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The Full History Of The 12 Steps Of AA

Posted on June 23, 2021

The Full History Of The 12 Steps Of AA

Are you interested in trying the Twelve Step programme? Perhaps you’ve attended a meeting or two and want to find out where exactly it came from.

The Office for National Statistics recently reported that there was a 19.6% increase in drug-related deaths in England and Wales in 2020. 7,423 deaths were recorded (many due to liver disease and others related to associated psychological issues).(1)

This is a tragedy. With this in mind, it’s useful to consider some of the most successful treatment methods available to those who have drinking problems.

Twelve Steps is one of the most popular and successful rehabilitation programmes that exists. It’s been around since the 1930s and is now thought to have around 2 million members throughout the world.

What does Twelve Steps mean?

Twelve Steps is a programme (or recovery model) that came out of the Alcoholics Anonymous group. It was designed to provide members of AA a process to follow to empower them to become sober. You’ll enjoy discovering the history of Twelve Steps and learning about the person who created it as described below.

The care, compassion and honesty of the approach is what many people require when making the first steps towards sobriety. And by the time you get to the bottom of this page, the Twelve Steps will be bulleted for you as well.

You’ll quickly understand why the Twelve Step programme swept throughout the world. From its humble beginnings in the early twentieth century to now, Twelve Steps has been a massively powerful and positive influence on millions of lives.

The Founder of Twelve Steps and Alcoholics Anonymous

The founder of Twelve Steps and AA was a gentleman named Bill Wilson (or Bill W). He was from Vermount in the U.S. and born in 1895 (he was Sagittarius, for those of you wondering!)

Bill W faced various difficulties in his younger life and suffered bouts of depression and anxiety. He was raised by his grandparents and his first love died when she was under operation.

It’s clear that like most people who face an addiction, Bill Wilson, experienced harrowing events and mental health issues. People start drinking or taking drugs for all sorts of reasons. It can be linked to both traumatic events, or repeating a behaviour that has been witnessed in other family members.

Bill W’s alcoholism started while he served in the army and when he returned home to his wife, he was admitted to hospital many times. As is to be expected, the addiction negatively impacted Bill W’s life.

What Inspired the Twelve Steps?

In November 1934, an old friend of Bill W’s, Ebby Thacher, contacted him. Previously, they had drank together, but Thacher was sober due to support from the Oxford Group which was a Christian group he was a part of. Thacher had been signposted to the Oxford Group by none other than the infamous psychiatrist, Carl Jung.

Thacher’s sobriety had a hugely significant impact on Bill W.

It’s no secret, however, that Bill W really wasn’t keen on religion. Interestingly, it was reported that BIll W experienced what he considered an epiphany where he realised recovery could be a spiritual experience without being a religious one.

Bill W once stated, “It was only a matter of being willing to believe in a Power greater than myself. Nothing more was required of me to make my beginning.” 

Another source of inspiration for Bill W was gained from his doctor, Dr WIlliam Silkworth, who introduced the theory of alcoholism as a disease.

During the time Bill W was doing his best to remain abstinent he became very friendly with a gentleman known as Dr Robert Smith (or Dr Bob). Bill W, in fact, moved in with Dr Bob and shared his ideas about the Twelve Steps. These two supported each other to remain sober.

The two came up with the idea for a group that they would call, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Where Twelve Steps started

Alcoholics Anonymous founding date was 10th June 1935.

The 10th June 1935 is considered the founding date of AA. This was the date that Dr Bob had his last drink.

Over the next few years, Bill W and Dr Bob would continue to attend Oxford Group meetings but were also working on building a new type of group. One that would focus on supporting people addicted to alcohol.

During this time they came up with a list of six principles that governed their lives of sobriety.

In 1937 the two founders of AA started raising funds to begin the AA fellowship, which would be separate from the Oxford group. Its aim being to support people with drinking problems.

So what happened next?

Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book was published in April 1939.

In 1938, Bill W and Dr Bob started writing the Big Book. Originally, the purpose of the book was to support those who couldn’t attend AA groups. It was for those who might feel alone and as though there was no-one else they could connect to who understood addiction to alcohol.

In the book there was something that would come to change the world of addiction. It would change how practitioners and people with drinking problems would approach treatment and recovery.

The Origin of the Twelve Steps

This Big Book was redrafted many times. Members of the early AA group that Bill W and Dr Bob had formed all wanted to give input and, indeed, helped create the book. There were some clashes of opinion, mainly around how religious the book and Twelve Steps should seem. This is why God is also referred to as “God as you know Him” and a “Higher Power”. It’s to be inclusive to those who are agnostic.

Eventually, there came a point where the book was finished and it was published in 1939. The book would go on to become the guideline to which AA groups all over the world would be governed by.

The Big Book included the world-renowned Twelve Steps.

Interesting fact: Bill W reported that it took him approximately thirty minutes to write out the Twelve Steps. Before this moment, the AA groups that he and Dr Bob ran focused on six principles. Bill W based the Twelve Steps on these six. He wanted to ensure there was no wriggle room for people with alcohol addictions to make excuses to drink. This is why the Twelve Steps are very clear.

In 1953, the book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions was published. This further outlined the principles of AA.

Other Groups that emerged inspired by AA

As the message and success of AA and the Twelve Steps spread, other peer groups emerged. They ran separately to AA and although they often used the Twelve Steps as a basis for their own guidelines, these were adapted to suit the needs of their own members.

The other groups that emerged included:

There are currently many more peer lead groups across the world supporting people with various issues that use the Twelve Steps as a type of guideline.

The Purpose of AA

Twelve Steps is often practiced within AA groups. It’s also used within various drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

The goal of the group is sobriety. The only requirement for joining is that the person wants to be sober.

One of the most important aspects of AA and following the Twelve Step programme is the connection it brings to others through peer support. Being around people who are in the same position and who have complete understanding provides a safe, non-judgmental space to gain this.

Members of Twelve Steps are also encouraged to spread the Twelve Steps to others who are living with alcoholism. This includes speaking with other people who are also addicted to alcohol and sharing the message.

Regular attendance at meetings is encouraged in order to support a life of sobriety. This means working through the Twelve Steps. This begins by relinquishing control to a person’s Higher Power.

After this, accepting wrongdoings and making amends for these where possible is necessary. Finally, members are encouraged to pray or meditate in order to connect with their Higher Power.

Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to find actual statistics for the success rate of people in Twelve Step programmes. The reason for this is due to the foundation principle of AA that people remain anonymous. Despite this, it’s generally acknowledged throughout the world that for those who attend Twelve Step meetings regularly, sobriety can be achieved and maintained.

It’s also acknowledged that peer support groups work incredibly well for those with alcohol addictions. Finally, it’s often recognised that completing the Twelve Steps supports people in finding their true purpose and being able to live a meaningful life.

Finally: What are the Twelve Steps?

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.




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