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Why no one wants to tell you about the 12-Steps

I have a daughter who is 24-years-old. If she had a disease that was the leading cause of death among young adults, I would go to the ends of the earth to learn about the disease, the treatments available and exactly how those treatments work.Hello My Name is Bill W words on a name tag or sticker to illust

I would want to know if there are things we should avoid to prevent her from getting sicker. I would want to know how long the treatment will last and how successful it is. I would talk to other parents whose children have the same disease and find out how they have coped and found help for their children.

Say your child has the disease of addiction. How will you get answers to these questions?

You will likely hear the phrase “12-step program.” The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are arguably the most successful program available to treat addiction. And while most people have heard of the 12-Steps, few outside of the program know what they are, what they mean and how they work.


Because of the 12 Traditions – an outline by which 12-Step programs – Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous – maintain their unity and relate to the outside world.

Most addicts I know – especially those coming out of treatment these days and even those working in the field – don’t have a clue about the 12-Traditions, especially traditions 11 and 12:

Tradition 11
Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films. Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.

Tradition 12
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities. And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.

What these traditions mean is that a recovered addict or alcoholic who has gone through the 12-Steps – likely the best person to describe how the 12-Steps work – cannot break their own anonymity to discuss publicly how they worked the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Simply put, for me to tell you that I am a recovered alcoholic and a member of Alcoholics Anonymous is a huge no-no. Huge. So, what outsiders learn about AA either comes from another outsider who is not an addict or alcoholic or from an anonymous addict or alcoholic.

Reading the Big Book is not enough. The intricacies of how to work the steps and apply them to all our personal affairs is largely unknown to outsiders. Twelve step etiquette, lingo, protocols and behaviors that could signal impending relapse are kept secret.

This means the judges, probation officers, parents and friends of addicts are often blind to whether treatment is working or not. You don’t know the questions to ask to gauge the state of an addict’s recovery.

Personally, I think this is a shame. If you don’t know what you don’t know how are you going to find out?





Why no one wants to tell you about the 12-Steps

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2016). Why no one wants to tell you about the 12-Steps. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 26, 2019, from


Last updated: 21 May 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 May 2016
Published on All rights reserved.