Understanding The 12 Steps of AA

The Foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12 Steps of AA make up the foundation of the program and are what members use in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. It is not required that members follow these 12 Steps, but they are encouraged to try and read them as they have helped past members to get sober. 

The basic idea of the 12 Steps is that it gives alcoholics a process through which they can understand and manage their disease, as well as provide social support for discussing issues related to alcoholism that they find difficult to talk about in daily life. According to the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, cognitive restructuring, wherein people change their behavior patterns, is an important element of substance abuse treatment. The 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 
  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. 
  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.

Acceptance is the Key to the 12 Steps

The most important concept to understand when discussing the 12 Steps is the concept of acceptance. Acceptance is one of the most difficult but important things to understand in order to achieve long lasting recovery from alcoholism. This means learning to relinquish your control, realize your limitations, and face reality.

Acceptance from the Big Book of AA page 417

To deny the disease of alcoholism, to self-guilt, and to fight against reality all increase the risk of relapse. It is natural to experience anger and frustration over alcoholism, but continual anger, shame, fear, and self-pity are signs that someone hasn’t truly accepted the disease of alcoholism. 

Through professional counseling, therapy, or attending Alcoholics Anonymous, people can learn to recognize when they are denying the reality of alcoholism. Usually, this stems from poor decision making and coping skills developed in adolescence. However, with help, individuals can devise healthy strategies that promote acceptance and encourage recovery. 

Getting Help for your alcohol problem

Once you realize the importance of acceptance in coping with alcoholism, it is important for you to reach out and get help, if you have not already. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available at your disposal. The first step should be to talk with your primary care provider. They can help provide you with a diagnosis, treatment referrals, and whether further medication or psychiatric care may be necessary. 


Matthew Boyle is the Chief Operating Officer of Landmark Recovery, a growing chain of drug and alcohol rehab centers in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Matthew graduated from Duke University in 2011 Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree and has worked in the healthcare industry ever since, creating a holistic treatment model that supports patients in the pursuit of achieving lifelong sobriety.

7 thoughts on “Understanding The 12 Steps of AA

  1. I always love this line: “It is not required that members follow these 12 Steps”.

    From chapter 5: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.

    It doesn’t say “partially”. I do get it, of course, but I think the notion that the steps are suggestions leaves a lot to be desired.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The 12 Steps introduce a new way of living, sobriety is the result. Acceptance, honesty, responsibility, and service to others; these are the hallmarks of life in the program, and drinking is antithetical to that life.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the wording. I work with a lot of people referred by probation and others because of a persons “hatred” towards the steps… It is surprising to me yet today how many feel they cannot attend 12 step meetings cause they do not have a higher power… I keep telling them “The only requirement to attend is the desire to stop using”. Some make up other excuses but for many this eases the pressure they had felt and over time come to work the steps… Love this program and the steps but also love the fact that it welcomes the newcomer where they are at….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. There’s a surprising amount of misinformation regarding sobriety, AA and the 12 steps. I’m shocked how many doctors don’t really know that much about alcoholism. But I do find that changing.

      Liked by 1 person

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