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The 12 Steps were developed in the mid-1930’s by Alcoholics Anonymous founders Bill W. and Dr. Bob as a process to overcome alcohol addiction. By the 1940’s AA had been successful enough to inspire other addiction support groups, which adapted the steps to their specific needs. Today there are more than 200 self-help organizations using the 12 Step program, such as Cocaine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and many others.
The 12 Steps help someone who is addicted to change their thought processes and beliefs about themselves and the world. These internal changes cause better choices and actions.
As the names suggest, 12 Step groups emphasize confidentiality. Participants meet regularly to encourage and support each other. Most groups use a Sponsor / Sponsee model: an experienced person who is in recovery guides the newer member through the steps.
The Sponsor usually make themselves available to the new member 24/7. Alcoholics Anonymous defines a Sponsor as “a person to turn to without embarrassment when doubts, questions, or problems linked to alcoholism arise. Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed most. Sponsorship also provides the bridge enabling the new person to meet other alcoholics — in a home group and in other groups visited.” Other 12 Step organizations have similar definitions of Sponsorship.
Regular participation in the group and frequent contact with the Sponsor provides support with accountability, which is so important to staying free from abuse.
The 12 Steps emphasize spirituality, but the program has been a huge help to many nonreligious people. Each person is encouraged to turn to a greater power, as they understand that power, for strength, so that no one worldview or religion is promoted.
The purpose of the 12 Steps is abstinence, resisting the urge to abuse a substance or engage in self-destructive behavior.
Recovery is an ongoing process. Using the 12 Steps as guidelines, a participant finds what specific thoughts and actions work best for their needs in each situation. Most find that they will revisit some steps as “life happens.” Being able to turn to a group and a Sponsor who have gone through challenges and come out stronger is a profound help.
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