What Is the 12-Step Recovery Program?

When encountering an addiction recovery program — whether for pornography, alcohol, drugs, or eating disorders — you will encounter a variation of the 12-step program.  In the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous was the first group to draft 12 steps to addiction recovery, and since then, other organizations and religious denominations have adopted similar steps.eDLHCtzRR0yfFtU0BQar_sylwiabartyzel_themap

Why do so many groups use the 12-step program? Because it works. The steps provide a map to your recovery through acceptance, selfless acts, and repentance. It breaks you out of isolation and forms connections through reliance on God and others for help and restitution.

What also makes the program effective is that it’s a life-long commitment. Once you have completed the steps yourself, you’re given the challenge to practice the principles again and again through aiding other people as they overcome their addictions.

We have published a series of articles based on the 12-step program, expanding on the principles of these programs. You can also visit Alcoholics Anonymous and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more information (the latter with minor variations on the former). Below are the current 12-step programs from Alcoholics Anonymous and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, demonstrating the differences.

No matter your religious beliefs or claimed denomination, you can find support and relief through utilizing these steps. We hope that you will join us in exploring the tried-and-tested 12 steps toward freedom from addictive oppression.

  Alcoholics Anonymous Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
1 We admitted we were powerless over [our addictions]—that our lives had become unmanageable. Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable.
2 Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.
3 Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
4 Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.
5 Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. Admit to yourself, to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, to proper priesthood authority, and to another person the exact nature of your wrongs.
6 Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.
7 Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings.
8 Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them.
9 Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed.
10 Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong promptly admit 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. Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out.
12 Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to [others battling pornography addictions], and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, share the message with others and practice these principles in all you do.

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Steps 1-3: Admit, Believe, Decide

This article is part of a series about the 12-step program. For more information, read The 12-Step Recovery Program by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.

One of the most remarkable miracles performed by Jesus Christ was walking on water (Matthew 14). On a stormy night, he walked to the wave-tossed ship that his disciples sailed in. Among them was Peter who asked Him, “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” Jesus said, “Come,” and Peter walked toward Him. After a moment, Peter sank, and Jesus caught him and inquired, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

The story of Peter is a parable as much as it is a miracle. Rarely do you begin life sinking. Rather, you are full of hope and faith in the days ahead of you. Inevitably, the waves and the wind will crash against you; addiction and other distresses and temptations will come your way. If you let them, they can bring you down, and they can lead to loss of faith. That is when you sink.

But the story of Peter isn’t about losing faith. It’s about Peter — when he was sinking, when his faith was faltering, when the wind and the waves were too strong for him to stand on his own — reaching up to the Savior and crying, “Lord, save me!”

1. Admit that you are powerless.

Addiction does not enable you. It does not aid you. It does not empower you in any way. It is the waves and the wind, pushing you down, deeper and deeper, until you are drowning in its effects.


Accepting this is vital to overcoming addiction.

The first step of recovery is admittance. As mentioned in Road to Recovery: Owning the Addiction, this step is important in overcoming addiction. Change cannot happen until you know what needs to change. You need to realize and admit that you are powerless and need outside help.

2. Believe the power of God will restore you.

When he realized he was sinking, Peter sought aid from the source he knew was greatest. Though he lacked faith to continue walking on the stormy sea, he believed in the power of Jesus Christ.

Through believing in and seeking the enabling power of God, you can find the strength to overcome addiction. This greater power will restore your spirituality, making you whole again.

3. Decide to turn your will and life to God.

Through admittance, you realize you are powerless. Through believing, you know you need God. Through deciding, you give your will to Him.

This step is where belief becomes faith, and faith becomes action. This is where you actively and earnestly decide to put your life in God’s hands. This is where you cry along with Peter, “Lord, save me!”

When Peter sought Jesus’ help, “immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand” to pull him out of the water. Though Peter had a moment of sinking, he went on to be the head of Christianity and a missionary of faith and hope. He went from a shaking man to a man with unshakable faith.

When going through the 12-step program, remember this: There is hope. Though all you can see around you is the wind and the waves, there is hope.

When you reach out to Him, He will instantly reach out to you, too.

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Steps 4 & 5: Honest Confession

This article is part of a series about the 12-step program. For more information, read The 12-Step Recovery Program by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints.

Now is the time to act.

You have admitted that you’re powerless. You have come to believe that there is One powerful enough to change and restore you. You have decided to give Him your will. This requires action. You must act to take these next few steps and make them more concrete, more tangible.

Now is the time to be honest.

These steps require integrity to the fullest. Being honest with yourself and others is necessary to make progress with your recovery.

4. Write a searching, fearless moral inventory.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an Addiction Recovery Program that walks people step by step via videos, scriptures, study material, and other supplements. The following video shows value in making a searching, fearless moral inventory. It also shows value in writing an account of your deeds and behaviors.

Step four: truth

5. Admit to God, yourself and others your wrongdoings.

In step four, you move from intangible faith to tangible records. In this step, you move from inward admittance to outward confession. You not only admit the nature of your wrongdoings to yourself and God, but you also find confidentiality in others, whether it be a parent, spouse, close friend, counselor, bishop, or other third party.

Isolation is a part of addiction. You are embarrassed, ashamed, and uncomfortable with yourself; however, letting others in erases the loneliness, and connection is essential in recovery.  Admitting to another person your problems lifts your burdens.

Remember to be honest with yourself and others. Talking aloud to someone else helps you achieve that honesty. Verbally expressing your addiction is part of the recovery process. You admit and come to terms that you have a problem.


Once again, be honest. Don’t sugarcoat it. When you do the moral inventory, write it as it is. When you admit your addiction to someone, say it as it is. It’s easy to justify and excuse your actions, but this will only hold you back.

You can’t progress until you are completely honest and entirely engaged. You can’t move if you have your feet in two places at once. You can’t indulge in or rationalize your addiction and be on the road to recovery.

Be fully committed. Be courageous.

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Steps 6 & 7: Readiness and Humility

This article is part of a series of articles about the 12-step program.  For more information, read “The 12-Step Recovery Program.”

You admitted to yourself and others of your addiction. You obtained faith in the power of God.  You exercised agency to practice complete honesty.  These steps and principles don’t disappear when you complete them. Each builds on the ones before it.  Overcoming your addiction requires a continuous effort to practice them.

For steps 6 and 7, having faith in the power of God is essential to continue on the road to recovery.

“A certain man had two sons…” And so begins what might be the most known and recalled parable of Jesus Christ, the parable of the prodigal son. What makes this story so special in Christian theology is that every person can find ways to apply the characterizations of the two sons to their own lives, regardless of background, gender, or age. Those who have been affected by pornography usually see in themselves the younger brother, the prodigal son, the one who strayed and then returned to his father.

6. Become ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.

To be ready, you need to have a change of heart. You need to believe in your recovery, and you need to overcome pride in thinking you can do it alone. Thus, becoming ready includes becoming humble.

4543063042_f74bdb496d_oThe story of the prodigal son doesn’t end with him feeding pigs. It continues with a realization. Before the prodigal son finally returned to his father, he held onto the thought that he could make it on his own and tried to support himself by eating the pig’s leftovers. In this depressing state, he “came to himself” and realized that he needed his father, like all of us when we, too, are at our lowest point.

7. Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings.

Like the prodigal son, you have to look inward and adopt humility. When you realize your spiritual, mental, and emotional poverty, you should look inward. Finding this humility helps you remember that God can restore eternal wealth and richness in your lives. He can remove all of your weaknesses and shortcomings.

After his epiphany, the prodigal son returned to his father who ran to him and embraced and kissed him, despite his ragged appearance and rebellious past.

On this touching scene, Jeffrey R. Holland, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said, “[This] tender image…is one of the most moving and compassionate scenes in all of holy writ. It tells every child of God, wayward or otherwise, how much God wants us back in His protection of His arms.”

As mentioned before, the previous principles apply to these steps, especially faith. Remember step two: come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.

God wants to help. He, like the prodigal son’s father, will run toward you to comfort you, protect you, and once again hold you in His loving embrace.

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Steps 8 & 9: Making Restitution

This article is part of a series of articles about the 12-step program.  For more information, read “The 12-Step Recovery Program.”

The next two steps focus on making amends, or restitution.

Depending on its context, “restitution” can mean different things. It can be the restoration of something lost or stolen, or, with law, it can be an act of justice through payment for harm done. For the 12-step program, restitution is a mixture of both of these. It is the act of making amends for harms you have done in connection to your pornography addiction. It is also an act of restoration for yourself—spiritually, mentally, physically — and for your relationships with others.

8. Make a list of everyone you have harmed and be willing to make restitution to them.

In step 4, you wrote a moral inventory, focusing on yourself. In step 8, you will make another list, focusing on those around you. You will think about every person you have negatively affected. When was it? What were you doing? How did you hurt them?

This will be hard. It may even be awkward, but it will be worth it. Realizing who you’ve harmed is part of your journey of change and path to recovery. It will require a humble heart, charity, and complete honesty.

Once you have your list, move onto step 9, where you will make direct restitution.15297049216_10209f1b8f_k

9. Make direct restitution to everyone you have harmed.

You may know Zacchaeus as the man of so “little in stature” that he had to climb a sycamore tree to see Jesus. His story is more than a lesson in climbing trees; it is a lesson in making amends.

Zacchaeus was a wealthy publican, a tax collector. He and the other publicans were disliked by the Jews because they were often considered greedy and dishonest. Zacchaeus himself was called a “sinner,” but Zacchaeus had such a change of heart that he made complete restitution to those he offended. He explained how he did this to Jesus: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

You can learn from Zacchaeus. Regardless of who he was before, at that moment, he was a humble man full of charity. He was willing to give all he had to make restitution for his wrongdoings.

On your road to recovery, you will need to draw on the principles you learned in previous steps. Through prayer, humbly seek the guidance of God to know who to put on your list and how to make restitution. He can give you power to right your wrongs and mend others’ and  your wounds if you are honest with yourself and others.

Know that He can give you courage to progress.

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Steps 10 & 11: Seek His Will and Do It

This article is part of a series of articles about the 12-step program.  For more information, read “The 12-Step Recovery Program.”

Each step of the 12-step program and its corresponding principles should be practiced continually on your road to recovery. The principles in each step build on the previous and prepare you to be emotionally, physically, and mentally restored. Steps 10 and 11 are continuations of previous steps.

10. Continue to take personal inventory. When you are wrong, promptly admit it.

In step 4, you made a written personal inventory. You practiced complete honesty as you made your list. The same principle applies to step 10. You may choose to make a written list again, or as with steps 4 and 5, you may confide in a friend, professional, or loved one about your successes and failures in breaking your addiction. Do what works for you.

Measuring yourself against your goals helps you see what improvements can be made. By this point, with the help of family, friends, and others, you have made it so far. But you will still have temptations. Maintain your new lifestyle, remember your goals, and promptly fix your wrongdoings.

What makes this step different from the others is the instruction to immediately admit when you are wrong. This step helps you remember to continually practice all the steps of the recovery program. Implement the principles of honesty, grace, diligence, faith, and courage every day.

11. Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have power to carry it out.

Have faith in the Lord’s will. Pursue courage to do it. Seek grace to carry it out.

Remember the example of Peter from steps 1-3. When Christ, while walking on water, said, “Come,” Peter had courage to step onto the tumultuous sea. As he sank in a moment of doubt, he sought the enabling power of God, and cried, “Lord, save me!”

You, like Peter, can be saved through seeking and following God’s will. You won’t step out on stormy waves, but, rather, you will seek His will through prayer and meditation.

Take time to quietly ponder and pray to God. M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spoke on addiction and seeking God’s grace, His enabling power, to heal us: “There is hope because God loves all of His children and because the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ makes all things possible” (“O That Cunning Plan of the Evil One” Ensign, Nov. 2010).

Have hope. God loves you and will help you on your road to recovery.

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Step 12: Share the Message

This article is part of a series of articles about the 12-step program.  For more information, read “The 12-Step Recovery Program.”

This is it: the last step of the 12-Step Addiction Recovery Program. But it’s not the final step of recovery. You’ve made it through the hardest part, but now there’s another journey before you:

  1.  Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, share this message with others and practice these principles in all you do.

Before Paul was a powerful orator, before he was an influential missionary, he was Saul, persecutor of Christians. But he had a change of heart. He was converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and after that conversion, he devoted every minute of his life to sharing the message of Christianity (Acts 22).14711793077_255326d784_k

You’re obviously not Paul, but as you went through the 12-step program, you experienced a change of heart.  Now, it is your turn to devote time and effort to sharing your message of hope and applying these principles.

How can you do that? Service is a great way to fulfill this step. Through service, you can share the message of change through the power of God. Your actions will speak for you as you show charity toward others. Here are a few ways you can serve:

  • Continue to attend addiction recovery meetings. You will do this not just for yourself, not just to remind yourself to stay on the right track, but also for others. Share how you gained a spiritual awakening through your addiction recovery process. You serve by supporting others as they go through the process of addiction recovery.
  • Participate in the anti-pornography movement. Spread awareness of pornography’s harmful effects by word of mouth, social media, and writing. (If you would like to write a guest article for Citizens for Decency’s blog, email us your article.)
  • Join community service organizations. Make a difference in others’ lives and spread the message of love through your community by volunteering. You never know whose life you’ll touch.
  • Seek out someone to serve every day. This may be your co-worker, your spouse, your children, your parents, the man who bags your groceries, the woman who does your dry cleaning, anyone. Little acts of service matter and speak loudly.

Practice the principles of the 12-Step Program over and over through aiding other people as they overcome their addictions.  Just as Blair Turner (name changed) said in “Moving Forward,” overcoming a pornography addiction is a lifelong commitment.

Make it your goal to grow and help someone else progress every day.

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