The History of the 12 Steps

The History of the 12 Steps

12 Steps

An affluent man from Rhode Island, a religious movement called the Oxford Group, a New York stockbroker, an Akron surgeon, and Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung all had a hand in the development of the fellowship now known as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Today the organization estimates its membership at over 2 million people. Understanding the history of the 12 Steps involves an understanding of the men who founded AA as well as the group’s underlying influences.

The Oxford Group

The man from Rhode Island, known as Rowland H., consulted Jung to get help with his own alcoholism. Jung told Rowland that medical assistance would not help him and that he could only find a solution through a spiritual experience. Jung recommended the Oxford Group to Rowland, who would then introduce his friend Ebby, who was from Vermont, to the group. They eventually were successful in giving up their alcohol addiction by practicing the Oxford Group principles.

The Oxford Group was a religious movement popular in the US and in Europe in the early 20th century. The group’s philosophy was focused on six principles of self-improvement, by performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others. These six would eventually be expanded and transformed into AA’s 12 Steps.

Bill W

One of Ebby’s drinking buddies was a man named Bill. A stockbroker who had once enjoyed great success and power, Bill was addicted to alcohol. He had sought medical treatment for his condition but was still drinking when Ebby told his story of transformation. While in the hospital in December 1934 for treatment for his alcoholism, Bill underwent a spiritual experience that changed him, lifting his despair and depression.

Dr. Bob was an Akron surgeon who was also a member of the Oxford Group. When he and Bill W. met and he learned of Bill’s recovery, Dr. Bob was deeply affected. He was convinced by Bill’s ideas that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions, and body. Dr. Bob gave up drinking and he and Bill began to work together to help others addicted to alcohol. The foundation of AA was born.

The 12 Steps

Bill W. began to write the AA book in 1938. The group was not yet named, but the textbook was called Alcoholics Anonymous. The book explained the group’s philosophy and methods, outlining the steps needed for recovering alcoholics. Bill and Dr. Bob had continued to use the Oxford Group’s six steps as they reached out to others who needed help conquering their addiction to alcohol.

When the book was published in 1939, it contained expanded steps for the AA program. The 12 Steps became the focus of AA and have since formed the basis of many treatment programs for addiction, including several programs in the Austin area.

AA’s 12 Steps are:

  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.

The 12 Steps in Austin

The Austin, Texas, area has many organizations available to help you recover from alcoholism and other addictions that are based on the 12-Step program originated by Alcoholics Anonymous. Family programs are also available. AA’s 12 Steps can help you remain abstinent and offer a spiritual toolbox for living a happy, healthier life.


If you are seeking help in the Austin, Texas area, you will find it here. Sober Austin provides resources to those seeking a substance-free life and those who have loved ones struggling with addiction. Contact us directly by calling 512-981-6572 or emailing