A twelve-step program is a self-help, or support, group made up of people who share the same addiction or compulsion. The first and most popular of these programs is Alcoholics Anonymous, but there are twelve-step programs for many other addictions such as narcotics, gambling, overeating or nicotine.
Twelve-steppers usually meet once a week in a church or school all-purpose room or other public area. In these meetings, members commonly discuss what led them down the path to their addiction and what made them seek help. Members of the program will support those who are in trouble and applaud those who are victorious. Many of these meeting open with a prayer. The rest of the meeting will include personal stories of different members of the program.
The "twelve-steps" refer to the steps a recovering addict must take to overcome his addiction as part of this program. The first step is to admit one has a problem. While the steps may be different for each addiction or compulsion, the idea is the same. Besides admitting one's addiction, members also have to own up to their past mistakes and make any necessary amends. This may mean apologizing to anyone the addict has hurt in the past.
Most twelve-step programs, most famously Alcoholics Anonymous, are spiritual in nature. Although God is mentioned often in the twelve steps, they are not considered religious programs. Members are required, however, to seek help from a higher power and atone for their sins. This isn't always the case though. Because there are now so many different addiction and compulsion recovery programs, there are different steps for each and some are not considered spiritual or religious.
In addition to encouraging an addict to admit problems and make amends, twelve-step programs also encourage members to regain control of their lives and offer solutions and emotional support so they will avoid future temptation. Twelve-step programs aren't considered rehabilitation. Instead they are considered "recovery" programs, as in recovering one's life.