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Alcoholics Anonymous Step 1

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If you struggle with alcohol addiction, also referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), you understand how difficult it can be to end your addiction to alcohol. Many people across the country suffer from AUD. In 2019, over 14 million people aged 12 and older met the criteria for an AUD in the United States.1 Fortunately, AUD is a treatable disorder, and treatment can involve a variety of services and interventions. Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can help.

AA is a group of individuals who unite to support one another in ending their addiction to alcohol and work together to achieve sobriety.2 AA is voluntary, free of charge, and open to anyone who wants to stop alcohol use.2 Members of AA meet regularly, and meetings occur across the nation. During meetings, AA members work and apply the 12 Steps, which act as guiding principles to help support you through recovery and help you look at yourself and the world in a healthy, functional, and sober way.2

Today, you will learn more about the specifics of Step 1, misunderstandings about Step 1, and how you can find addiction treatment and/or AA meetings near you.

What Is Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous?

It may be helpful to think of Step 1 as recognition of powerlessness. More specifically, Step 1 states that “we admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable.”3 It is difficult to identify and accept powerlessness over something in your life and that’s because of what powerlessness represents. Powerlessness refers to a lack of strength or resources. Admitting defeat and acknowledging powerlessness is against human nature.3 This makes Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous difficult to approach for many people.

Unmanageable is another element related to Step 1. Unmanageable means that something in your life is difficult to manage or control. In terms of alcohol consumption, unmanageable refers to the destruction that has come because of your alcohol use and that your alcohol use is more than just a habit: it has become a deadly progression that will lead to catastrophic outcomes.3

To summarize, Step 1:3

  • Requires an admittance of defeat and powerlessness over alcohol.
  • Recognizes your alcohol use as more than just a behavior; it is something that is outside of your control, and if help isn’t obtained, it can be deadly.
  • Is required to make progress throughout the 12 Steps and to be able to find strength in recovery.

How to Start and Work Step 1

Making the decision to end your alcohol use is essential for recovery. However, that is just the beginning of the long recovery process. Step 1 requires admitting complete defeat, accepting your weakness and the consequences of your vulnerabilities, and confessing your faults.3 Step 1 is intimidating and challenging because it requires a recognition of powerlessness, acceptance of humility, and humbleness. According to Step 1, being humble is crucial in being able to live a happy and healthy life in recovery.3

When you start Step 1, it can be helpful to let go of feelings of pride and control and accept defeat. Acceptance doesn’t mean you have to like the facts of reality, and it doesn’t mean that you must understand them. Acceptance is a recognition of the facts of reality even when you don’t necessarily like them. For example, you don’t like the fact that you are powerless over alcohol and that’s okay: powerlessness is uncomfortable, and feels vulnerable. Acceptance of your powerlessness can exist at the same time as you not liking or understanding your powerlessness over alcohol.

How to Follow Step 1

Alcoholics Anonymous has assisted more than 2 million people in ending their problematic drinking.4 Requirements of AA are very basic. The only requirement needed to join AA is a desire to end your alcohol use.4

Once you join AA, for it to be effective, there are certain roles and responsibilities you will want to consider. AA has a book called Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as the Big Book, that outlines general concepts of the recovery program.4 However, simply reading the book isn’t enough to fully embrace all that AA and the 12 Steps have to offer.

AA is most effective when it is viewed and worked as a problem. Learning from and working with other individuals who have shared experiences with alcohol addiction, struggle with powerlessness over alcohol, and have been able to overcome their challenges is invaluable in navigating a sober and happy life.4 Through attending regular group meetings, you have the opportunity to work with and learn from others who have been able to end their addiction and create meaningful lives for themselves.

To follow Step 1, you should:4

  • Plan on attending regular AA meetings where you can interact with other people who have similar experiences with alcohol.
  • Admit your powerlessness over alcohol and that you are unable to drink “normally.”
  • Participate in meetings and be completely honest and sincere about your alcohol use and the consequences of your alcohol use.
  • Consider carrying on AA’s message to other individuals who are struggling with alcohol use.

Misunderstandings about Alcoholics Anonymous Step 1

There may be a few misunderstandings about Alcoholics Anonymous and AA Step 1. One of these misconceptions is that you must hit “rock bottom” to join AA or for AA to be effective. On the contrary, research has shown that AA is effective for anyone who has the desire to end their alcohol use regardless of their social, legal, or economic status.4 In other words, AA can help you if you have the desire to end your drinking and a willingness to follow the 12 Steps.

Another misconception is that you must identify with a religion or be inherently religious to practice the 12 Steps. AA doesn’t mandate or identify with any formal religious group, nor does it require you to affiliate yourself with any specific religion.4

In AA, you are encouraged to recognize a Power or force that is greater than you, and that Power can be anything from mother nature to your AA group.4 This Power doesn’t have to be religion; it can be a set of values or beliefs that are unique to you. AA members come from across the world, and membership is comprised of individuals from several different religions and spiritual affiliations. It can be helpful to consider AA as a framework for a way of life rather than a religion.4

More research is needed on the efficacy of AA in treating alcoholism. However, current research indicates that:

  • Abstinence rates for individuals who attended AA or a 12-Step program were almost twice as much compared to those that didn’t attend such programs at 1 year to 18–month follow-up.5
  • More AA meeting attendance contributes to higher levels of alcohol abstinence.5
  • AA participation results in an increase in healthy coping and self-efficacy.6
  • AA affiliation is correlated with better overall outcomes.6

Addiction Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If you are struggling with the effects of alcohol abuse and are thinking about getting help to end your addiction, don’t wait. Effective alcohol treatment is available to you right now. American Addiction Centers understands the importance of effective treatment, and we work with you to customize your treatment plan to include several interventions and services that are specific to you and your needs.

The benefits of substance abuse treatment and peer support services such as AA and 12-Step support groups are vast. Research shows that common benefits of addiction treatment include:7

  • Helping you stop using drugs and alcohol.
  • Learning the skills necessary to remain substance free.
  • Increasing productivity at school, work, and in relationships with loved ones.
  • Minimizing and managing withdrawal symptoms during the detox process.
  • Identifying appropriate medications that can assist with relapse prevention.
  • Increasing and improving healthy life skills.
  • Changing your beliefs and attitudes about alcohol and drug use.

It is important for the advantages of peer support to be understood and underscored. Benefits specific to peer support services, such as AA and 12-Step groups include:6

  • Acquiring long-term abstinence from alcohol and other substances.
  • Providing a mutual and sober support system.
  • Developing healthy coping skills and belief in oneself.
  • Increasing engagement in healthy activities such as service to others and sponsorship, which can increase abstinence rates.
  • Strengthening self-esteem, feelings of accomplishment, and confidence.
  • Improving your ability to manage your life challenges.

How to Find Help with Alcoholics Anonymous Step 1

Making the decision to end your addiction to alcohol is one of the most difficult and important steps you can make for yourself. Deciding to stop drinking alcohol and begin a journey of recovery is life-changing. The process can feel overwhelming. You can start the recovery process by simply attending an AA meeting to see what it’s about and to familiarize yourself with the program.

You can attend a meeting near your home or anywhere across the world, in the event you are traveling or away from home. You can locate Alcoholics Anonymous meetings online by simply using your zip code and/or country.

Call American Addiction Centers at to speak with a trained and compassionate admissions navigator who can help answer questions you may have about the recovery process. You can also locate a rehab center near you and/or instantly verify your insurance coverage. Addiction is treatable. Take the next step for yourself and begin your journey of recovery today. Time is of the essence, and sobriety is possible with the right help and supportive services. You deserve a life full of happiness and health. Don’t let addiction prevent you from having what you deserve any longer.

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Senior Web Content Editor
Jennifer Fifield is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for drugabuse.com and recovery.org. She holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and a master’s degree in Health Promotion Management. Jennifer has served as a content editor on numerous articles, web pages, and blog posts within the medical, dental, and vision industry. She has 15+ years of experience in higher education including writing/editing, administrative, and teaching positions within the health/wellness, accreditation, and health communications areas.
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