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A Humanist Alternative to A.A.'s Twelve Steps - The Humanist, July/August 1987

A Humanist Alternative to A.A.’s Twelve Steps

A human centered approach to conquering alcoholism

by B.F. Skinner

Several people have told me that they turned to Alcoholics Anonymous for help but have been offended by its heavily religious character. In view of this, I have proposed a humanistic alternative to A.A.’s “The Twelve Steps.” I sent this version to Alcoholics Anonymous, suggesting that they offer it as an alternative for nonreligious members. I was not suggesting that they abandon their own twelve steps. I was told, however, that it would be impossible to change their practices without a majority vote of all Alcoholics Anonymous and was assured that many atheists and agnostics have found the original twelve steps helpful. Humanist counselors may, nevertheless, find an alternative version useful. Below are listed both “The Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous and my suggested alternative:


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 then 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 under-stood 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.


1. We accept the fact that all our efforts to stop drinking have failed.
2. We believe that we must turn elsewhere for help.
3. We turn to our fellow men and women, particularly those who have struggled with the same problem.
4. We have made a list of the situations in which we are most likely to drink.
5. We ask our friends to help us avoid these situations.
6. We are ready to accept the help they give us.
7. We earnestly hope that they will help.
8. We have made a list of the persons we have harmed and to whom we hope to make amends.
9. We shall do all we can to make amends, in any way that will not cause further harm.
10. We will continue to make such lists and revise them as needed.
11. We appreciate what our friends have done and are doing to help us.
12. We, in turn, are ready to help others who may come to us in the same way.

B.F. Skinner, 1972 Humanist of the Year, continues his research and writing at Harvard University.

(Source: The Humanist, July/August, 1987)


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