These are the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
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 knawledge 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.
(Sources: Alcoholics Anonymous)
Other twelve-step groups have modified the twelve steps slightly from those of Alcoholics Anonymous to refer to problems other than alcoholism.
The first such program was Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was begun in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, known to A.A. members as "Bill W." and "Dr. Bob." They established the tradition within the "Anonymous" twelve-step programs of using only first names. The Twelve Steps were originally written by Wilson and other early members of AA to codify the process that they felt had worked for them personally. The Twelve Steps were essentially a rewriting of the 6 steps of the Oxford Group with whom Wilson had contact. This "codex" is the book Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as the "Big Book."
The Twelve Steps were eventually matched with Twelve Traditions, a set of guidelines for running individual groups and a sort of constitution for the fellowship (e.g. AA) as a whole.
Many other programs since have adapted AA's original steps to their own ends. Related programs exist to help family and friends of those with addictions as well as those with problems other than alcohol. These programs also follow modified versions of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and include groups like Al-Anon/Alateen, Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Nar-Anon.
One organization which is often confused with an "Anonymous" twelve-step program, due to the intentional similarity of its name — but is not one — is Narconon. Narconon is a branch of the Church of Scientology, presenting Scientology doctrine and practices as a therapy for drug abusers. Narconon does not use the Twelve Steps, and is not related to either Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or to Nar-Anon, despite the similarity of names.
Relation to religion
A primary belief of members is that their success is based on giving up on self-reliance and willpower, and instead relying on God, or a "Higher Power". Critics of these programs, however, often hold that this reliance is ineffective, and offensive or inapplicable to atheists and others who do not believe in a salvific deity. Other critics see forms of authoritarian mind control in the 12 step approach. However, Neo-Pagans tend to view the 12 steps as a tool of empowerment so they do not share these concerns over giving up self-reliance and willpower. Nor do they view the 12 step approach as a form of mind control; they view it a ritual, a set of actions, which is used to help bring about a desired goal. Proponents of twelve-step programs argue that many atheists have been helped by the program and that one's higher power may well be the group itself.
The role of religion in twelve-step groups is an argument of significance in some parts of the United States, where the criminal justice system has held out group participation to inmate addicts as a condition of parole or shortened sentences. Governments in the U.S. are disallowed under the First Amendment from granting privilege to religious belief. Thus, if twelve-step groups are religious (which some people believe a reading of the Twelve Steps makes plain) then this condition is unconstitutional. Members of twelve-step groups commonly attempt to finesse this conflict by making the semantic distinction that they are "spiritual, but not religious." The growing presence of Pagans in 12 step programs, however, would indicate that the 12 steps are spiritual in nature, not dependent upon a specific religion or family of religions, and can be useful for anyone regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs.
Some critics — again, particularly atheists and humanists — also question directly the idea of giving up on self-reliance, which can be seen as a form of idealized despair. Secular alternatives to twelve-step programs, such as Rational Recovery, are for this reason in many ways opposite to the twelve-step process. Others, such as YES Recovery, acknowledge a debt to the twelve-steps movement but do not have a culture of belief in God. Neo-Pagans, who do not have a culture of a belief in God, view the 12 steps as means to increase one's personal freedom by eliminating their addiction and their addictive behaviors, and helping them to avoid causing harm to others.
There are many different ways of interpreting the intent behind twelve-step programs. There are those who argue strongly for a relatively literal adherence to program literature (often referred to as "Big Book Thumpers"), and then there are those who advise "take what you like and leave the rest" and advocate a much more liberal approach. (Note: The phrase "take what you like and leave the rest" cannot be found in the Basic Text of AA or any other A.A. literature.) Two books that look at the twelve-step literature from a more liberal point of view are The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash and A Skeptic's Guide To The Twelve Steps by Phillip Z. Another book, "The Recovery Spiral: A Pagan Path to Healing" by Cynthia Jane Collins, looks at the 12 steps through a Pagan perspective.