A Brief History of the 12 Steps

The 12-step philosophy first emerged in the mid-1930s and became mainstream with the publishing of “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism,” aka “The Big Book,” written by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith.

According to this philosophy, addiction is something that cannot be cured (“once an addict, always an addict”), yet people can manage it and not let it overpower their lives.

Since the 1930s, the 12 steps have been adapted to create thousands of programs that address other forms of addiction besides alcoholism; some programs don’t have anything to do with substance abuse at all, such as Gamblers Anonymous.

What Is the Progression of a 12-Step Program?

To put it concisely, the 12 steps involve:

  • Admitting your powerlessness over your addiction
  • Turning your life over to a higher power
  • Taking a thorough moral inventory of yourself
  • Admitting your wrongdoings – to a higher power, yourself and others
  • Asking the higher power to remove character defects and shortcomings
  • Apologizing to and making amends with those you’ve harmed
  • After a spiritual awakening, serving and mentoring those in the early stages of this process

What Are the Benefits of the 12 Steps?

Although the results will be slightly different for everyone who goes through a 12-step program, this approach to recovery generally tends to help with:

  • Self-control
  • Honesty
  • Accountability
  • Direction and structure
  • Social interaction
  • Making amends with those harmed
  • Character building
  • Willpower
  • Overall health
  • Reducing the chance of relapse
  • Belief in higher power and the greater good
  • Spiritual, emotional and physical balance

Do I Need to Buy into Christianity’s View of God?

Although the 12 steps started out as a highly Christian-based approach to recovery, most 12-step programs today allow the belief in a “higher power” to be open to interpretation. This can be according to one’s traditional religious upbringing, or it can be a more general divine being or higher consciousness.

The important part is that participants develop their faith in someone or something greater than themselves as they progress through each of the steps. It’s not really possibly to get to step 12 if the person never places their trust and faith in something beyond himself or herself.

So, yes, the 12 steps are still very much a spiritual program. But, the spirituality involved has a little bit of a different meaning to each participant.