12 Step History

The 12 step program itself is over seventy years old, a testament to its durability.

12 Step Origins

Perhaps some of the more important features of the newer editions are the appendixes, which hold valuable information and points of clarity on the role of spirituality and addiction recovery.

The 12 steps followed the creation of A.A. by a few years, and they did not come into being all at once; rather, they developed somewhat organically before coming together in a very short period of time while co-founder Bill Wilson was writing what would become the Big Book in 1938.

He reached the realization that a book was not enough, that they needed a specific program for recovery. A number of the steps had already existed though mostly by word-of-mouth; Wilson’s epiphany was to put what existed under a single banner and add to them what might have been missing. His point was to make the program perfectly explicit through codification. Wilson recollects that writing the steps down required, “no more than twenty or thirty minutes. Seemingly I had to think little at all. It was only when I came to the end of the writing that I re-read and counted them. Curiously enough, they numbered twelve and required almost no editing.”

Those original 12 steps featured the use of God on several occasions, which Wilson reduced down to the minimum. The famous qualifier “as we understood Him” was not added until later. Beyond that, according to Wilson, the 12 steps “stand today almost exactly as they were first written.”

For many of the steps, AA owes a debt of gratitude to the Oxford Group, a Christian organization in existence around the early part of the 20th century that proved influential to early founders of AA. According to Wilson, the Oxford Group “laid particular emphasis on spiritual principles that we needed. But in fairness,” he added, “it should also be said that many of their attitudes and practices” were discarded because they were found to be incompatible.

Since then those 12 steps have been adopted by numerous organizations to deal with everything from narcotics abuse to emotional disorders and more. Each organization typically tweaks the twelve steps only slightly, just enough to emphasize the relevant substance or affliction, and generally-although not always-do so with the approval of Alcoholics Anonymous.