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Twelve-Step Programs (Alcoholics Anonymous)

A Twelve-Step Program is an approach for overcoming addictions and related forms of compulsive behaviors that was originally proposed by the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) movement as a way to treat alcoholism. There are now over 200 known self-help organizations that use the twelve-step principles for recovery, including Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Debtors Anonymous, to name a few.

These self-help organizations are open groups that meet on a regular basis in informal settings such as community centers or church basements. The members of these groups are individuals who suffer from the same kind of addiction, and new members are welcome to join at any time. These meetings are a forum where the members can discuss their experiences related to their addictions and support each other in the twelve-step process of recovery. These groups do not employ any mental health professionals, such as therapists, to lead the discussions. Instead, more experienced members tend to guide the others.

These programs will also make use of "sponsors," who are members with more experience and usually longer track-records of recovery, who act as mentors for newer members, meeting with them outside of the group meetings and acting as a personal support and a person to call upon in difficult times.

The twelve-steps themselves involve admitting that one is unable to control their addiction or compulsion, recognizing a greater spiritual power that can give strength, admitting past errors and making amends for these, learning to live a new life free of the addiction, and helping others that suffer from the same condition.

In particular, the twelve steps, as defined by Alcoholics Anonymous, are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. We 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.

Some groups will change slightly the language of these steps to remove gender-based or specific religious language.