12 Step Glossary

12 Steps: The 12 steps are a set of guiding principles established by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. These principles make up the basis of most, if not all, 12 step programs and are said to lead to spiritual awakening. They outline the course of action that should be taken to overcome an addiction-related or mental health issue. They start with the admittance that members are powerless over addiction and compulsion, and go on to recognize that the Higher Power is the only thing that can help them overcome. The 12 steps help members recognize their errors, make amends, and learn to live a new life.

12 Traditions: The 12 Traditions were first published in 1946 and were intended to help Alcoholics Anonymous and related groups function effectively. The twelve traditions provide guidelines for the relationships between groups, members, and the larger organization. They were formally adapted at AA’s First International Convention in 1950 and have been a part of AA and other 12 step groups ever since.

13th Step/ 13th Stepping: The 13th step is not an official part of twelve step groups, but it is widely understood in the 12 step community. 13th stepping is when someone in a recovery group pursues sexual relations with another person in the group. It usually refers to someone who is more of a veteran in the group initiating relations with a newcomer, or someone with less than a year of sobriety. 13th stepping is viewed negatively in the 12 step community.

Acceptance: In Alcoholics Anonymous circles and literature, acceptance is considered the key to understanding the teachings of the 12 steps, to achieving serenity, and to sobriety.

Al-Anon/Alateen: Al-Anon and Alateen were founded in 1951 by Lois Wilson, the wife of AA co-founder Bill W., and her friend Anne B.. The organization was created to help families and loved ones of alcoholics find their own recovery. Alateen is a section of Al-Anon specifically for teens. Al-Anon groups are now established around the world. Other 12 step groups have formed similar organizations for the loved ones of people who struggle with different kinds of addictions and compulsions.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the first ever 12-step group. It was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. It is a mutual aid fellowship run by and for recovering alcoholics with a mission to stay sober and help others achieve sobriety. The AA founders wrote both the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions that act as the basis of many other similar groups that exist today. AA is now an international organization with many members, and all AA groups are free and open to anyone with a desire to achieve sobriety.

Anniversary Medallion/Coin/Token: Many 12 step groups use medallions, also called tokens or coins, to mark a person’s sobriety ‘birthday’. Newcomers may get a medallion at the beginning of their participation in a twelve step group as a way of saying ‘welcome’, and ‘keep coming back’. Medallions are then given at occasions when individuals have achieved a certain amount of sobriety, or time abstaining from their addiction or compulsion. Medallions are given out every three months, six months, yearly, or at other intervals depending on the particular group.

Basic Text: The Basic Text, called Narcotics Anonymous, is the fundamental text of Narcotics Anonymous. It is composed of two books. The first book includes the twelve steps and traditions of the NA program, and the second includes personal stories from the NA community.

Big Book: The Big Book, which is actually titled Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism though it’s more commonly referred to as the Big Book, is the founding text of Alcoholics Anonymous. It was primarily written by Bill Wilson, and it describes how to recover from alcoholism using the twelve steps. Personal stories, anecdotes and examples are given throughout. It is one of the best-selling books of all time and is considered to be a spiritual text for many AA members.

Bill W. (Bill Wilson): Bill Wilson, often referred to as Bill W. to honor the anonymous nature of AA, is a co-founder of AA and author of the Big Book.

Birthday or Sobriety Birthday: Also called “anniversary”, the 12 step community considers a person’s ‘birthday’ to be the first day they achieved continuous abstinence from drugs, alcohol, or the compulsion they are working to overcome. Each year on that day they celebrate their birthday, and their time in recovery accumulates. If a person relapses, their sobriety time starts over and their birthday is changed to the next day they achieve continuous abstinence.

Character Defects: Contact with the Higher Power is necessary for recovery with the twelve steps, and character defects block that, according to the AA literature. These character defects are selfishness, fear, dishonesty, and self-seeking behavior, among other things.

Denial: In the AA and 12 step recovery community, denial is the opposite of acceptance. Denial is a symptom that an alcoholic or addict is still suffering, and has not yet given themselves over to their Higher Power.

Disease: Alcoholism and addiction are widely considered to be a disease. Recovery programs exist as a way to overcome the disease, though even in abstinence alcoholics and addicts in the 12 step community still consider themselves to have a disease.

Dr. Bob Smith: Dr. Bob is a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Drunkalogue: In 12 step meetings, when a person goes on at length about their intoxicated experiences it is called a drunkalogue.

Dry Drunk: A ‘Dry Drunk’ is a person who has quit drinking but who does not experience as fulfilling a life as they should in recovery. Instead of finding a new life in their sobriety, they act as if they are stuck in a life that will not be as good as it was with alcohol. They may be angry and resentful, and they live their life as they had before only without drinking. In AA terms, a dry drunk may not have found AA yet and be a critic of it, or they may be unwilling to fully participate in the teachings of AA.

Ebby Thatcher: Ebby Thatcher was a drinking partner of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson, and he later served as his sponsor. Thatcher introduced Wilson to some of the principles that AA developed, which he was exposed to in his time with The Oxford Group. The concept of sponsorship and alcoholics talking with one another about their experiences is something Thatcher helped introduce, as are many ideas that make up the 12 steps.

Fellowship: A fellowship is a group of people who share a similar vision, or who are working toward a similar goal. Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship, and other similar groups are also considered to be fellowships.

Geographical Cure: The term ‘geographical cure’ is used to refer to the action of moving away from a familiar place in order to further a person’s recovery.

Grapevine: The Grapevine is an Alcoholics Anonymous publication and website that helps spread the AA message.

Gratitude: Gratitude is an important attitude in the 12 step community, and is often discussed in meetings and between members. It involves thankfulness and showing appreciation.

H.A.L.T.: HALT is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired, and these are considered to be four main signs of potential addiction relapse. These words are taught to people in Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery groups as a way of self-monitoring and for monitoring other friends in the program to help people avoid relapse and maintain abstinence.

High Bottom/High Bottom Drunk: Some people find the 12 steps and recovery before they cause too much damage in their lives. These people are called ‘high bottom drunks’, and the term is the opposite of hitting ‘rock bottom’.

Higher Power: The Higher Power is a spiritual being, or simply a power greater than the individual, that can help the person overcome their addiction. This is a central part of the 12 steps. For many people their Higher Power is God, but it does not have to be so. Some people consider the power of the group to be their higher power, and this helps people who do not believe in God feel comfortable with the 12 step program.

Hitting Rock Bottom: Hitting rock bottom is considered the point when a person decides that their addictive behavior has gone too far and that they need help. This doesn’t have to mean that the person has lost everything in their life, but more-so refers to a low point where they turn to others for help.

Home Group: Most members of 12 step programs, whether it is Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous or some other program, have a regular group that they attend and this is called their home group. Having a home group helps develop the sense of community that is so important for 12 step programs and helps people stay committed to working their program.

Inventory: In steps four and ten of the 12 steps individuals are asked to take inventory of their character defects and resentments, along with mistakes they have made while in active addiction.

Low Bottom/Low Bottom Drunk: A low bottom drunk is a person who experienced a lot of problems in their life because of alcohol. It refers to a person who did not find sobriety until alcohol had already caused them a lot of harm.

Narcotics Anonymous: Narcotics Anonymous is a large organization of men and women who have a problem with drug addiction and who use the 12 steps to help them overcome. Meetings for NA started in the early 1950s, and the group was formally founded in 1953.

Newcomer: A newcomer is a person who is new to meetings and to the 12 step community.

recovery groups

The twelve-step community involves concepts that are new to many people.

Ninety in Ninety: When a person first begins attending meetings, they often receive the advice that they should attend ninety meetings in their first ninety days – or one meeting a day for the next three months. This helps them to build a strong foundation to their recovery.

Old-Timer: Old-timers are people who have been a part of the 12 step community for many years and who have many years of sobriety.

One-Stepper: People who come into a 12 step fellowship and accepts the first step – their powerlessness over their addiction – but doesn’t ever progress through and work on the other steps.

Open Meeting: An open meeting is a 12 step meeting that is open to the public.

Oxford Group/Oxford Group Movement: The Oxford Group is a Christian evangelical group that greatly inspired the founding members of AA. The 12 steps and many of the main ideas and practices behind AA, and thus other 12 step groups, come from the Oxford Group Movement. AA was formerly a part of the Oxford Group Movement, but split apart not long after its formation in order to welcome people of all faiths.

Pigeon: In some areas of the world newcomers are also called pigeons.

Pink Cloud: The period of early sobriety, usually for the first three to six months, is typically very happy. This period is referred to as the ‘Pink Cloud’, and it is important to recognize so that when it ends people do not feel such a sense of disappointment, and are aware of the realities of daily life.

Preamble: AA meetings typically begin with a reading of the preamble of the Big Book, which discusses their common desire to stay sober.

Program: The 12 steps are often referred to by people in twelve step fellowships simply as ‘the program’. ‘Working the program’ is a way of saying that you are following the 12 step program and working through your steps.

Recovering Alcoholic/Addict: In the 12 step culture, no one is ever truly ‘cured’ from addiction. Instead, they always refer to themselves and others in their community as ‘recovering’.

Relapse: Having a slip in your sobriety or failing to avoid addictive behaviors or drug use is called a relapse. Relapses may last for one day or for many days. A relapse means that the person starts fresh in their program and their recovery time goes back to day one.

Rooms/The Rooms: AA and other 12 step meetings are commonly referred to as ‘the rooms’ and what happens there is referred to as what happens ‘in the rooms’.

Serenity: Working the 12 steps is meant to help people reach a level of enlightenment and peace that is referred to as serenity. It means that no matter what is happening in their life they are content and at peace.

Serenity Prayer: This is a prayer that many 12 step fellowships hold dear and say at the beginning of meetings. It reads: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Service: Service is a part of the 12 steps and is an important part of the program. Service loosely refers to the act of helping other people achieve and maintain sobriety.

Sharing: When people talk at 12 step meetings it is called sharing.

Slip: A ‘slip’ usually refers to a time when a person engages in an addictive behavior, but only to a small degree, such as having one beer. It means that the person realized it right away and avoided a full relapse. Each group views slips differently, and they may or may not require a person to restart their ‘clean time’ because of a slip.

Slipper Place/Slippery Slope: Bars, social outings, going out with former drinking buddies and other situations that may tempt a person to engage in their addictive action or behavior are referred to as slippery places. It can also refer to a series of situations that leads to anger and resentment or other feelings that could lead to relapse.

Sober: More than simply referring to being ‘dry’, ‘sober’ in the AA and 12 step community refers to being in a higher state of spirituality and peace.

Sobriety: Similar to ‘sober’, the word ‘sobriety’ means more to people in the 12 step community than simply not being intoxicated. Sobriety means that a person is not engaging in substance use, is working a good program, and is doing the right things. Sobriety also implies more mental wellness than a person had when they were in active addiction.

Sponsee: A sponsee is someone who benefits from the help of a sponsor.

Sponsor: Sponsorship is an important aspect of 12 step groups. A sponsor is a member who has been a part of the group for a fair amount of time, meaning they have been sober for some time, who takes a newcomer under their wing. The sponsor relationship continues as each person works their program and grows and develops. The sponsor counsels and guides someone with less experience than they have.

Step Study/Step Study Meetings: Some 12 step groups have meetings devoted to studying specific steps and discussing what that step really means and how to accomplish it.

Three-fold Illness: This term is used to show that addiction is viewed in the 12 step community as a condition that is mental, physical and spiritual.

Two-Stepper: A two-stepper is someone who has admitted their powerlessness over their addiction, as per the 1st step, and who ‘carries the message’, as per the 12th step, but who has not actually done work on any of the steps in between.

White Knuckling: White knuckling is considered the opposite of the serenity brought upon by sobriety. People who are ‘white knuckling’ their sobriety are typically unhappy in sobriety and having a very difficult time.

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