The AA 12-Step Program: Rules and Major Actions

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What is the AA 12-Step Program? What are the 12 steps of recovery?

The AA 12-Step Program is a widely used method for recovering addicts. Originated in The Big Book, the 12 steps of recovery are now utilized to combat other addiction diseases as well.

Read on to understand the AA 12-Step Program and how the 12 steps of recovery work.

What Is the AA 12-Step Program?

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are run by local groups. These groups are autonomous and not managed by a central organization.

There must be no fees or dues to join the AA 12-Step Program. This work is not meant to be used to earn a profit.

All members must remain anonymous to the public. This makes sure members focus on the principles and the work, not on personalities. They are able to focus on the 12 steps of sobriety.

The 12 Steps of Recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous originated the famous AA 12-Step Program, which is now broadly used in addiction recovery outside of alcohol.

We’ll cover the 12 steps of sobriety in their original phrasing, then discuss each in more detail.

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

Largely speaking, the 12 steps of sobriety in the AA 12-Step Program fall into three themes:

  • Steps 1-5: Acceptance and Soul-Searching—you accept the principles of the program, and you make a complete list of your shortcomings.
  • Steps 6-9: Righting Past Wrongs—you seek to remove your shortcomings, and you make amends with people you’ve hurt in the past.
  • Steps 10-12: An Ongoing Process—having overcome your past, you go into the future, seeking to continue improving yourself and becoming an agent of good by helping others.

The AA 12-Step Program consists of these major actions:

  • Recognize that total abstinence is the only way to get over alcoholism. When alcoholics start drinking, they develop an insatiable craving for more alcohol. The only way is to stop completely; moderation doesn’t work.
  • Believe in a higher power than yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean a religious god. You simply need to recognize that you’re too weak to solve the problem yourself, and that something larger than yourself will give you additional strength.
  • Conduct a moral inventory of yourself. Recognize your flaws and emotions that cause you to fail around alcohol. This will help you find what makes you drink; removing these flaws will free yourself from drinking. Confess these personality defects to another person. A weight will feel lifted from your shoulders.
  • Make amends with people you’ve hurt in the past. Be sincere about righting your past wrongs. This will reduce the guilt and resentment you feel, which often drive people to drink.
  • Continue improving for the rest of your lifetime. If you make a mistake, promptly admit it and make amends. Reflect each day on what you’ve done and whether you could have done better. 
  • Be helpful to others. Help other alcoholics recover. This is not just helpful to others; it’s critical to help you stay sober as well.
The AA 12-Step Program: Rules and Major Actions

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of AAWS's "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book" at Shortform .

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  • How alcoholism is a nearly insurmountable disease that non-alcoholics can't understand
  • The key 12 steps of the program, and why they work
  • Why Alcoholics Anonymous isn't a cult and why it works

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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