What Is It?

The 12-step process is a program that has shown to be a highly effective method of combating relapse.  The 12-step is considered “a set of principles, spiritual in nature [that], when practiced as a way of living, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.” Thousands of men and women have benefited from this program. Each step guides through a new and important stage in accepting the problem of addiction and healing from it. Once an individual has worked all the steps, they may sponsor a newer member and offer guidance.

It is a clinically proven recovery method that is used widely. The largest group to use this program is Alcoholics Anonymous where the members are either current alcoholics, recovering alcoholics, or ex-alcoholics attempting to stay clean. These meetings are called Anonymous for a reason: the 12 Traditions of the group encourages members to respect one another’s confidentiality and to practice anonymity when it comes to the public and social media.


The 12-Step program is a tool used by alcoholics to aid their recovery process. Developed back in the 1930s, this program has been used to help keep alcoholics, regardless of what stage of recovery they are in, to get clean and sober permanently. The first program came about in Akron, Ohio by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. While establishing the program, they decided that anonymity was the best method, and kept to using only first names when it came to press, film or radio. The principles of this program have been used to form numerous other groups and fellowships that were designed to help other forms of substance abuse (like drugs).

As more and more chapters of AA came about in the 30s and 40s, the principles that guided the program eventually came to be defined as the Twelve Traditions. AA made a special point to only allow those who wished to quit drinking into closed meetings. They wanted to focus solely on alcoholism and identifying problems such as distraction and denial.

AA’s Purpose

There are two different kinds of meetings one can attend at Alcoholics Anonymous: open meetings and closed meetings. The purpose of these meetings is for individuals to share their experience, their hope and their strength with one another in order to try and solve common problems and to help one another recover.

Open meetings are open to any and all who wish to come, whether they be alcoholics or not. Non-alcoholics are allowed to come and observe, and members are allowed to bring family, friends, and anybody interested in the AA program of recovery. If you’re attending a meeting for the first time, it may help to bring a family member or close friend for support.

Closed meetings are for alcoholics who have a desire to stop drinking. Some fellowships have closed meetings as a way of keeping the environment confidential and to help make the members feel more comfortable and safe. Open meetings have their advantages, no doubt: being able to bring a friend or family member to support you can do a lot of good. Closed meetings simply prevent anyone in the group from feeling like they might be misunderstood, knowing that the only people in the room are others who are going through or have gone through the same struggles.

Believing in a Higher Power

The first two steps in the 12-Step process involve admitting that you are powerless over alcohol, and thus that you need help conquering it, and coming to believe in a power greater than yourself. The reason for this is to help you become comfortable with the idea of accepting help from others and from that higher power. While many Anonymous groups center around a Christian faith, being a Christian is not a requirement and the higher power you choose to believe in does not have to be the Christian God or a God at all.

AA teaches that the higher power can be anything: it can be the group itself, functioning as a singular entity to help you recover or a door that opens up the path to a clearer mind and a brighter tomorrow. As long as you come to the point where you are willing to turn over your life and will to that higher power, then the rest of the steps can be met. These steps are important, not just because they are the first two steps in the process, but because of the revelation it has the potential to bring to us. Alcoholism is a disease, which is now widely recognized and confirmed by research, and diseases cannot be fought by a single inexperienced person alone. When we try to break it ourselves it’s like trying to get that song out of your head: we can hum or whistle another tune, turn our minds to something else, but ultimately it stays lodged in your brain forcing you to listen to its melody over and over again. When the song of drinking starts to play, one or two drinks becomes four, or five, or ten and we are powerless against that song. The point here is that having a higher power to believe in offers us experienced help and an entity we can focus our minds on to help us remember what is important: recovery.

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