Introduction to the 12 Step Model

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The 12 step model is a set of principles or guiding mindsets designed to help a recovering addict navigate the road to being clean and sober. It began as a recovery tool with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but over time other programs have incorporated the 12 step process. The 12 steps are founded on a set of basic truths. An individual is guided through exercises created to alter the mindset from addict to that of a healthy person. Each step gradually makes a change in the person’s behavior and outlook. They learn how to approach life and relationships in a healthy, positive way.


The 12 step model began with the establishment of AA in 1938. Founders Bill Wilson (Bill W.) and Dr. Bob Smith (Dr. Bob) created the model to guide fellow alcoholics through the recovery process. It is presented as a two-fold process. The 12 steps speak to the governance of the individual while the 12 traditions speak to the governance of the group.

Over the years, numerous other groups have sprung up, modeling after AA and using their 12 step method or some variation. For instance, Narcotics Anonymous was given permission by AA to use their 12 steps in 1953. There are more than 200 self-help fellowships and organizations that operate globally. Many use the 12 step principles as a tool for recovery. Each organization addresses a specific issue such as overeating, sex addiction, gambling or accruing massive debt.

Process, Purpose, Intent of the 12 Step Model

The intent of the 12 step process is to induce a spiritual awakening of the individual. The goal is to move them from a state of self-centeredness to a state where they are more morally conscious and have a willingness and desire to take actions that are more unselfish in nature. Each step brings the individual closer to that goal. From the very first step the person is drawn into a process of awareness that will aid in separation from the addictive behavior.

It begins when the individual admits that they are powerless over the addiction. They have no control over it even though the behavior carries negative consequences for themselves. From that realization and acceptance, an individual is guided through a series of steps that bring about realizations, acceptance, and empowerment allowing them to eventually get control of the addiction.

Sponsor Concept, Why? How?

Sponsorship is an integral part of the 12 step program. In the sponsorship concept, the “sponsor,” a more experienced former addict guides or mentors the “sponsee,” a new or less experienced program participant. The sponsor helps the sponsee work through the program, participating in activities that foster spiritual growth, even working through some of steps together.

Sponsors and sponsees are not usually “assigned” by any formal method, rather the sponsee is encouraged to find at least one sponsor. There is no doubt, though, that a person’s sponsor is often instrumental in helping him or her recover.

Many recovering addicts and alcoholics cite the 12 step program to be a vital part of their path to overcoming their addiction. Addiction recovery must be addressed on all levels of the person: mind, body, and spirit. Doctors can address the body, therapy addresses the mind, but the deep spiritual healing comes from the fellowship of organizations such as AA and the 12 step program.

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