spiritual growth and encourages participants to rely on a “higher power.” This can provide comfort, resilience, and additional motivation to maintain recovery.

Long-Term Approach

The program acknowledges that recovery is a long-term process and emphasizes ongoing, lifelong commitment. This can help prepare participants for the long-term nature of recovery and reduce the risk of relapse.


12-step programs are widely available in communities around the world and often have online or phone meetings. There are also no-cost or low-cost options making them accessible to a wide range of individuals.

Personal Accountability

They encourage self-reflection and taking responsibility for one’s actions, which can promote personal growth and healthier behaviors.

Different Types of 12 Steps Programs

12-step programs were originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but the concept has since been adopted and modified by many other groups to address various types of addiction and compulsive behaviors.

Here are some of the programs that use the 12-step methodology:

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

This is the original 12-step program, created to help people struggling with alcoholism. It was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

Established in 1953, this program is designed for people struggling with drug addiction. NA recognizes that the principles of the 12 steps can be applied to addiction in general, not just alcohol.

Cocaine Anonymous (CA)

This program is designed for people who are addicted to cocaine and other mind-altering substances. It was founded in 1982.


This is a support group for the friends and family of alcoholics. It was created in 1951 to provide a 12 steps approach for people affected by someone else’s drinking.


Similar to Al-Anon, Nar-Anon provides support for friends and family of individuals struggling with drug addiction.

Gamblers Anonymous (GA)

Established in 1957, this program helps individuals deal with compulsive gambling.

Overeaters Anonymous (OA)

OA was founded in 1960 to help people dealing with compulsive eating disorders.

Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)

This program was founded in 1977 for people struggling with sexual addiction.

Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)

Established in 1986, this program is designed to help individuals form healthy relationships and overcome codependency.

Nicotine Anonymous

This program, founded in 1982, helps individuals deal with nicotine addiction.

Debtors Anonymous (DA)

Founded in 1968, this program helps people who are dealing with issues of financial solvency.

Emotions Anonymous (EA)

This program, established in 1971, is for individuals struggling with emotional difficulties, mental health issues, and emotional instability.

What if These Programs Don’t Apply to Me?

These groups adapt the 12-step program to fit their specific focus. The steps may be modified slightly to refer to the addiction or behavior that the group addresses, but the underlying principles remain the same.

How Effective is a 12-Step Program in Supporting Recovery?

The effectiveness of  12 steps programs can vary significantly between individuals. Various factors contribute to their effectiveness. 

These factors include the individual’s level of commitment, their personal belief system, the nature and severity of their addiction, and their support network.

What makes a 12-Step Program Effective?

Research shows that a 12 steps program can be beneficial for many individuals. One reason for this is that the programs provide a strong community of support. 

Moreover, a 12 steps program gives participants a structured method for addressing their issues. This is helpful for those who may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of recovery. This step-by-step approach breaks down the recovery process into manageable tasks, each building on the previous one.

The 12-Step Philosophy

The emphasis on spirituality or belief in a higher power resonates with many participants. It can provide a source of hope, strength, and comfort during their recovery journey.

The 12 steps philosophy encourages personal growth, self-awareness, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. By promoting these values, participants learn coping strategies that aid in maintaining sobriety and preventing relapse.

The concept of “passing it on,” or helping others who are struggling with addiction, is a core tenet of a 12 steps program. This act of service not only benefits others but also reinforces the participant’s commitment to recovery, enhancing their sense of self-efficacy and purpose.

How Can 12-Step Programs Be Adapted for Different Types of Addictions?

A 12 steps program can be adapted for various types of addictions. This is by adjusting the language and the specific nature of the issues being addressed to suit the particular addiction or compulsive behavior. 

For example, in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the focus is on abstinence from alcohol. In Narcotics Anonymous (NA), the language would be changed to accommodate all types of drug addiction, not just alcohol. Overeaters Anonymous would adjust the focus to food and eating disorders.

In addition to this, some programs adjust the steps to deal with behaviors that are not exactly addictions. These behaviors may still benefit from the 12 steps approach

Other Adaptations

The understanding of a “higher power” may also be adapted to be more inclusive. This can be more welcoming for participants of different faiths.

Some groups emphasize this aspect as a “power greater than ourselves” or a “God as we understood Him.” This allows individuals to interpret this concept in a way that aligns with their personal beliefs and experiences.

The adaptability of the 12 steps program is one of its greatest strengths. It allows it to provide support and guidance to a broad range of people struggling with different forms of addiction or compulsive behaviors.

What Are the Limitations of 12-Step Programs and How Can They Be Addressed?

12-step programs have been instrumental in helping many individuals recover from addiction. But they are not without limitations. Some of these include:

Religious Overtones

The concept of a “higher power” can alienate those who are atheists, agnostics, or uncomfortable with the spiritual emphasis of the program.

This can be addressed by reinforcing that the concept of a “higher power” can be understood in broad terms. It is not necessarily tied to traditional religious beliefs.

Some groups interpret this as any power or entity greater than the individual, such as the power of the group. It can also be interpreted to refer to nature. These variations help make treatment more accommodating.

One-size-fits-all Approach

A 12 steps program tends to have a standard approach. This may not work for everyone. This is particularly true for those with co-occurring mental health conditions. Addressing this requires individualized approaches to supplement the 12 steps program. 

This includes:

  • Professional therapy
  • Medication for underlying psychiatric conditions
  • Alternative support groups

Lack of Professional Supervision

12-step programs are peer-led. This means they may not provide the medical or psychological support that some individuals need. This can be addressed by encouraging individuals to seek professional medical and psychological help alongside participating in the program.

Potential for Dependence

There is a risk that participants may substitute dependence on the substance with dependence on the group. This can create other issues that may be difficult to navigate, such as relapse. 

This can be addressed by encouraging participants to develop self-reliance and other support systems outside the group. This can include activities such as cultivating hobbies, strengthening family relationships, or pursuing personal goals.

Issues Around Anonymity

While anonymity is a key principle that allows open sharing within the group, it may sometimes deter participants from seeking support outside the group for fear of stigma or judgment. 

Encouraging openness about recovery where appropriate and advocating for the de-stigmatization of addiction can help address this issue.

Lack of Focus on Underlying Psychological Issues

12-step programs primarily focus on addiction rather than the underlying psychological issues that may contribute to substance use. Incorporating professional psychotherapy can provide a more holistic approach to treatment.

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Learn More About the 12-Step Programs at Choice House

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction and ready to embark on the journey to recovery? Discover how our 12 step programs at Choice House can provide you with the tools, community, and support you need to reclaim control of your life.

With over a decade of experience, our team is here to guide you every step of the way. Together, we’ll navigate the challenges, celebrate the victories, and foster a strong, resilient spirit within you. At Choice House, you’re never alone in your journey.

Helping Men Rebuild Their Lives

At Choice House, in Boulder, Colorado, we believe that with the right support, men can find their inner strength and regain autonomy over their lives. Here, you’ll find the brotherhood you need to obtain sustainable, accountable recovery.

With a combination of treatment approaches – from the 12 steps program to outdoor adventure therapy – we can help you to overcome life’s hardest obstacles and begin leading the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life you deserve.

Get Started Today

It’s time to choose a healthier, happier future. Contact our Choice House, Colorado team today to learn more about our 12-step programs and how it can help you build a solid foundation for lasting recovery.