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12-Step Rehab Programs

12-step support group sitting in chairs while holding handsTwelve-step rehab programs use the philosophy and principles of 12-step support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, to help people struggling with addictions to drugs and alcohol.

The 12-step model is one of the most popular models of addiction treatment. Approximately 74% of substance abuse treatment facilities use the 12 steps.2

Attending a 12-step drug or alcohol rehab center can help a person achieve abstinence and stay sober using similar practices and principles as 12-step meetings. For assistance finding a 12-step rehab program, call our helpline at 1-888-968-9816 Who Answers? .

What Are the 12 Steps?

Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the creators of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), developed the 12 steps during the 1930s.3 The steps initially focused on quitting alcohol. But other 12-step groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous, adapted the wording to include all drugs of abuse.

The AA steps are:

  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.

Types of 12-Step Programs

Alcoholics Anonymous is the most popular 12-step group. It estimates that it has over 2 million members around the world.4 Other 12-step groups for people struggling with drug addictions include:

Twelve-step programs are also available for behavioral addictions:

If you or someone you know could benefit from addiction treatment, call our helpline at
1-888-968-9816 Who Answers? for assistance locating a 12-step drug or alcohol rehab center.

Working the Steps

New members are often urged to attend a meeting each day for the first 30 to 90 days of sobriety.
“Working the steps” is a key part of 12-step programs. In order to work the steps, members must commit to consistently attending meetings. New members are often urged to attend a meeting each day for the first 30 to 90 days of sobriety.

During meetings, members are encouraged to share their experiences, make connections with others, and to find a sponsor. A sponsor is another member of the group with a longer period of sobriety, typically a year or more, who helps guide the newer member through the 12 steps and shares his or her experiences in recovery.5

A sponsor can help a member work the 12 steps by:

  • Accepting his or her powerlessness over the addiction.
  • Surrendering to a Higher Power.
  • Recognizing past mistakes while drinking or using.
  • Making amends for past mistakes.
  • Providing help and support to other members.

Twelve-step groups encourage members to surrender to a Higher Power, which may or may not be a religious figure.6 Twelve-step groups suggest that members find a “God of their understanding.” Some members may even identify the recovery group as their Higher Power.

Twelve-step groups offer many benefits when members actively work the steps and commit to the program. Many members find that forming connections with other sober people and helping others are instrumental in remaining sober.

Use of the Steps in Addiction Treatment Centers

group of people in circle holding handsAddiction rehabilitation centers incorporate the 12 steps into their programs by introducing program participants to 12-step meetings, either by having meetings held in the treatment facility or by providing transportation to offsite meetings. This allows for program participants to meet other sober people and to begin looking for a sponsor. Attending 12-step meetings while in treatment can also encourage someone to continue going to meetings after treatment is complete.

Twelve-step substance abuse recovery programs may also provide other services such as:

  • Detox.
  • Individual, group, and family therapy.
  • Other forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational enhancement therapy.
  • Medication-assisted treatment.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment.
  • Medical care.
  • Recreational activities such as yoga, exercise, meditation, art therapy, and equine therapy.

Rehab programs may incorporate the 12 steps into therapy sessions by using 12-step facilitation therapy. The goals of 12-step facilitation therapy include:1

  • Accepting that addiction is a chronic and progressive medical disease, that life is unmanageable as a result of drug and alcohol use, and willpower alone cannot cure addiction.
  • Surrendering to a Higher Power and committing to a 12-step program.
  • Becoming actively involved in 12-step meetings both during and after treatment.

Twelve-step rehab centers work to achieve these goals by teaching about the 12 steps, exposing participants to 12-step meetings, and guiding participants through the first step.

Even though 12-step recovery meetings and rehab programs focus on similar goals, they also differ:

  • Recovery meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are free groups open to anyone who has a desire to stop drinking or using drugs.  Meetings are run by sober peers and involve sharing experiences with one another, reading the Big Book and other 12-step literature, and working through the 12 steps.
  • Twelve-step rehab programs provide therapy and support in a structured treatment environment. Treatment programs are staffed with addiction professionals and provide additional services, such as detox and medication, to aid in the recovery process.

Addiction treatment centers can help people with drug and alcohol addiction to quit using and maintain abstinence. To locate a 12-step drug or alcohol rehab center, call now at 1-888-968-9816 Who Answers? .


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2014). National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): 2013.
  3. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2012). Twelve steps and twelve traditions (7th ed.). New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
  4. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2016). Estimates of A.A. groups and members as of January 1, 2016.
  5. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2010). Questions and answers on sponsorship.
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2014). Many paths to spirituality.