The goal of any 12 step program is to not only provide a path out of addiction, but also to help the individual to build a good life in recovery. It is a spiritual path that requires people to believe in a higher power; although they are free to define this as they see fit. Programs based on these steps are now available to treat almost every type of problem. The 12 steps are the basis for the most successful community based self-help program in history. This type of solution to addiction does not seem to work for everyone, but it can be highly effective.
The first twelve step group came into existence in 1935 when Bill W. tried to help another alcoholic called Dr. Bob to escape his addiction. Their meeting is viewed as the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous. The two founders were deeply influenced by a Christian fellowship known as the Oxford Group. The basis of the 12 Steps can be found already present in this earlier evangelical movement. The Oxford Group encouraged:
* Rigorous self-examination
* Disclosing any character defects to another person
* Making amends for any wrong doings
* Belief in a higher power
The early members of AA decided to distance themselves from any particular religious group. They wanted their program to be aimed at the alcoholic, and they believed that by making it non-denominational it would make it acceptable to a wider group of people.
The wording of the 12 steps can vary slightly between different groups. The program will be just the same, but they will replace the mention of alcohol in step 1. Here are the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
* Step 1- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. In order for people to escape their addiction they need to accept that they are defeated. If the individual still believes that they can control their drinking, it will be hard for them to achieve abstinence. Some people need to lose a lot before they are willing to admit defeat; sadly some will die before they reach this point.
* Step 2- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Once the individual has accepted that they are not able to beat their addiction alone they will likely feel helpless. This feeling of powerless can be overcome once they accept that there is a higher power that can help them defeat their addiction.
* Step 3- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Here is where people make the decision to use this ‘power greater than themselves’ to achieve their goal.
* Step 4- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This is a similar process to how a business will take an inventory of their stock in order to judge their performance. It allows the individual to develop a clearer picture of who they are and what they need to change.
* Step 5- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The first part of this step involves looking at any wrongdoings and trying to understand why they happened. The next step is to admit these wrongdoings openly because doing so provides a great sense of relief. So long as things remain hidden internally they will continue to bother the individual.
* Step 6- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. The moral inventory brings to light different character defects. These will be the driving force behind any wrongdoings; for example, lust may have driven people to commit adultery. It is important at this step that the individual becomes ready and willing to have all these defects of character removed.
* Step 7- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Here people will take action by actually asking their higher power to remove their character defects.
* Step 8- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. This step does not involve making any actual amends but just listing any harm done and developing a willingness to make amends to the people harmed. When making this list the individual need not concern themselves with how they will make such amends. The most important thing is that the list is honest and doesn’t intentionally omit anyone.
* Step 9- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. It is not usually possible to make amends to everyone harmed. If an attempt to make amends would actually harm others then it shouldn’t be made. If the individual doing this step just feels embarrassed about approaching people then this is not a justifiable reason to avoid making amends.
* Step 10- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. To err is human, and people will make mistakes again in the future – the 12 steps do not turn people into angels. The important thing is to keep track of behavior and admit any wrongdoings as soon after it happens as possible.
* Step 11- 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. The individual now tries to live an ethical life that will promote good mental health. The individual can accomplish this by becoming more in tune with their higher power. This doesn’t have to involve an actual meditation practice or praying; it could also be done by reading 12 Step literature or taking long walks in nature.
* Step 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. The 12 steps are never really completed. It is about adapting a new way of living that will change the way people will interact with the world. Helping others to follow this path is an essential element of maintaining sobriety – people have to give it away if they want to keep it.
One of the key ingredients of the 12 steps is belief in a higher power. This is often interpreted as meaning God, and this creates a stumbling block for non-believers. There are atheists who do manage to follow the steps. This is because of the wording in step 3 – it states as we understood him. Some people will look upon the group as their higher power or they may view it as some type of inner guidance.
Talk about a spiritual awakening can also be a difficult idea for religious skeptics to handle. This term is associated with the paranormal. In the sense that it is used within the12 steps it does not have to mean anything mystical. It just means that the individual has managed to turn their life around – to outsiders it may appear as a magical transformation .
In the AA Big Book they mention the benefits of following this program on pages 83-84. These include:
* Those people who complete the steps will have developed a new outlook on life
* They will no longer wish to change their past
* Fear of financial insecurity will disappear
* They will develop good intuition that allows them to deal with any situation
* It will lead to less selfishness
* They will develop a sense of serenity
* They will have the ability to help other people and will never again feel useless
* They will experience a level of freedom and happiness that they never had previously
Although this program has undoubtedly helped many people its overall success rate might not be very high. Due to anonymity it is hard to get exact figures but it is suggest that as few as 5% of people who begin the program will escape their addiction permanently. Figures provided by Alcoholics Anonymous show that only 26% of people who attend their first meeting will still be attending after a year. These figures suggest that while the 12 Steps can be effective for some people it is not the best solution for everyone dealing with addictions.