Twelve-step program

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The Twelve Step Program is an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program designed to help alcoholics abstain from alcohol and adopt a new lifestyle.

The program was recorded and explained as a Blue Book in the 1930s by William Griffith Wilson and Robert Holbrook Smith . The target groups were alcoholics as well as doctors, therapists and representatives of religious groups who wanted to help alcoholics.

Twelve-Step Groups , Anonymous Groups, or A-Groups are self-help groups that follow the Twelve-Step Program. Following the example of Alcoholics Anonymous, groups have also formed on other problems and the content of the program has been adapted accordingly. The anonymous programs or A programs have the word “anonymous” (affected groups) or “anon” (family members) in their names.

The twelve steps

Members in Twelve Steps are encouraged to work through the Twelve Steps on a voluntary basis ; this is not a requirement for attending the meetings.

The original wording of the twelve steps is protected by copyright, which is why Wikipedia can only publish a textual modification. The original wording of steps one to nine is in the past tense, steps ten to twelve in the present tense, and was written by the authors as a retrospective guide to their own recovery.

This is followed by a corresponding modification of the text of the twelve-step program, as used in the twelve-step groups. The wording often differs in the individual groups (see for example AA , ACA , NA , OA or EA ).

  1. Acknowledge that you are powerless over your own problem. This could be substance addiction, for example, or, depending on the topic of the group, other problems. Admit that you can no longer manage your "daily life".
  2. Believe that only a power greater than you can restore your sanity. Originally the word “God” was introduced here for “power greater than oneself”. In order to open the groups to non-religious people as well, the new formulation was chosen.
  3. Make up your mind to entrust your will and your life to the care of God as everyone understands it.
  4. Take a thorough and fearless inventory of yourself.
  5. Admitting to yourself and to another person the wrongdoing you have committed.
  6. The willingness to let God remove behaviors that hinder life.
  7. Humbly ask that God remove all personal "chronic life-hindering behaviors".
  8. List all those who have been wronged and harmed, and develop a willingness and will to redress.
  9. Compensate these individuals wherever possible, except if they or others are injured as a result.
  10. Continue the “inner inventory” and admit when one is wrong.
  11. Through "prayer and reflection" try (or seek the connection) to improve a deep conscious relationship with God, as everyone understands him for himself, and pray for the knowledge, to see his will and the strength to implement it.
  12. After the “spiritual awakening” that has now been experienced, try to pass on the message (how the individual has used the steps for himself and continue to live according to them) to other affected persons and to align his everyday life according to the principles of the respective twelve-step group.

Twelve-step groups


The vast majority of the twelve-step groups deal with drug addiction . In 2004 more than 100,000 Alcoholics Anonymous groups, 61,000 Narcotics Anonymous groups and 550 Nicotine Anonymous groups met in over 180 countries . There are also over 24,000 Al-Anon family groups for relatives of alcoholics and 1,800 Alateen groups. The geographical distribution accumulates in the country of origin USA .

More than 1200 EA groups, 500 CoDA groups and a variety of smaller twelve-step programs deal with other topics worldwide .

Wikipedia English theme
AA Anonymous alcoholics Alcoholics Anonymous alcoholism
AAS Anonymous workaholics Workaholics Anonymous (WA) Work addiction
ACA Adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families Adult Children of Alcoholic / Dysfunctional Families (ACA) Recovery from the effects of growing up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family
Al-Anon Al-Anon Al-Anon Relatives and friends of alcoholics
Alateen Alateen Alateen Children and adolescents of alcoholics
AM / MA Anonymous messies Clutterers Anonymous (CLA) Clutter, disorganization, and / or accumulation of worthless clutter ( messie syndrome )
AS Sexaholics Anonymous Sexaholics Anonymous (SA) Sex addiction , sexual compulsiveness
BA Anonymous borderliners Borderliners Anonymous Borderline Personality Disorder , People with an Early Disorder
CA Cocaine Anonymous Cocaine Anonymous Dependence on or harmful use of cocaine
CoDA Anonymous codependents Co-Dependents Anonymous Codependency
THERE Anonymous debtors Debtors Anonymous Avoiding Uncovered Debt
EA Emotions Anonymous Emotions Anonymous emotional, psychological and social disorders
EKS Adult children of addicted parents and educators Adult children of addicted parents and educators Adult children of addicted parents and educators
FA Anonymous food addicts in recovery Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous Overeating, bulimia , anorexia , eating compulsions
FAA Food Addicts Anonymous Food Addicts Anonymous Overeating, bulimia , anorexia , eating compulsions
GA Anonymous players Gamblers Anonymous Gambling addiction
GamAnon Relatives of Anonymous Players GamAnon Relatives and friends of players
HA Heroin Anonymous Heroin Anonymous Heroin addiction
ISA Anonymous incest survivor Incest Survivors Anonymous Incest Survivors and Pro-Survivors
N / A Narcotics Anonymous Narcotics Anonymous legal and illegal substance drugs (including drugs and alcohol)
Nar-anon Nar-anon Narcotics Anonymous Affiliate Group Relatives and friends of addicts (alcohol, drugs, etc.)
NicA Nicotinic Anonymous Nicotine Anonymous Nicotine addiction
OA Overeaters Anonymous Overeaters Anonymous eating disorder
RCA Anonymous couples in recovery Recovering Couples Anonymous Recovery for couples, recovery of a troubled relationship together
SAA Anonymous sex addicts Sex Addicts Anonymous Sex addiction
S-Anon S-Anon S-Anon Relatives and friends of sex addicts
SCA Anonymous sexually compulsive Sexual Compulsives Anonymous Sex addiction, sexual compulsiveness
SIA Anonymous incest survivor Survivor of Incest Anonymous Effects of Sexual Abuse
SLAA Anonymous sex and love addicts Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous Sex addiction , sexual compulsiveness, addiction to destructive relationships, or addiction to escape into romantic fantasies
OLGA Anonymous online players

Anonymous online addicts

Online Gamers Anonymous Online Gambling Addiction Online Addiction Internet Addiction Computer Addiction
CLA Clutterers Anonymous Anonymous clutterers Cluttering means hoarding, collecting = collecting addiction

Meetings / Meetings / Meetings

The groups serve to help themselves. Alcoholics help alcoholics, loved ones loved ones. They meet regularly, mostly weekly, for joint meetings; in the groups, these meetings are called meetings . It is up to each participant whether and how often they attend the meetings.

The meetings are organized exclusively by those concerned themselves. A chair (from English chair person , chairman) moderated. This service is staffed either by election or on a rotation principle and can be taken over by any participant. Neither the chair nor other services have a special hierarchical position.

There is no such thing as a therapist- client relationship. However, many participants look for an experienced sponsor . This person should have been “dry” for a long time, have a lot of experience with the program and be available especially in emergencies (such as acute addictive pressure ).

At closed meetings take only those directly affected part. Open meetings also involve relatives. Some groups also hold public information meetings .

The groups determine the course of the group meeting themselves. The typical course contains the following elements: Introduction round (“My name is Bill, I'm an alcoholic.” - “Hi, Bill!”); Reading of the Preamble , Twelve Steps, and Twelve Traditions ; speaking the serenity prayer together . Often texts from the literature are read aloud. Additional elements are added depending on the group.

The “sharing of experience, strength and hope” takes up most of the space at the meetings. The participants talk about their experiences. You can talk freely about anything that moves you. The other participants are not allowed to give feedback or unsolicited advice . Some groups limit speaking time and have additional rules to ensure that the meeting runs constructively.


Literature plays an important role in the twelve-step groups. The core is formed by the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions , either in the original version of the AA or in an adapted version that replaces all references to "alcohol" and "alcoholism" with the corresponding group topic. Almost all communities summarize their program in a short “preamble”.

In addition to the AA themselves, many derived twelve-step groups also use the AA's “ Blue Book ” (original title Alcoholics Anonymous , colloquially known as the Big Book ). It contains the Twelve Steps , Twelve Traditions , Twelve Promises, some slogans, the founding story of AA, and numerous life stories.

Some communities have published their own books based on this model, such as "Basic Text" (NA), "Al-Anon Family Groups" (Al-Anon) or the "CoDA Book" (CoDA). Most communities publish numerous other literature, such as information brochures, meditation books, life stories. These are used for public relations, self-study and also during meetings.

Most groups make it a point to use only "conference-approved" literature. New literature must have been approved by a majority at national conferences. In addition, only self-written literature is used, since twelve-step groups want to remain independent from external institutions such as individual authors or institutions (6th tradition).


The twelve-step program is a spiritual program according to the founders' self- image .

The psychiatrist CG Jung summarized the fact that spirituality can be the last resort for some alcoholics in 1961 in a letter to the co-founder of the AA Bill W. with the play on words " spiritus contra spiritum " ( Latin: " spirit against wine spirit ").

Twelve steps

The Twelve Steps are written in the past tense because they document experiences. They trace the path that led those reporting to spiritual awakening and recovery.

Working in the steps is a recommendation. However, it is clearly indicated in the literature that a “recovery that not only combats the symptoms” is hardly possible without “living in steps”. It is not a requirement for membership. Participation in meetings is also open to people who do not (yet) want to follow the steps. In principle there is only one spiritual / ideal membership that the person decides for himself. It is contradicting itself to want to be a "member" in a 12-step group and to categorically reject the content of the steps. An initial rejection of the steps often leads to acceptance over time.


The Twelve Step Communities are grassroots movements organized on a grassroots basis . The structure is based on the twelve traditions and twelve concepts.


The individual groups are the organizational basis . New groups can be formed at any time. When two or three people are discussing their recovery, they can be called an A-group, provided that they do not form any other bond as a group (3rd tradition).

In their own affairs the groups are independent and responsible only to their group conscience (2nd and 4th tradition), as long as the matter does not affect other groups or the community as a whole.

The groups are financially independent. They finance themselves exclusively through donations from their members. No outside funds are accepted in order not to become dependent (7th tradition). The groups are also independent of religions, sects, parties, etc.


All matters affecting other groups should be discussed with them together. These deliberations occasionally take place at joint meetings of all those involved, but mostly by group representatives in intergroup committees. These are set up at city, district, state, national and international level as required.

The group speakers are elected by the group members. You have no decision-making powers over the group. Your job is only to represent the group's will to the outside world.

If possible, decisions are taken by consensus . Majority resolutions are only passed in exceptional cases in order to shorten the consensus-finding processes that sometimes take years.

No intergroup service holder has power or authority over any member. All committees can only make recommendations to their members.


Schematic representation of the organizational structure of twelve-step groups

The individual groups have no legal structure. They are an informal group of people who attend the meetings. The participants remain anonymous. For cross-regional work, such as the provision of literature and the conclusion of contracts, a legal person is an advantage.

To this end, some Twelve Step Communities have set up registered associations . The active members are elected in the annual meetings of the intergroups. Then they are accepted into the association through a second election. With this step, the members lose their anonymity. Outwardly, they appear as “relatives of those affected”. According to the statutes, the clubs have to represent the interests of their respective twelve-step groups. Formally, the annual meeting is not authorized to issue instructions to the association.

Joint service committee

The Joint Service Committee of the respective programs ensures the integrity of the community as a whole. He coordinates public relations for the entire community. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. has a special position as the owner of the copyright to the Twelve Steps .

More “twelve-step” facilities


There are specialized psychosomatic clinics whose therapy accepts and respects the twelve-step program as a healing process for addicts. In Bad Herrenalber model by Dr. Walther H. Lechler , it forms the intellectual and spiritual basis of the therapeutic process. Many patients simply call these clinics “twelve-step clinics” to differentiate them from other therapy concepts. Since twelve-step groups neither approve of external institutions (6th tradition) nor can they accept financial support from them (7th tradition), clinics and groups are organizationally separated. In practice, such clinics provide rooms for meetings and also recommend long-term participation in twelve-step groups as part of follow-up care .

Stays in the so-called twelve-step clinics are paid for by the statutory health insurances or pension funds upon application and specialist hospital admission if necessary. All so-called twelve-step clinics are privately owned. The term 12-step clinic is officially rejected by the clinics themselves nowadays.

Support groups

There are other self-help groups and organizations that take on parts of the twelve-step program or the organizational structure. Some relate directly to the Twelve Steps of the AA, sometimes only the name or individual terms suggest a presumed proximity to the AA.

Twelve-step groups in the narrower sense are based on the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions of the AA, they only change the respective problem in these texts and they observe the copyright of the Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. on the texts.

Synanon and Narconon , despite the final syllable “-non” in their name, have no connection with the twelve-step program, either in terms of content or organization.

The Endless Life Groups use the Twelve Steps , but add to and change them in the Christian sense. Organizationally, they are tied to church communities, here the term God clearly means the Christian God. Recovery Anonymous adopts the Twelve Steps and Traditions, uses the original, Christian-oriented literature of the AA founders, from which they later distanced themselves, and supplements it with detailed guides on how to organize meetings.



In the USA, and increasingly also in Germany, the twelve-step program is recommended as the most important, often the only, self-help group for addicts and their relatives. This fact is mainly due to the individual decisions of those who make the recommendation (e.g. doctors and psychologists).

Compulsory participation

It is against the basic idea of ​​voluntary participation in the meetings if someone takes part in them against their will due to external pressure. B. as a judicial requirement. Many prison inmates are given permission to attend twelve-step sessions. There are meetings that issue compulsory participants with the required certificates of attendance.

Religious being

The New York Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 in the Griffin v. Coughlin "in the last instance stated that" belonging to the AA community involves participation in religious acts and religious proselytizing. "


  • The medical effectiveness of the twelve-step program in recovering from addictive diseases is difficult to demonstrate. This is also due to the anonymity, which means that no member lists are kept and thus long-term, scientific investigations are difficult. Independent, scientifically sound studies are rare.
  • According to Praschniker , the empirical study shows that depression decreases the longer the length of stay in a twelve-step group increases.


Quote from a critical paper about alcoholics anonymous of the Federal Association for Health e. V .: “ The poor results of various therapy directions suggest that the alternative to AA does not necessarily have to be professional therapy. Social support from like-minded people is likely to be helpful in overcoming alcohol problems. In principle, the concept of self-help groups has proven itself, but it does not necessarily have to be based on the spiritual principles of Alcoholics Anonymous. "

There are many other support groups out there that do not follow the twelve-step program. There are numerous self-help offers for many different diseases and problem areas with the most varied of content and methods. Qualified therapeutic and social help is available for all topics, for which there are also twelve-step groups. Contact points include doctors , psychotherapists , charities and self-help contact points .

Further self-help groups: Circle of Friends for Addiction Help , Kreuzbund , Guttempler , Blue Cross



  • The blue book
  • Preamble of the AA - (online)
  • Twelve Steps of the AA - (online)
  • Twelve Traditions of AA - (online)
  • William Griffith Wilson: Bill W. - my first 40 years . Co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous autobiography. Translation by Marga Klay. Santiago-Verlag, Goch 2003, ISBN 3-937212-00-0 .
  • Stephanie S. Covington: Women and the Twelve Step Program. Text book. Santiago Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-937212-09-4 .
  • Stephanie S. Covington: Women and the Twelve Step Program. Workbook. Santiago Verlag, 2006, ISBN 3-937212-10-8 .


  • Hans Praschniker: Sociodemographic Background, Alcoholism Career, Duration of Abstinence, Self-Image, and Personality of Recovering Alcoholics: An Exploratory Study of Alcoholics Anonymous . Dissertation. University of Graz, 1984. Praschniker Abstracts
  • Peter Daum: A critical examination of the Alcoholics Anonymous . Thesis. Berlin 1990/1997.
  • The Orange Papers Critical examination of the roots and genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Mel Ash: The Zen of Recovery. Spiritual and therapeutic techniques on the way from addiction to freedom . Chapter: An Interpretation of the Twelve Steps . Knaur, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-426-86047-3 , pp. 101-147. (Original edition: The Zen of Recovery 1993. From the American by Malte Heim )
  • Simone Bell-D'Avis: Does God Help Against Addiction? A fundamental theological foundation of addiction pastoral care . LIT, Münster 2004, ISBN 3-8258-8812-6 .
  • Melody Beattie : Courage to be independent, ways to self-discovery and inner healing, the twelve-step program . Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-453-07863-2 . (Title of the original edition: Codependents' Guide to the Twelve Steps ).

Individual evidence

  1. Adult children of alcoholics and dysfunctional families. Retrieved June 27, 2018 .
  5. " adherence to the AA fellowship entails engagement in religious activity and religious proselytization " - judgment "Griffin vs. Coughlin ", New York Court of Appeals, June 11, 1996 ( )
  6. a b Beate Robertz-Grossmann, Sigrid Droste: Alcoholics Anonymous - A literature analysis of the program of a self-help group for alcoholic people. 2003, Federal Association for Health e. V., ( Memento from September 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  7. Hans Praschniker: Sociodemographic Background, Alcoholism Career, Duration of Abstinence, Self-Image and Personality of Recovering Alcoholics: An Exploratory Study on Alcoholics Anonymous . Dissertation, University of Graz, 1984.