What Are the 12 Steps and What’s Their Purpose?

A 12-Step Program, which is a completely free and run by volunteers, comes with a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, or other behavioral problems. Admitting one’s addiction is Step 1. The rest of the steps provide tools of sobriety. Addicts generally spend years (and years and years) regarding drinking, drugs or other addictive behaviors as the solution to their problems. Recognizing that this solution has turned into one’s biggest, deadliest problem requires a wholesale shift in attitude. Learning to live in sobriety is infinitely harder. This is what the 12 Steps are designed teach us.

The 12-Step program is a mechanism to stay sober, and to keep relapse triggers at bay instead of turning to chemicals, etc... to cope with negative emotions.

Some of the Steps are expressly concerned with the spirituality at the heart of the program: Steps 2 and Steps 3 call for a spiritual solution to addiction: that God (or the individual’s concept of a “Higher Power” — a source of strength one didn’t think one had that can be relied on for care and comfort) can restore addicts to sanity if they make a decision to turn their lives over to Him/Her/It. In Steps 6 and 7 members of the program ask their Higher Power to remove their character defects. Steps 10 and 11 call for prayer and meditation to deepen one's conscious contact with one’s Higher Power.

Other steps, though grounded in spirituality, don’t specifically refer to God or a Higher Power: The program prescribes sharing a rigorous, moral inventory, Step 4 and an informal confessional, Step 5. It commands that responsibility be taken and amends be made, Steps 8 and 9, to short-circuit jumping from regret, anger, guilt and shame to seeking relief in a first drink or drug. The program prescribes continuing daily ethical inventories and action to atone for transgressions, so resentments can’t build up and fester. It provides a constructive way to deal with the “screw you” impulse to people, places and things which can lead to using. Finally, Step 12 calls for helping others, “carrying the message” to addicts who still suffer.

All these tools teach you how to distinguish rational impulses from the irrational belief that drugs are the solution so as to stop yourself from acting on the irrational ones by picking up a drink or drug or bad relationship, etc...

The optimal way to learn about the 12-Steps is by attending meetings regularly, reading recovery literature, and working through the Steps with a sponsor.

Ultimately, the 12-Steps are more than just a way to stay sober. They’re a blueprint for living life as a whole human being. They consist of universal spiritual principles: tell the truth; treat others as you’d want to be treated; monitor your inevitable failures, apologize for them and make things right if you can do so without hurting others. In other words, the Steps provide tools for living a full, satisfying, meaningful life.