The famous '12 steps' of 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (normally simply referred to as 'AA') have been the key for countless thousands of people who have gained control over their appetite for alcohol and have found healing in their lives.
The starting point for AA, and what distinguishes their approach from the sort of treatment given in many clinics, is the belief that alcoholism is fundamentally a disease of the personality. People become addicts because they have addictive personalities. To treat alcoholism therefore requires an entirely different approach than would be given to a normal disease of the body. The 12 steps of AA are a moral and spiritual response to the personality problem. The steps are as follows:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.
4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. we continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
(ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS, NEW YORK CITY, 1955)
The origins of the 12 steps are clearly Christian in nature, following the fundamental evangelical pattern of sin, confession, forgiveness and restoration. As in Christian theology too, the sinner always remains a sinner. No alcoholic is ever 'cured' of alcoholism. They will remain an alcoholic till the day they die. The goal achieved through the 12 steps is simply to become a 'non-drinking alcoholic'.
AA has long lost touched with its evangelical roots. Indeed, most AA groups tend to be self-consiously distant from the church. One can only assume that this is because of the sad history of judgementalism and neglect that has been shown to many alcoholic persons by Christian congregations.
As suggested above, not every alcohol treatment program endorses the 12 steps. Some in the medical profession are resistant to a spiritual approach to treatment, while some more spiritual rehabilitation programs reject one or two of the steps, as some reject the idea that the alcoholic can never be cured of alcoholism. Even so, one is tempted to say, 'a million non-drinking alcoholics can't be wrong'. The sheer number of persons who have found healing and hope through the 12 steps certainly testifies to their significance.