12-Step Program Techniques and Success Rates

Last Updated: October 4, 2021

Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

The 12-step program is a set of guidelines for overcoming alcohol, drug, and other addictions. The twelve steps were initially proposed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Later, several other support recovery programs adopted them to overcome other forms of substance abuse in long-term treatment programs. Read along further to find out the 12 steps of AA, their goals and techniques, and how one can benefit from them.

What Are 12-Step Programs?

The 12-step programs can be traced back as early as 1935 when the first twelve-step fellowship was founded. The actual 12 steps of AA were published in a book in 1939, which spiritually guided patients to overcome alcohol addiction. Although the 12 steps to recovery are primarily based on spiritual beliefs and teachings, they also serve as guiding principles for non-religious people. After the success of the twelve steps, various other substance abuse support groups adopted these stages as parts of substance abuse treatment.

People sitting in the circle at a 12-step program meeting.

Although the program was primarily based on spiritual beliefs and addressed God, now each participant can interpret it differently. The understanding of “God” in Alcoholics Anonymous has broadened a lot, and now participants can refer to any Higher Power.

Nevertheless, some people may still find this approach unsuitable. For example, they don’t want to rely on Higher Power in their recovery but rather on themselves. In that case, alternatives to AA are for them. There are many types of such non-12-step programs, which are based on research and tend to change from time to time as research progresses.

12 Steps to Recovery Techniques

The techniques used in the 12 steps to recovery program include group meetings that are held regularly. In these group meetings, patients are taught how to overcome drug or alcohol addiction, avoid situations that might act as triggers, and eventually learn to live a sober life. All members of the group support each other in applying the 12 steps of NA to their lives. They share their stories and past mistakes and assist each other in their fight against addiction. It gives them the support they need and can also assist in dealing with mental health problems caused by drug or alcohol abuse, such as anxiety and depression.

Twelve Step Program Goals

The goals of the 12 steps and 12 traditions are to help people experience a “spiritual awakening” through which they can accept their powerlessness over addiction.

They also admit that their way of life needs to be changed and then decide to be better and sober human beings. The goal of 12 steps and 12 traditions is also to help members become healthy and productive individuals of a society by promoting their wisdom. According to this study about what promotes wisdom in 12-step recovery, its findings show that members of this program reported higher levels of wisdom, which plays a crucial role in addiction recovery.

The 12 Steps Of AA

The following steps describe the phases which are included in the program of 12 steps and 12 traditions:

  1. Addicts admit that addiction has taken over one’s life to the extent that one cannot control it. They also acknowledge that addiction destroys an addict’s life and the life of their loved ones. Once they understand their powerlessness, recovery becomes possible.
  2. Patients accept that some higher power can help them overcome addiction if they try themselves too. Religious and non-religious people can interpret this phase according to their own beliefs.
  3. Addicts make a decision to accept God, as they should recognize they cannot recover themselves. They understand Him as the one who can turn their lives, submitting themselves to His will. Again, different people can interpret this stage in their own ways, where they surrender themselves to that higher power.
  4. The recovering addicts search their souls and identify all the wrongs they caused for themselves and others.
  5. After soul searching, members are encouraged to admit the wrongs they have been doing. This admission is not only to oneself but to God and other human beings also. It helps them put aside their ego and provides an opportunity for growth.
  6. Addicts become ready to accept God’s guidance in removing these shortcomings. This phase prepares members to submit themselves to the higher power believing that it can help them remove all the shortfalls of their personalities, actions, and behaviors.
  7. Addicts ask God to remove their shortcomings by acknowledging their powerlessness. AA step 7 teaches humility in the members where they ask the higher power to remove the shortcomings and help them become better human beings.
  8. Patients in recovery make a list of people who might have gotten hurt by their addictive or harmful behavior and actions to make amends with them. In this stage, members are encouraged to think about all the people they might have harmed during addiction and be 100% willing to make amends with them and ask for their forgiveness.
  9. They make sincere efforts to amend relations with all the affected people unless doing so would result in some additional harm to themselves or others. Phase 9 calls for the practical application of the previous phase, where members are encouraged to make amends with everyone. Once amends are made, and forgiveness sought, it serves as an excellent medicine for the soul.
  10. AA step 10 urges members to continue searching their souls and making amends as soon as they realize them. It shows them the importance of this aspect as being a continuous process instead of a one-time process.
  11. During step 11, NA or AA members accept the idea of a bigger plan that God or some higher power has for everyone. It helps them maintain spiritual progress while aiming to become better and sober individuals as steps to recovery.
  12. This last stage guides members to be of service to other members of the society to help them overcome addiction and practice all these phases in all walks of their life after recovery.

12-Step Program Success Rate

Many types of programs offer treatment with 12 steps, ranging from standard Alcoholics Anonymous to Overeaters Anonymous. No doubt, these programs have helped a lot of people. But what about its success rate? Is it worth trying?

Woman holding AA 10-month sobriety chip.

The success rate of the 12-step program cannot be calculated with certainty. For example, one study carried out in 1999 measured the effectiveness of NA and AA. It lasted for 24 months. The results have demonstrated a 75% success rate. However, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), the success rate for the 12-step program is 10% when considering long-term recovery. Another study states that more research is required to prove the effectiveness of the 12 phases as part of substance abuse therapy.

In a relatively recent study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), it is shown that people who received formal treatment as well as attended regular 12-step meetings reported a better chance of staying sober than the people who received treatment from a non-12-step recovery program only.

Researchers have also found that 49% of AA group members achieved abstinence from alcohol in the long term compared to 46% of formal treatment participants. The study also found that the likelihood of a person staying abstinent was directly proportional to the duration of their stay in AA in the first three years of recovery.

A research of 3,018 male inpatients found that 12-step meeting participants were less likely to relapse at follow-up compared to non-participants. In addition, depression incidences were inversely proportional to durations of participation in 12-step groups. The best outcomes were achieved by patients who attended both 12-step programs and some form of outpatient treatment.

Addiction Recovery Programs Based on Twelve Steps

Many addiction recovery groups have adopted the 12-steps program.

Some Of These Examples Are Listed Below:

The 12 Steps Of NA: Use With Other Programs

The 12 steps of recovery have been used in various treatment programs, including long and short-term residential programs. Different programs utilize the 12 steps of AA approach by implementing them for clients in various stages of addiction change. Some of these treatment programs do not strictly follow the 12 steps of NA but rather utilize their methodology to develop their own programs. In this way, they can take advantage of the scientific and research-based treatment modalities while still incorporating a psychological and spiritual aspect of treatment through the 12 phases. The 12-step program usually serves as a follow-up or aftercare program, which helps clients maintain sobriety after completing short-term residential programs through regular meetings and mutual support.

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options. Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Page Sources

  1. Kaskutas, L. A. (2009). Alcoholics Anonymous effectiveness: Faith meets science. Journal of addictive diseases, 28(2), 145-157. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746426/
  2. Winzelberg, A., & Humphreys, K. (1999). Should patients' religiosity influence clinicians' referral to 12-step self-help groups? Evidence from a study of 3,018 male substance abuse patients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(5), 790. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10535246
  3. DiGangi, J. A., Majer, J. M., Mendoza, L., Droege, J. R., Jason, L. A., & Contreras, R. (2014). What promotes wisdom in 12-step recovery?. Journal of groups in addiction & recovery, 9(1), 31-39. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4051299/
  4. Kelly, J. F., & Yeterian, J. D. (2011). The role of mutual-help groups in extending the framework of treatment. Alcohol Research & Health, 33(4), 350. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860535/
  5. Detar, D. T. (2011). Alcoholics anonymous and other twelve-step programs in recovery. Primary care, 38(1), 143-148. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S009545431000103X?via%3Dihub
  6. Sussman, S., Reynaud, M., Aubin, H. J., & Leventhal, A. M. (2011). Drug addiction, love, and the higher power. Evaluation & the health professions, 34(3), 362-370. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185195/
  7. Fiorentine, R. (1999). After drug treatment: Are 12-step programs effective in maintaining abstinence?. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 25(1), 93-116. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10078980/

Published on: April 23rd, 2018

Updated on: October 4th, 2021

About Author

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed is a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. He is graduated from the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed Zayed has a passion for writing medical and health care articles and focuses on providing engaging and trustworthy information to readers.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.