A Timeline for Working the 12 Steps - The Discovery House Los Angeles CA
A Timeline for Working the 12 Steps

A Timeline for Working the 12 Steps

One of the most common things a newbie asks about the 12 steps, is how long is this going to take?

It’s understandable. Even if you won’t admit it, we know you’re excited about recovery. Who wouldn’t be? But here’s the thing. 

“Everyone recovers at his or her own pace and experiences sobriety in his or her own time.”

In this post, we’re going to share some advice about the 12 steps and talk about how you can find a timeline that works for you. 

A Timeline for Working the 12 Steps

Table of Contents

  • What is the Twelve-step Program
  • What is the Best 12 Step Timeline?
  • When Should I Start Working the Steps?
  • How Long Should It Take Me to Complete Each Step?
  • When Should I Be Finished With Them?

Loved one struggling with addiction? Get our free family help guide here. 

What is the Twelve-step Program? 

Before we dive in, it might be helpful for you to know what the 12 steps actually are.

If you’re a newbie – that’s cool. Many people have come before you and have been in your exact situation.

The twelve-step program has been around for a long time and has helped hundreds and thousands of men and women overcome alcohol and drug addiction. They were first published in Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as The Big Book), which was written by Bill Wilson (known better as Bill W.) They were later adapted and applied to countless other recovery programs such as Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon. Many treatment facilities find that utilizing evidence-based behavioral therapy combined with 12 step program offers the best chance for people to maintain sobriety long-term. 

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The 12 Steps of Recovery

Step 1: Admitting Powerlessness – Tips and Personal Stories 

The 12 Steps of AA or any drug recovery program start with acknowledging the problem, and this can be a vulnerable time. One of the best tips is to listen to the personal stories of others, sharing their powerlessness and triumphant tales about recovery. 

Step 2: Belief in a Higher Power – Challenges and Guidance 

The 12-Step program in Alcoholics Anonymous encourages belief in a higher power, whatever that means to you. It could be a social support system, God, a spiritual belief, or anything that can provide an anchor against the stormy seas ahead. 

Step 3: Decision to Turn Over Control – Understanding and Application 

People new to the 12-step system often wonder how long do the 12 Steps take, and that’s completely normal. But there comes a point where one has to let go of control. Give yourself over to the process and trust your own pace of recovery. 

Step 4: Making a Moral Inventory – Practical Approaches and Support 

This step requires that you reflect on the history of your substance abuse, your character, and how you behave in all areas of life. This can provide valuable insights and revelations you can use to stay on track when “working the steps.” 

Step 5: Admitting Wrongs – Strategies for Honest Communication 

One of the hardest of the 12 Steps of AA, admitting the wrongs of your past starts with confessions. This can be to yourself in private, to a support group, or to a therapist who can help you devise strategies for effectively communicating and admitting wrongs to those who were affected by your behavior. 

Steps 6 and 7: Readiness to Remove Shortcomings – Preparing and Acting 

Step 6 is almost like cleaning the house to prepare for new furniture and a state of renewed order. It requires deep introspection to understand triggers, character flaws, and one’s responses. When truly absorbed, this step can make you pause before engaging in a negative behavior. 

Step 7 requires deep humility and surrendering all demands of a negative behavior or character flaw. It’s constant work to stay aware of the power of these flaws while you’re working the steps. Practicing humility and acceptance of past mistakes are foundational building blocks to develop during this time.  

Step 8: Making the List – Approaching Amends with Sensitivity 

One of the most important steps in recovery is to repair relationships that suffered due to one’s substance abuse. This process starts with making a list of people to whom we need to apologize. It might feel scary, but this is a great act of courage. 

Step 9: Direct Amends – Balancing Courage with Consideration 

Working the steps — whether it’s the 12 Steps of AA or another recovery program — is never easy. But one of the most difficult and often cathartic steps is to take responsibility and admit wrongs to yourself, family, and friends in a sensitive manner. This is important to repair trust. 

Steps 10 to 12: Continuing the Journey – Daily Practices and Spiritual Awakening 

These steps prepare you for continued recovery after the program. Step 10 is all about building a habit of recognizing disturbances that can trigger a relapse and also promptly admitting when a character flaw arises and hurts a loved one.  

Step 11 encourages you to find your spiritual or religious anchor and to deepen your connection with it. This will provide a rock in tough times. Step 12 asks that you share your story with those who are still struggling, providing you with purpose and a sense of humility.  

After the 12 Steps: Maintaining Recovery and Supporting Others 

How to work the 12 Steps of AA or other recovery programs successfully is not bound to a specific time. You must move at a pace that feels authentic and healing to you. This leads to a solid foundation full of daily practices to stay sober. Continuing to support others also reminds you of how far you’ve come and how proud you can be of your progress.  


If you want to learn more about the 12 steps and how to apply them so that they work for you – Jorge is your guy. He’s been there so he can tell you exactly how it works if you work it. Don’t forget to share with anyone that might find it helpful.

What is the Best 12 Step Timeline?

In the early days, many people find that learning to live a life free from mood and mind-altering substances is demanding enough without worrying about step work. Others obsess about it and “should” all over themselves; thinking they “should” be feverishly working through the steps, even though they might not feel ready.

Nevertheless, newcomers often feel a need to attach a timeline to the recovery process in order to gain some insight into how the 12 step program works.

When Should I Start Working the Steps?

There are no “shoulds” when it comes to working the 12 steps.

There is no race. There is no rush. There is no hurry. There is no definite calendar when it comes to step work and – you guessed it – there is no timeline. Step work is something that comes in its own time and is completed in its own time. There is no guideline as to how long you should spend on each step or how long of a break you should take between steps.

Sometimes you even come back to steps long after you think you’re finished with them. Often people never stop working the steps but they just become ingrained in their everyday life. 

That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the 12 steps are where you will find healing, freedom, and serenity. Ultimately, you will find yourself experiencing a spiritual awakening as a result of working the steps. You will hear the message of recovery in meetings, but only when you work the steps will you truly experience recovery.

If you’ve never attended an AA meeting or an NA meeting and would like to know about meetings in your area, call 818.452.1676 and we’ll send you a directory. 


The Many Benefits of the 12 Steps

The 12 steps will help you overcome your powerlessness and unmanageability. The steps help you identify a higher power and teach you how to surrender to that power. They also help you get to know (and love) yourself. The steps also teach you to forgive others and show you how to seek forgiveness. In short, the 12 steps offer a magnificent journey that takes you from the depths of despair and sets you right with the world.

If you’re loved one is struggling with addiction, download our free family help guide here. 

Many people get a sponsor and start working the steps immediately. Some wait until they feel mentally and emotionally ready to do so. Just keep in mind that you need to work the steps in order to experience all the gifts sobriety has to offer. If you decide to wait to get to work, that’s okay –just don’t wait too long. Some people remain abstinent for years and never work a single step…..not a good idea. (After all, we are living and working a 12-step program, not a no-step program!)

Battling the disease of addiction/alcoholism is no small feat. It requires incredible strength, courage, and determination. Kudos to you for making the effort to better your life!

You’ll know when you’re ready to move forward in your recovery and tackle the 12 steps. If you don’t, your sponsor will give you a nudge to get you going!