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What is Step 12 in AA?

“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.”

In the final step of AA, you carry on the organization’s message (and what you’ve learned) to help others in their recovery from substance abuse. 

Purpose of Step 12 of AA 

There are three general purposes of step 12:

1. Spiritual Awakening

In step 12, many people feel as if they have had a spiritual awakening. They’ve acknowledged a power greater than themselves, made amends, and have learned their role in managing their addiction.

The 12th step is a time to be pleased with your accomplishments, but still remember that recovery is a lifelong process. 

2. Practice the 12 Step Principles Daily

By the twelfth step, you understand that additional treatment might be necessary for you to retain sobriety. You may also need continued support from AA members and loved ones. Many use the 12 steps for the rest of their life.

Every day, you’ll conduct a personal inventory and put into practice what you’ve learned in the previous steps. You’re open to the need for ongoing treatment and you accept that the work of the 12 steps doesn’t end.

The goal is to practice the 12 principles every day and make recovery a long-term commitment.

3. Carry the Message of Recovery to Others

And finally, the 12th step is about carrying the message of recovery to other alcoholics. You’ll share what the steps in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Al-Anon offer to those struggling with addiction.

In addition to helping others, you build your self-esteem and make a positive contribution to the recovery community. This is a great opportunity to meet new people and enjoy fulfilling experiences with others. 

Carrying the message of AA to others helps you:

  • Remember the early days of your recovery and recognize how hard you’ve worked to move past that stage
  • Stay accountable and prevents you from being complacent in your recovery
  • Gain a sense of purpose
  • Enhance your fellowship with other people
  • Inspire others to stay on the sober path
  • Provide insight to other people in recovery
  • Become a trustworthy person who can offer support to someone in recovery

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How Do You Know You’ve Had a Spiritual Awakening?

Spiritual awakening is an important part of the 12 steps. You know you’ve had a spiritual awakening when:

  • You begin to give back to others. You’ve learned the importance of conducting a fearless moral inventory and to help yourself. Now it’s time to help others. At this point, you’re comfortable enough with your journey and the recovery process in general that you can reach out to others and provide support.
  • You know your higher power. Whether it’s a loving God, higher power, or something else, you’ve accepted there is a higher power in your life and you understand its role. In a spiritual awakening, you recognize and accept a greater power, better understand yourself, and are truly humble and self-aware.
  • You know yourself better. Self-introspection is an important part of mental health and recovery. To live a sober life, you must recognize and know how to cope with your triggers. Together, with your higher power, you move toward sobriety and serenity.
  • You enjoy a sense of well-being. Spiritual awakening brings a sense of peace and well-being. You have an appreciation for how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved by putting spiritual principles into action. However, you still recognize there is work to be done. You are free from craving and good things are in your life. 

Does the Twelve Step Model Really Work?

There are varying opinions regarding the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step model.

According to an analysis conducted by the Stanford School of Medicine researchers, support groups such as AA are almost always more effective than psychotherapy alone for achieving sobriety. AA also led to a reduction in healthcare costs. 

This analysis included the evaluation of 35 existing studies that involved more than 10,000 participants. The majority of the studies showed AA produced a significantly better outcome for people with AUD. In one case, the effective rate was 60 percent. 

The researchers believe that AA is effective because it has a foundation of social interaction. Members provide emotional support to one another on a peer-to-peer level.

Despite the results of this analysis, many believe that 12-step programs are not as effective as they might seem. They think that it’s impossible to get a true success rate because many people who relapse do not report their experience. These people believe that the 12-step success rate is probably closer to 5 to 10 percent.

However, what both AA proponents and detractors do agree on is that the success people experience is due to the camaraderie of the group. AA is supportive, it provides structure, and it offers fellowship with like-minded individuals. Detractors understand that for some people, 12-step programs are enough to change, perhaps even permanently.

Most People Benefit from Participation in a 12-Step Program

Chances are, most people familiar with recovery and sober living will agree that 12-step programs aren’t harmful. They don’t work for everyone, but the twelve steps and twelve traditions provide many with spiritual growth and peace of mind.

However, when included in a treatment program, they provide at least a small amount of additional support and guidance. 

12-step programs help alcoholics consider questions such as:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I doing?
  • Who or what is in control?
  • How can I be better?
  • How do I relate to other people?
  • Am I a bully or a doormat?
  • How do I stay calm?
  • How do I avoid alcohol?

Many consider AA the first effective program for alcohol addiction. Additionally, the program offers resources and 12-steps designed to help family and other loved ones of alcoholics.

Many people who have participated in the 12 steps even believe the program would be helpful for everyone, whether they are addicted to alcohol or drugs or not. They believe it provides step-by-step guidance for better living.

Keep in mind: when deciding if AA or another 12-step program is right for you, it’s important to know that every group has a different dynamic. Not all groups are a good fit for everyone. If you’ve tried attending a 12-step meeting and it didn’t feel right, try a different meeting. 

If you’ve dismissed 12-step programs or you think they aren’t right for you after a single meeting, you might be surprised to find that a different meeting is exactly what you need.

Also remember that 12-step programs are like other types of treatment — one size does not fit all. The power of 12-step programs is that they cause you to think and offer inspiration and guidance for recovery. Not everyone is ready for this. And even if they are ready to live a sober life, AA might not be the right path for them. 

Despite its detractors, for many, AA and other 12-step programs work.

Relapse Prevention & Treatment Options

Working the 12 steps does not eliminate all risks of relapse. Many people have worked their way through the steps multiple times and still experience a need for treatment. 

Treatment options include:

  • Residential care (inpatient treatment) — provides round-the-clock support and lets you focus entirely on recovery and sober living.
  • Intensive outpatient care — provides access to individual and group therapy for several hours each day without removing you from your normal life.
  • Outpatient treatment — provides access to therapy approximately once a week.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — provides pharmaceutical support for treating addiction.

There is nothing wrong with feeling lost and confused, even after working your way through the 12 steps. If you feel that something is derailing you from sobriety, it’s important to seek treatment.

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Resources

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“With Sobering Science, Doctor Debunks 12-Step Recovery.” NPR.org, https://www.npr.org/2014/03/23/291405829/with-sobering-science-doctor-debunks-12-step-recovery.

Erickson. Mandy “Alcoholics Anonymous Most Effective Path to Alcohol Abstinence.” News Center, https://www.med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2020/03/alcoholics-anonymous-most-effective-path-to-alcohol-abstinence.html.

Schneider, Kathleen M., et al. “Evaluating Multiple Outcomes and Gender Differences in Alcoholism Treatment.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan. 1995, pp. 1–21, 10.1016/0306-4603(94)00037-y. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1981.tb05352.x.

Stone, David A., et al. “Therapeutic Factors and Psychological Concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Counselor Practice, 1 Jan. 2011, 10.22229/nav074629. https://journalofcounselorpractice.com/uploads/6/8/9/4/68949193/stone_et_al_vol8_iss2.pdf.

Suire, Jared G., and Robert K. Bothwell. “The Psychosocial Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous.” American Journal on Addictions, vol. 15, no. 3, Jan. 2006, pp. 252–255, 10.1080/10550490600626622. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16923673/.

“Alcoholics Anonymous: Is A.A. For You?” www.aa.org. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/is-aa-for-you.

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