12 Step Recovery Programs

Twelve-Step support groups are part of the 12-Step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other recovery programs. Participants work through the 12 Steps and regularly attend meetings to share experiences and give and receive support from others in recovery. Most will also work with a sponsor — a more experienced person in recovery — who they can turn to for support.

The core philosophy of AA/NA emphasizes personal accountability, abstinence, humility, honesty, powerlessness over addiction and connection with a higher power. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (which have been modified for other addictions and compulsive behaviors) 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.


Since its founding in the 1930s, the 12-Step program has become one of the most widely used approaches to treat substance abuse and other addictions and compulsions. With a worldwide membership in the millions, and meetings located in most communities throughout the world, 12-Step support groups are free, easily accessible and highly effective for some.

Other benefits of 12-Step support groups include:

  • Access to a sober peer support system
  • Emphasis on personal accountability and a spiritual connection
  • Twelve-Step groups can be found almost anywhere at least a few times a week
  • Twelve-Step groups can be used in conjunction with other treatments

12-Step Alternatives

The 12-Step program works for many people in recovery, but not all. Others may prefer to get involved in 12-Step alternatives such as SMART Recovery or LifeRing, some of which place less emphasis on spirituality (or involve a different kind of spirituality), encourage moderation rather than complete abstinence, and make other key variations to the 12-Step principles.


Although Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are the largest 12-Step programs, there are also dozens of support groups for other addictions and compulsive behaviors, such as:

  • Cocaine Anonymous
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Marijuana Anonymous
  • Food Addicts Anonymous
  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • Pills Anonymous
  • Workaholics Anonymous


There are also 12-Step support groups specifically geared toward families of those with addictions and compulsions, such as Al-Anon, Nar-Anon and Alateen. These groups provide free education and support to help loved ones care for themselves and support their family member in recovery.