The 12-Step Program: How It Helps Families Dealing With Addiction

How the road to recovery works for families who are battling alcoholism, drug abuse or other addictions.

For any parent overcoming a drinking or drug abuse issue, one of the hardest and most fulfilling aspects of recovery is admitting that he or she has a problem – and, in fact, is willing and ready to change. This is half the battle.

But the other half is making the journey through the much-touted “12-step program.” It’s often associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, which is credited as its creator. However, the steps also are used for various other addictions, from overeating to gambling.

Here’s a look at the process as adapted from and’s “12 Steps of Parenting,” including some of the specific ways it applies to moms and dads.

  1. Admit you are powerless over the substance and that life has become difficult to navigate, including your ability to responsibly guard your children from undue suffering.
  2. Believe that a “power” greater than you can help. This involves a belief that recovery and self-change is possible, often through faith and resolve.
  3. Decide to entrust your will and life to that “power.” It’s also defined as extending a hand for help from your family and community – i.e., embracing the fact that you have support.
  4. Take a “moral inventory.” As a parent, truly assess the role you’ve played in your child’s or children’s lives, from the practical (providing staples, from food to transportation) to the emotional (patience, willingness to listen, supportiveness).
  5. Admit to your “power,” loved ones and support system the wrong you’ve done and caused. In other words, verbally share and “own” your parenting problems – without beating yourself up. (This difficult step takes courage and strength, and it indicates a real step in the right direction.)
  6. Be entirely ready for your “power” to remove all of your “defects of character.” Or, “give up the demand to be perfect.”
  7. Ask your “power” to help you remove your shortcomings. This entails a real and intentional mental shift. And for parents, it also means identifying (and committing to) healthier parenting approaches and techniques.
  8. Craft a list of all the people you’ve hurt, and be willing to make amends for the wrong you’ve caused them. Your children, spouse or partner and family will be high on this list. And self-forgiveness is critical in this step.
  9. Actually make amends with everyone on your list. Parents have to look into their kids’ eyes and apologize – which can be the hardest step. Some hold off on discussing specifics until kids are older. Be mindful of age – but remember, the biggest way to make it up to your kids is by being a better parent (“without over-compensating,” adds).
  10. Continue to take personal inventory and consistently acknowledge that your actions were wrong. In parenting, this translates to modeling honesty and fostering acceptance for family members’ shortcomings.
  11. Pray and meditate to your “power” for the strength to successfully carry out your duties as a parent, spouse, son or daughter, employee, etc.
  12. Arrive at a spiritual awakening. This is where “anonymous” meetings can play a role in providing aide, support, connection and understanding. Meetings serve as a reminder that there is a problem, and that there is a solution. Parents also can reach out to other groups of moms and dads who share in their chosen parenting vision, for community and guidance.

Ultimately, be sure talk to your kids and teach them about the addiction in an age-appropriate way, always allowing them to share their feelings, too.

This post was originally published in 2010 and has been updated for 2016.


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