The 12 Steps to the AA Addiction Recovery Program

The 12 steps to addiction recovery are based on the technique used by AA and are extended to the treatment of other dependencies.
The 12 Steps to the AA Addiction Recovery Program

Written by Edith Sánchez

Last update: 12 December, 2023

The 12 Steps to Addiction Recovery is a treatment plan offered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups. Currently, the same program is assumed by almost all support organizations that fight against some type of addiction or to change behavior such as conflict or procrastination, for example.

Day after day, there are more self-help groups and centers that adopt this conduct guide. In AA tradition, the plan is made up of 24 fundamental principles known as the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, which are described in the organization’s book of the same name. The application is always linked to the presence of a companion or “sponsor.”

A sponsor is someone who has already gone through a similar process, and their role is to support those who want to be rehabilitated. Likewise, the steps are carried out under the premise of “just for today.” That is, the commitment is made for 24 hours.

These are the 12 steps to addiction recovery:

Along with other AA members, William Griffith Wilson established the 12 Steps to Addiction Recovery. This is a specific plan based on the text published by the institution, which we’ll go over below.

1. Admit that we’re powerless

It’s essential that the person accept their problem and their inability to manage and control consumption. Admitting powerlessness and that life has become unmanageable is the first step on the road to recovery.

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~
A woman's silhouette praying at dusk.

2. Believing in a “Higher Power”

The concept of “Higher Power” doesn’t necessarily allude to a deity but to transcendence beyond the control and will of the addict. Some examples are nature, community, love, the universe, and God. This step is rooted in the idea that alcoholism is a disease of the body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, recovery must address all three.

We came to be aware that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

3. Leave your will and life in the care of God

Together with the second step, this expresses the importance of letting go of controlling existence in order to trust in the forces of that “Higher Power.” It consists of surrendering one’s will and one’s life to the care of God, however each person understands it.

It’s worth clarifying that the person must also do their part to change and not just delegate their responsibility to God or the “Higher Power.”

We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

4. Take a moral inventory

The purpose of this step is for the person to be aware of their behaviors and thoughts and to identify the personality traits that influence their addiction. In this context, the moral inventory consists of reviewing the behaviors, interpersonal relationships, and attitudes of the person toward themself and others.

The analysis carried out by the addict must be thorough and very honest. Sincerity, both with oneself and with others, is one of the cardinal values of the entire process.

We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

5. Admit the nature of our flaws

The fifth step requires the person to admit their shortcomings to themselves and others. It also implies assuming one’s own limitations and the importance of the help and support of others.

Accepting one’s defects isn’t easy, but it’s essential to the process, as it allows the person to take responsibility for their life and for the consequences of their actions. In addition, it contributes to not feeling so isolated and motivates them to open up to facing others.

We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature
of our wrongs.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

6. Let God set us free

The goal is for the alcoholic to understand that they can’t get rid of their defects on their own and that they require the support of others and God. For AA, the conception of a “Higher Power” is central to recovery.

Regarding the sixth step and God, the book highlights testimonials alleging that by putting life in order and asking God to intercede in the liberation to stop drinking, the obsession completely disappeared.

We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

7. Ask for release with humility

Once the defects are identified, it’s crucial that the individual humbly ask to be released from them. Again, this step encourages the addict to surrender to the providence of the “Higher Power.”

Humility isn’t based on shifting responsibility or giving up taking action in order to change. Rather, it requires an acknowledgment of one’s own weakness and helplessness, while working and trusting in the help that can be received.

We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

8. Be willing to repair the damage caused

This step challenges the addict to identify those whom they’ve offended and ask for forgiveness for the transgressions and injuries caused. The goal is for the person to take full responsibility for their actions and to work to make amends. In short, the eighth step of the program requires the person to:

  1. Identify the wrongdoing
  2. Repair the damage
  3. Build better relationships

The willingness to make up for offenses entails being willing to do what’s necessary to make amends, whether it be apologizing, offering compensation, or other types of measures. This step is essential to achieving a true transformation.

“We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make
amends to them all”

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

9. Correct the damage

Having reached this step, the addict learns to determine when it’s opportune to make the repair and to have the courage to carry it out. Prudence is essential at this stage.

Sometimes, the repair must be carried out immediately or partially. In some cases, it’s best to wait a little longer, and in others, direct contact is impossible. Whoever is going to amend must keep these variables in mind.

We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so
would injure them or others.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

10. Admit mistakes

The tenth step is an invitation to remain attentive to mistakes in the present and to be willing to admit the mistake when committing it. The goal is to continue on the road to recovery by continually evaluating behavior.

By accepting the faults, the person repairs them immediately. Therefore, it’s crucial that they begin to take measures to correct what they’ve done and assume responsibility for their actions in the present.

We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly
admitted it.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

11. Improve our conscious contact with God

The fundamental intent of this step is for the addict to have a deeper and closer connection with the “Higher Power.” Prayer and meditation are options to achieve this, but the person can practice any other activity that works for them.

It’s not about imposing a religion but about allowing each addict to find and understand their own conception of transcendence, according to their life history, experiences, and personal beliefs.

We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with
God as we understood Him, prayed only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~
A man offering support to another man.

12. Carry the message and practice these principles in all matters

The purpose of the last step is to offer support to the addict to maintain their recovery. In addition, they’re encouraged to help others get sober. The latter doesn’t require large gestures. It’s as simple as bearing witness and sharing strength and hope with those who are mired in addiction.

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.

~ Twelve steps and twelve traditions ~

Is the twelve-step addiction recovery program effective?

There’s research that supports the effectiveness of the 12 steps for addiction recovery. However, other explorations cast doubt on it. For example, The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews highlighted in a study that the plan is positive as a treatment. However, Campbell Systematic Reviews points out that these approaches are neither better nor worse than other interventions.

Unlike the previous review, Drug and Alcohol Dependence ensures that participation in 12-step support groups predicts a decrease in the consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol. Likewise, Social Work in Public Health supports the effectiveness of the program, associating it with a greater probability of abstinence and improvement in psychosocial functioning and levels of self-efficacy.

The experts agree that one of the decisive factors is the continuity proposal included both in the 12 steps and in the other practices of these types of groups. In a study of drug treatment and the program in question, participants stayed in treatment longer and were more likely to complete it (Fiorentine & Hillhouse, 2002).

Additionally, the figure of the sponsor, the premise of “just for today,” and the accompaniment of a collective seem essential to its possible success. In general, social support is an excellent ally for recovery and permanence in treatment, as highlighted by Substance Use & Misuse.


Today, the 12 Steps to Addiction Recovery are embraced by many support groups. Although there are studies that support it, there are also criticisms regarding its lack of scientific evidence.

Despite this, the 12 Steps are popular and considered a perfect complement to professionally guided therapy, as their approach to continuity and the support they provide can be valuable in recovery.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.