What Are the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps?

Edited by Beth Durling

Last updated August 5, 2020

Alcoholism is a chronic disease that can be subtle at first before progressing to severe and obsessive alcohol abuse. A chemical dependence on alcohol often leads to a variety of health problems, financial woes, relationship rifts, legal issues, and problems at work or school. Tragically, alcohol misuse contributes to roughly 88,000 fatalities in the U.S. each year1. For many struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD), proper treatment and ongoing accountability is a matter of life and death. 

Here at Northbound Treatment, we provide a range of recovery programs for people struggling with alcohol addiction, including detox, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient treatment, and aftercare services. We also support Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is a crucial component of personal recovery for many of our clients. Through its signature 12 Steps, the community-based program helps recovering alcoholics stay clean and navigate a sober lifestyle. Find an AA meeting in your area2.

Al Anon 12 Steps

The cornerstone of Alcoholics Anonymous is the 12-Step approach to recovery. These twelve concepts were originally published in AA co-founder William G. “Bill W” Wilson’s book, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism (commonly known as “The Big Book“)3. So, what are the Al Anon 12 Steps and what do they mean? Find a detailed breakdown of each step below.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable

The first step is driven by the acceptance of one’s powerlessness over their addiction. For many individuals, this starts by recognizing that alcoholism is a disease — a disease that can’t be controlled or cured purely by willpower. Additionally, Step 1 accepts that continuous triggers and a preoccupation with alcohol has made life unmanageable. 

Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

Step 2 mentions how a higher power may be a critical component of recovery. For some, a higher power means God in a religious sense, while for others, it’s any external force or inspiration that drives sobriety. Many people in AA refer to GOD as an acronym for “good orderly direction.” Whether it’s God, GOD, karma, the greater good, or the universe itself, identifying what “higher power” means to you can help by building a spiritual foundation that guides you through accomplishing the next ten steps.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

As with Step 2, the terms “God” and “Him” can be used interchangeably with whatever you’ve identified as your higher power. This step recognizes that since alcoholism can’t be controlled from within, external support is needed to overcome the disease. In other words, it’s accepting outside help.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

Step 4 is about critically assessing yourself and the consequences of your alcohol abuse to determine the changes that need to be made. As it often identifies how alcoholism can hurt others, this part of the 12 step program can be painful, which is why it calls for fearlessness. This step can also help you redefine your moral compass and make less harmful decisions moving forward.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

After identifying the harm your alcoholism has caused, Step 5 encourages AA members to admit these wrongdoings both to themselves and to another person. For many, “another human being” is a fellow AA member, a sponsor, or an addiction counselor. Since shame can increase a person’s risk of relapse, unburdening yourself from the guilt of your past behaviors is vital for personal recovery.

Step 6: We’re entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

Step 6 is about clearing your conscience from previous actions and behaviors. By calling on inspiration from a higher power, it calls for accepting and learning from past mistakes without letting them define you so that you’re ready to replace old habits with healthy choices.

Step 7: Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

Step 7 expands on Steps 3 and 6 by embracing the concept of humility. Staying humble can help you from downplaying the effects of your behaviors. Now that you know what they are, you’re ready to allow your higher power to rid you of your shortcomings.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all

The next step is relatively straightforward. It calls for alcoholics to identify those who’ve been hurt by their actions and prepare to make things right. This doesn’t necessarily mean making amends with each and every person, but more so about balancing things out by doing good and helping others.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

While step 8 doesn’t explicitly encourage recovering alcoholics to address those they’ve harmed, Step 9 calls for making “direct amends.” Most individuals interpret this as apologizing to people they’ve hurt (whether in person or otherwise), attempting to make things right, and asking for forgiveness. 

The caveat here is that making amends should never create further damage or put someone else in danger, so it’s important to consider all the circumstances. Also, not everyone may be ready or able to forgive you, so you have to mentally prepare for this outcome as well and how it may affect your personal progress.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

Step 10 circles back to Step 4 by encouraging alcoholics to continue assessing their previous (or current) destructive behaviors and taking accountability for them. This step of taking personal inventory reinforces your moral compass and keeps you on track with your recovery.

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

This step builds on the notion of taking guidance from a higher power. With the objective of spiritual growth, you can use this concept to reflect on your progress and refocus your intentions. Step 11 is also about continuing to be humble, which is key to freeing yourself from addiction.

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 final step for AA is reinforcing the lessons learned throughout the process while delivering the message to others and helping to guide those in need. Additionally, Step 12 is about implementing each of the twelve concepts into your new sober lifestyle. 

Al-Anon 12 Steps

Al-Anon is an organization that supports the families and loved ones of alcoholics. The program adapts the same Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps almost word-for-word to help those navigating the ups and downs of their loved one’s addiction5. At meetings, members share their takeaways and lessons learned from implementing the twelve steps. Find an Al-Anon meeting in your area6.

Start Alcohol Treatment Today

If you or someone close to you is struggling with alcohol abuse disorder, we’d love to hear from you. Northbound Treatment provides fully integrated rehab programs with compassionate care at all levels. Our addiction treatment programs are encouraging, enlightening, and effective.

Northbound is committed to offering high-quality care to people from all walks of life. We’re an in-network healthcare provider for most insurance plans, and we have flexible payment options. Don’t delay alcohol treatment. Call us at (888) 978-8649 to get started.

External sources:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

2. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/meeting-guide

3. https://www.alcohol.org/alcoholics-anonymous/

4. https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-121_en.pdf

5. https://al-anon.org/for-members/the-legacies/the-twelve-steps/

6. https://al-anon.org/al-anon-meetings/

Article Reviewed by Beth Durling

Beth DurlingBeth Durling BA, CADCII, ICADC is the Clinical Director of Northbound Treatment Services. She is also the proud owner of The Durling Group, Inc., a national consulting firm, where she worked closely with large scale corporations, healthcare companies, and universities, helping to enhance outcomes.

Beth founded and resided as CEO for The Center for Life Change, a non-profit drug and alcohol treatment center in Riverside County where she gained national recognition for her outcomes as a leader in the field of addiction surrounding patient care, specializing in retention strategies for both staff and patients.

She also founded The Heart Culture Academy, creating a collaborative national community of trained influencers, helping people change their relationships, their work environments and personal lives through her published Model, Heart Culture.

Beth believes individual lives can be enhanced through learned consciousness, utilizing her specialized techniques that offer long-lasting, connection-based relationships. She has toured the country speaking and distributing this message.

Beth has been writing and speaking to assist individuals and organizations through transformative processes for the last 25 years. She is the mother to two adult children, Ridge and Rachel and resides in San Clemente, California.

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