The 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are a set of directions, or guiding principles, that can help you address and overcome your drinking problem. These steps are designed to help you achieve long-lasting sobriety and an addiction-free lifestyle.
When you first become an AA member, you will begin with step one and continue working your way through each of the steps as part of your recovery journey. Some AA meetings may discuss each of the 12 Steps regularly, and your AA sponsor can even help you with some of the steps if you need guidance or feel confused about what a particular step means.
Consider the following guide that can help you gain a better understanding of each of AA’s Twelve Steps, and find local AA meetings in your area when ready to start your recovery.
“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
Step 1 is about admitting that alcohol addiction has taken over your life, which may now be unmanageable as a result. It is about admitting powerlessness and acknowledging that you now face negative consequences due to alcohol misuse.
One of the criteria for addiction and substance use disorders, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is having “a persistent desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control the use of the substance.” Step 1 brings to light the fact that you were unable to reduce or control your drinking and are now seeking help and admitting you were powerless to do so.
“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Step 2 is about hope and understanding that recovery from alcohol addiction is possible. Now that you have admitted powerlessness, you can confidently set your ego aside and look to a “greater Power” for guidance, strength, inspiration, and motivation. Your Higher Power does not necessarily have to be God but can be karma, the universe, Mother Nature, or anyone you admire and look up to.
Some people avoid or are put off by AA meetings because they think it is a religious organization or that you must look to God as your Higher Power. However, your Higher Power can be anything or anyone you want it to be, as long as it is a source of inspiration and hope that motivates and empowers you to become and stay sober.
“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
Step 3 is about turning your will over to the Higher Power you have chosen so you can receive the help you need to recover from alcohol misuse. You can also replace “God” in this step with your peers in AA, your friends, and relatives, your doctors and therapists at alcohol rehab, or with your innate strength.
Turning your will may involve asking for help in recovery, such as starting a new treatment program at alcohol rehab or asking your friends and family for their support. It could also involve learning how to meditate, practicing gratitude, learning how to accept yourself as you are, and making positive changes.
Some people in AA struggle with Step 3, which is completely normal. Ask your AA sponsor for help with navigating this step if need be, and spend as long as you need on it until ready for Step 4.
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Step 4 is about acknowledging your faults or all the things you have done to hurt yourself and others on behalf of alcohol addiction. Making this “moral inventory” will bring you one step closer to having the opportunity to correct all these faults or mistakes later in your recovery. Knowing what they are can help you mentally prepare for making amends with others or improving areas of your life affected by alcohol misuse.
The “searching” part of Step 4 involves writing down a list of things or problems you feel you need to improve or fix, such as a relationship that is strained or broken or your career that you need to rebuild. Then, you can review this “inventory” and reflect on the moral importance of addressing each of your faults or action items.
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
One of the main reasons AA is therapeutic is because it allows you to speak openly and honestly about your experiences with alcohol misuse in front of others who share similar experiences and understanding. AA is a stigma– and judgment-free zone and a safe space in which you can talk freely about your emotions and feelings.
Step 5 is about finding the confidence and comfort in talking to others about your recovery. It’s also about becoming more comfortable with allowing yourself to feel guilt and shame, which is a critical and necessary part of the healing process.
AA meetings aren’t the only outlet you can use for Step 5. You can also talk to trusted friends and relatives, your peers at alcohol rehab, or your doctors and therapists. Many addiction treatment centers offer a variety of support group therapies so you can avoid feeling alone or isolated in your recovery and work on rebuilding your confidence and self-esteem.
“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Step 6 is about letting go of harmful behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes that may be holding you back from healing and recovery. This may be one of the more difficult steps of AA, as it requires you to permanently change your mindset so you can go on to live a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.
While practicing Step 6, it’s important to understand that addressing and removing “defects of character” doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. This step may take several months or years.
Many alcohol rehab centers offer therapies that can indirectly help you with Step 6. For instance, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common therapy at alcohol rehab that helps you change negative behaviors and attitudes about alcohol misuse and addiction.
“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”
Step 7 is highly similar to Step 3 but focuses more specifically on humility. By the time you get to Step 7, you should see and recognize both your positive and negative traits and understand that your Higher Power can transform your life. Being humble allows you to continue acknowledging your powerlessness and be more willing to accept change.
“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step 8 is somewhat similar to Step 4 but specifically refers to making a list of all people you have hurt or wronged as part of alcohol addiction. This step allows you to confront and work through feelings like guilt, shame, sadness, and embarrassment that may seem more magnified and serious now that you are sober and have had time to think about and reflect on the way you treated others.
This step is relatively straightforward and maybe one of the easier steps of AA. However, it’s important to take your time on this step, and be sure to list all people you have harmed and with whom you are willing to make amends while on your recovery journey.
“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Step 9 is a continuation of Step 8, as it requires you to take action to make amends with the people you harmed and listed in Step 8. Making amends usually involves offering a sincere apology, acknowledging and admitting that you treated that person wrongly, and taking the necessary steps to repair and mend the relationship with that person.
Step 9 also requires you to ask each person on your list for forgiveness. However, it is very important to understand that these people are not required to forgive you by any means.
When making amends with those you have harmed, do so in person and face to face, if possible. This demonstrates greater courage and is far more personable and meaningful than interactions done via text, email, or telephone.
It is also important to acknowledge the second part of Step 9, which states you should not make amends with those who could be hurt even more by your reaching out to them. Examples include people you may have physically assaulted or ex-partners who have moved on with their lives.
“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
Step 10 of AA is about continuing with your recovery and continuing to grow and be mindful of your behaviors and attitudes, especially as they relate to alcohol addiction.
Taking “personal inventory” continuously and being honest with yourself at all times can help you stay on track with sobriety. This means staying vigilant and avoiding alcohol at all costs even if you’re at a stage in your recovery when you feel more confident than ever about your ability to stay sober.
“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.”
Step 11 is one of the more spiritual steps of AA. It involves continuing to understand and embrace the fact that your Higher Power has a path intended for you and that it may help you to tune in and listen to your Higher Power through prayer and/or meditation.
If you don’t feel comfortable performing the acts of prayer and meditation, you can replace this wording with the concept of making an effort to understand the path your Higher Power has carved out for you. Ask your AA sponsor for help with Step 11 if you need guidance or a better understanding of how you can work on this step based on the type of relationship you have with your Higher Power.
“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.”
When you reach Step 12, you’ve likely come a long way in your recovery and are ready to help others who have a drinking problem. Step 12 is about being selfless and helping others, as this step is intended to remind you where you once were when you initially started AA.
Helping others can help you stay accountable for your own actions including sobriety— and helps you stay active and engaged in your recovery. It can also enhance your relationships with peers in AA and gives you the responsibility of being a trusted person who can share their own insights and wisdom about recovery from alcohol addiction. Step 12 can give you a greater sense of purpose as you continue with your healing.
12 Steps vs the 12 Traditions: What’s the Difference?
The 12 Traditions of AA are a set of 12 general guidelines that help AA members and AA groups maintain healthy relationships with one another. In comparison, the 12 Steps are personal guidelines for AA members who want to recover from alcohol addiction.
You may already be familiar with many of the 12 Traditions, such as Tradition 3 (“the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking”) and Tradition Twelve (“anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles above personalities”).
The 12 Traditions of AA are usually given to you when you first become an AA member.
How Can I Find An AA Meeting Near Me?
The official AA website does not feature a nationwide or worldwide directory of AA meetings. However, there are many third-party directories and websites like Find Support Groups that can help you find a list of meetings in your local area. Select “AA Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step” from the category dropdown menu, then enter your city and state to find an AA meeting today.