What is a 12 Step Recovery Programme?

The 12 step programme is one of the oldest addiction recovery programmes that was established in the early 1930s by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Each step of this popular framework serves as a guideline to help you through the stages of recovery individually and within group support meetings.

The basis of the 12 steps is to develop a spiritual foundation by believing in a higher power and surrendering your will to this higher power. Individuals are encouraged to accept responsibility for past mistakes, and to learn how to move forward by making amends. Today, the 12 step recovery programme is provided for those who are struggling with alcohol and substance addiction.

What are the 12 Steps?

Every step is meant to be followed in sequence because it addresses stages in the process of recovery. Let’s take a look at what the 12 steps are (VeryWellMind):


1. Powerlessness

We admit that we are powerless over our addiction and we no longer have control over our lives.

2. Spirituality

We have come to believe that there is a higher power to restore our sanity. Traditionally, programmes focused on God but today, many adapted programmes focus on individual spiritual beliefs as a higher power.

3. Surrender to Faith

We hand our lives over to a higher power as we cannot recover on our own. This step allows us to recognise that we need help in recovery.

4. Introspection

We have taken a moral inventory of our lives. The purpose is to understand your problems and how your behaviours are affecting your life.

5. Confession

We have admitted our wrongs to our higher power and to others. At this stage, individuals confess to their negative behaviours and past wrongdoings.

6. Acceptance

We are ready to have our higher power remove these character defects. At this stage you accept responsibility for wrongdoings in order to move forward.

7. Humility

We ask that God (higher power) eliminate our shortcomings. Here we reach out to a higher power to help us in recovery because we cannot do it alone.

8. Willingness

Create a list of persons you have harmed prior to entering into recovery.

9. Forgiveness

Reaching out to those we have harmed with the purpose of making amends.


10. Progress

The continuance of taking a personal inventory of wrongdoing and admitting it. The purpose of this step is to help individuals start to heal and move forward.

11. Spirituality

Through prayer and meditation, we are able to strengthen our connection with God (higher power), requesting that we are blessed with the knowledge to continue His will.


12. Awakening

The experience of a spiritual awakening once the steps are completed assists in self insight and the application of these principles to help others with addiction.

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The Benefits of a 12 Step Programme

  • The 12 steps allow individuals to recognize they have a problem and that they need support from others and their spiritual foundation to achieve recovery. It eliminates the possibility for denial and an unwillingness to attend therapy.
  • This approach fosters insight and responsibility as one determines how their actions have harmed others in the past. It encourages forgiveness to help heal negative emotions and in turn, heal addiction.
  • The 12 step programme is structured which is beneficial for those who may lack support and are at risk of succumbing to their cravings. The structure of regular group therapy relieves boredom and eases anxiety around relapse.
  • Many UK rehab centres follow the 12 step framework in today’s addiction recovery programmes. This is because the steps help individuals remain committed to therapy by emphasising their efforts to achieve sobriety.
  • It can help others. Because the programme focuses on forgiveness and motivation, it encourages individuals to volunteer to help others with addiction and not to focus on one’s own challenges.
  • The 12 steps help individual build a strong spiritual foundation or belief system they can use to cope with difficulties.

12 Step Support Groups

While AA was the original support group that was created to implement the 12 step framework, other support groups also incorporate its guiding principles to help facilitate recovery from addiction. These groups include:

Other types of addictions that are also treated with the 12 step programme:

  • Gamblers Anonymous (GA) – For those struggling with gambling problems
  • Families Anonymous (FA) for the families of individuals with addiction.
  • Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) – For those struggling with sex addiction

Alternative Programmes for Addiction Recovery

The original 12 step programme places emphasis on spirituality and responsibility to achieve recovery from addiction. If you are looking for alternative programmes to assist in recovering from alcohol or drug addiction, the following models differ from the 12 step focus on spirituality.

Moderate Management

An alcohol moderation programme is a self-help service developed to assist individuals who are not physically dependent on alcohol but misuse it. Therapy helps one realize how the misuse of a substance is causing harm to oneself and family members (Moderation.org). Individuals are encouraged to reduce the consumption of alcohol (or substance) by joining supportive communities or attending group meetings in-person or online.

Strengths Model

The strengths model was developed in the 1980s with the purpose of treating individuals with emotional disorders, addictions, and poor self esteem. It focuses on individual empowerment by encouraging people to recognise their strengths and to understand that they are survivors no matter their circumstance. This approach is based on helping individuals build meaningful lives that are purpose-driven rather than focus on weakness. In addiction, the strengths model helps establish valuable recovery goals and ways of utilizing strengths to achieve them (CIBHS).


SMART Recovery also known as Self-Management and Recovery Training, is the alternative to the traditional 12 step programme. It focuses on inclusiveness and the value in peer support to achieve recovery goals. SMART does not involve spirituality or surrendering to a higher power as with 12 steps, but instead encourages recovery from addiction through behavioural changes. SMART focuses on treating addictions including substance abuse and alcohol addiction. It teaches people how to change their self-defeating attitudes and negative thoughts or emotions to achieve the desired quality of life.

Jason Sheirs
Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.