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Twelve Step Programs

A 12 Step program is both a recovery plan and support network. Group members use the 12 steps to support each other as they recover from addictions and compulsions. The 12 Steps include admitting there is a problem, seeking help, doing an honest self-examination, making amends for harm done, and helping other addicts who want to recover.

Twelve Step programs do not employ professional counselors or therapists. Members share their stories, experiences, strengths, and hopes with each other. The idea behind 12 Step programs is that someone who has been addicted can help someone who is presently addicted.

Examples of 12 Step programs include:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Al-anon and Alateen
  • Debtors Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • Nicotine Anonymous
  • Overeaters Anonymous
  • Sexaholics Anonymous

Twelve Step programs do not:

  • keep membership files, attendance records, or case histories
  • follow up or try to control members
  • conduct religious services
  • provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, money, legal, medical, psychiatric, or other social services
  • provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, or employers

Groups are self-supporting and there are no membership fees. There are no rules about religion (or lack of it), race, education, age, or politics. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her addiction problem. You do not have to tell anything about yourself, except to admit that you have a problem. For example, "Hi, I'm David, and I'm an alcoholic."

The goal of 12 Step programs is to provide a way for addicts to help one another stop their addiction.

Twelve Step programs encourage you to end your addiction or compulsion. Groups believe there is no such thing as a cure for addiction. Going to meetings regularly and putting into practice what you learn there helps you end your addiction.


The main service provided by 12 Step programs is the group meeting. Meetings are led by group members, and usually last from 60 to 90 minutes. Meetings are available almost everywhere in the world.

It is often recommended that you go to at least 5 meetings a week for your first year of withdrawal from addiction. There are usually many meetings available. There are times that are very stressful after you have stopped your addiction. At those times, there's more of a chance of falling into your addiction again. You will probably need extra meetings and extra help at those times. There may be times when you may need to go to meetings more often. It may be helpful to get there early or stay late and talk with people who share your addiction.


Sponsors are members who are committed to abstinence. They share their experience on a one-to-one basis. They live the 12 Steps to the best of their ability. Helping other addicts is good way to maintain your own recovery.

Twelve Step programs are not the same as group therapy. They are not a substitute for professional help, but for some people they can provide the long-range peer support needed for recovery. Check your local phone listings for a group in your area.

Disclaimer: This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information provided is intended to be informative and educational and is not a replacement for professional medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

HIA File beha3366.htm Release 13/2010

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