How to Get Sober with a 12 Step Program

Four Parts:Joining and Succeeding in a ProgramNegotiating Through the Twelve StepsBelieving in YourselfChanging Life Outside the Program

Alcohol, narcotics, and other addictions can be very tough to break. Such a monumental and brave task is often more easily handled when you have a clear path to follow and people to support you. Joining a twelve step program to get sober is a successful way of moving forward on your journey to recovery.

Part 1
Joining and Succeeding in a Program

  1. Image titled Get Sober with a 12 Step Program Step 1
    Look for a twelve step program. You can find lists of programs on the web, in doctors’ or public health offices, and even and in libraries. These resources will point you to lists of meetings in your area.[1]
    • There are also online meetings through many of these organizations’ websites.
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    Attend a variety of meetings in different locations. Some meetings will meet your needs better than others and each group will have its own identity, cohesion, approach, and unique feeling reflecting the members participating.[2]
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    Get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who is also journeying through recovery and is a bit further along than you in this process. Your sponsor is also someone with whom you feel comfortable and can talk freely.[3]
    • You and your sponsor meet informally as equals and are there to help each other out and call each other in times of need.
    • Alcoholics Anonymous, for one, suggests choosing someone of your gender identity and sexual orientation to decrease involvement in unrelated matters other than sobriety.
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    Work the 12 steps with your sponsor. The steps are nearly the same in all programs and are a recipe for recovery. In addition to attending meetings, your sponsor may ask you to read program literature, pray, or meditate.[4]
    • It's okay to change sponsors if you need a different approach.
    • If you can’t reach your sponsor when you need help, call someone else from the program, attend a meeting, go to the nearest program office, or read some program literature until you get over your tough spot.
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    Do the steps in order. Though they are just suggestions, you’re more likely to successfully recover if you follow through the whole program, in the purposeful order intended, and not skip any steps. Each step presents a challenge that pushes you to think and move forward.[5]
    • Avoid “two-stepping,” or admitting you have a problem then jumping right to taking on membership responsibilities, such as becoming a sponsor to someone else. Take the time to truly journey through the steps at the pace you need before you can be a support to someone else.
    • Emotional growth, maturity, personal awareness, and recovery take time.
    • The structure and function of the steps often gives meaning to a life that is struggling to find meaning.
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    Identify with a "home group." In a home group, you attend regularly enough to vote on issues that affect that group, feel especially comfortable enough to build and sustain friendships, and partake in group responsibilities, such as introducing new members or chairing a meeting.[6]
    • Having a home group increases your sense of belonging, often missing in the lives of people living with addictions, and allows you to have a secure and strong support system.
    • Having a home group does not mean that you cannot attend other meetings.
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    Stick with the group. You may feel a number of reasons to leave or have doubts about the program’s effectiveness, but there are good reasons to keep going. Researchers have found that the longer you attend a group, the more likely you are to call on a sponsor when you need help and then you’re less likely to relapse.[7]
    • The longer you attend group and the more meetings you attend, the more likely you are to be abstinent.
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    Don’t stress religion. Although there is talk of God in many twelve step programs, you do not have to be religious to recover. You and your sponsor can talk about ways to relate to the program that are non-religious. There are twelve step mantras rewritten for agnostics, Buddhists, humanists, Native American traditions, and many other belief systems.[8]
    • Many of the basic principles are the same, dealing with perseverance, justice, power, and so on. The main goal for any twelve step program is recovery and self-awareness.
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    Stay anonymous. Though you may want to develop a feeling of camaraderie, understanding, and fellowship, you don’t have to divulge too many personally identifying details. The success of the group often depends on being able to talk freely without worrying that people know who you are in your work or family life.[9]
    • Only give as many details in group as you feel comfortable giving.
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    Keep realistic. Many of these programs are designed to work in concert with any other treatment you are currently undergoing with a professional in the relevant area. These are peer groups to support you, not cure your addiction.[10]
    • Many of these programs can offer information but do not offer other services such as nursing care, legal advice, housing, or other social services.
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    Attend no matter where you are. Even when you are travelling, there are 12 step meetings available around the world.[11]
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    Know your fellow member types. While this may be the most ultimately diverse group you’ve ever attended and people have nothing in common but their addictions, there are certain personality types that tend to emerge. Some people get derailed in meetings by other members with ulterior motives and agendas so knowing what to watch out for will help you stay on track.[12]
    • Sometimes, romantic relationships happen quite innocently but there is also a term for someone who purposefully tries to date the ‘weaker’ new members – ‘the 13th stepper.’ This person takes advantage of members at their most vulnerable.
    • Inevitably, there will be tears. Don’t let yourself get too emotionally drained by the ‘crier’ in the group.
    • The old-timer is the ‘know-it-all’ in the group that has been in recovery for years. Some may find him intimidating but don’t be afraid to call on him for help. He’s seen it all and can likely be a very valuable support person.
    • The ‘dry drunk’ in AA is the one who cannot see how the program applies to him, still thinks of alcohol in a romanticized way, is over-confident in his abilities to stay sober, and tends to blame others for his problems.[13]

Part 2
Negotiating Through the Twelve Steps

  1. Image titled Get Sober with a 12 Step Program Step 13
    Accept that you need help. This first step is admitting that your addiction has power over you and that you need assistance in breaking the cycle. This, some say, is the most important step.[14]
    • People with addictions spend years believing that the substance they are addicted to is helping, not hindering them. That is why this first step is so important – it represents a monumental shift in thinking. This step is about being honest with yourself that you have a problem.
    • Step 1 is humbling but also empowering, because now you have opened up to the possibility of healing.
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    Have an open mind. Although many 12 step programs talk about believing in a higher power in order to help restore your sanity, what this step is really all about is having an open mind to all the possibilities now being presented to you as you explore your journey towards recovery.[15]
    • If it helps, think of the 12 step program itself as the “higher power.”
    • This step is about having hope that there is something out there to help guide you in recovering.
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    Give yourself over to the journey of recovery and those helping you. This step traditionally talks about giving yourself over to God for help, but what can apply from this situation to all 12 step programs is having faith that others, such as your sponsor, can help you.[16]
    • This step is about relying on the goodness and experiences of others.
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    Have courage. Step 4 is usually about putting yourself under a microscope, looking closely at the situations in which you find yourself drinking. You need to make a list of the situations that cause you to relapse or use alcohol.[17]
    • This step can be a really scary and intimate look at yourself, but can be very enlightening and empowering once you truly understand yourself.
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    Ask for and accept help. Steps 5, 6, and 7 are generally about asking your friends, family, sponsors, and others for help, but you also have to be really open to accepting their help, even when that means you get tough love.[18]
    • These steps may involve sharing secrets you’ve not shared with someone else before, and you may feel ashamed of some of the things you’ve done, but this is a natural progression.
    • Ask your friends to help you avoid places that trigger your addiction.
    • Be open, honest, and willing to change.
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    Make amends. Perhaps the second most difficult set of steps after accepting that you have a problem is accepting that you have wronged people with whom you now need to make amends. Steps 8, 9, and 10 are often about making lists of people you have hurt, intentionally or unintentionally, directly, or indirectly, and asking their forgiveness.[19]
    • These lists will likely be fluid documents, changing as new realizations come to you.
    • For example, if your alcoholism led you to drive drunk and you injured another driver, you need to acknowledge your wrongdoing and ask for that person's forgiveness.
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    Carry on. Steps 11 and 12 are often about dedicating yourself to the healing journey, continuing down the healthy path you’re on, and sharing that knowledge and experience with others.[20]
    • Here, you not only strive to increase your own potential, but often take on a service role of sponsoring or helping others to do the same.

Part 3
Believing in Yourself

  1. 1
    Take it slowly. Take it one second, one minute, one hour, and one day at a time. Easy does it. Addiction recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. Alcoholism is a chronic disorder with a danger of relapse.[21]
    • In case you feel the urge to buy something that feeds your drinking problem, put a "no relapse" reminder note in your wallet so you will see it whenever you dig in there to get money.
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    Be confident. Remember that you are in control. The more confident you are in your ability to abstain and recover, the more likely you are to succeed.[22]
    • Understanding your role in your own behavior can help you stop making excuses and increase your self-confidence. Internal locus of control is the extent to which you assume responsibility for your actions and believe you can control your life. Having an internal locus of control better focuses you for future success.[23]
  3. 3
    Don’t give up. If you are not immediately successful, keep trying. You can find a way to make this work for you. It can take a long time to successfully recover from alcohol abuse.[24]
    • It may encourage you to know that about a third of people who are treated for alcohol abuse problems show no further symptoms one year later.[25]
    • Try visualization. A very successful technique in facing fears and overcoming challenges, visualization involves sitting quietly and focusing mentally on what you hope to achieve, watching the scene of you succeeding playing out in your mind.[26]
    • Recite positive affirmations to yourself. These little mantras, such as “I am taking back control of my life and my health” and “I will succeed in my effort to get sober,” help you focus on what is positive about what you’re doing and reaffirm that you’re making the right choice.[27]

Part 4
Changing Life Outside the Program

  1. Image titled Get Sober with a 12 Step Program Step 23
    Get additional help. Alcohol abuse often occurs alongside another issue. You may have concurrent depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns requiring additional professional treatment such as counselling or psychotherapy.[28]
    • These additional resources will help you deal with the underlying psychological and emotional problems that may have lead to the very real physiological problem you now have. Treating the underlying issue will help prevent relapse.
    • You may require a period of inpatient treatment if your alcoholism or withdrawal is putting your immediate health and safety at risk. Twelve step programs are also available in residential treatment facility and hospital settings.
    • Stick to whatever medical routine your doctor orders. You may be put on Antabuse to making drinking alcohol seem repulsive to you, for example.
    • Spiritual help often plays a role in recovery as many people find that getting in touch with their spiritual side strengthens their resolve.
    • Teens with higher religious service attendance are more likely to abstain from substance abuse.[29]
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    Examine your hobbies and social activities. You will likely find that many of your social activities and hobbies involve your addiction, such as drinking at a pool hall. You will need to find other social outings and places to go to that don’t involve your addiction in order to reduce temptation and the association between your addiction and having fun.[30]
    • Go to different places that don’t serve alcohol, such as coffee shops, or invite your friends to play paintball instead of shooting pool at the pub.[31]
    • Ask friends to help you by not drinking around you.
    • Go to a park to socialize instead of a bar.
    • Say "No" clearly and directly if someone offers you a drink. You can say, "No, thank you" or you can go into more detail, such as "I'm not drinking because my doctor said to. I'd appreciate it if you could help me out by not asking me to have a drink."[32]
  3. 3
    Examine your friendships. You may need to distance yourself from friends and social activities that hinder your recovery.[33]
    • Addiction is a very socially debilitating ailment. You will most likely find yourself feeling very uncomfortable in social situations during early sobriety. This is quite normal. An enormous part of the healing process is regaining the ability to create, maintain, and enhance healthy relationships
    • This may be daunting at first, but will become less so with each healthy relationship you form and foster.
    • Continuing with healthy support networks is one of the key factors found in making your journey through the twelve step program a success.[34]
    • Teens with strong social support networks are more likely to abstain from substance abuse.[35]
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    Get your family into a support group. Support for family members is available through various programs such as Al-Anon and Alateen. Having your family members in a support group will help them to help you, by educating them on your illness and offering them ways of coping while you are in recovery.[36]
    • If you have a family member who abuses alcohol, get them into a support and treatment program as well to increase the chances of both of you recovering.
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    Clean out your home. Reduce any temptation that lingers in the house or at work. Don't keep alcohol at home, even if you don't drink any more. Don't even keep cooking wine around. Remove barware, corkscrews, pub glasses -- anything that would remind you of drinking.[37]


  • These steps can also apply to other addictions besides alcohol.
  • While you are recovering from alcohol abuse, beware of substitute addictions that may enter your life, such as shopping, food, or sex. Some people have an ‘addictive personality’ and may exchange one addiction for another. There are 12 step programs for these problems as well.

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