For those who are struggling with alcohol addiction or alcoholism, one program that is commonly recommended for recovery is Alcoholics Anonymous.1 Alcoholics Anonymous—commonly known by its acronym “AA”—is a fellowship of people who come together to solve their drinking problem by following a program of 12 spiritual principles and traditions.1
The 12-Steps are meant to be practiced as a way of life, helping those battling alcohol addiction expel their addiction and obsession to drink while also enabling them to recover from their addiction.1 Each of the 12 Steps focuses on 1 area of improvement; this article will focus solely on Step 4.
What Is Alcoholics Anonymous Step 4?
In the Alcoholics Anonymous literature, Step 4 is designated as “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”2 In other words, this step is focused on self-reflection and self-examination, which can be scary to do. You’ll want to look inward and evaluate your short-comings, defects in your character, and negative habits, all of which may have led you down the path toward addiction.2 Alcoholics Anonymous states that no human being is exempt from these troubles, as the natural instincts become mental and physical liabilities.2
A primary component of Step 4 involves looking inward to find out how, where, and when your natural instincts and desires led you down the path to drinking.2 For many, these desires can be linked to the 7 deadly sins—pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth.2
Pride serves as many people’s mechanism for self-justifying their compulsions into bad behaviors.2 From there, indulging in the 7 deadly sins triggers a human emotion of fear, also referred to as a soul-sickness by AA, which then generates additional character defects.2
Drinking alcohol can get out of control, where many find themselves using alcohol to cope with their shortcomings or unable to overcome their addiction because of these character defects.2 With that being said, successfully completing Step 4 of the 12 Steps isn’t easy. Examining your moral beliefs and behaviors and then making changes isn’t something you can do overnight, but it’s simply the beginning of a lifetime practice.
Taking a full inventory of your character and moral flaws is a lot of work, and it can be incredibly uncomfortable to look at your flaws. Some of the first steps you can take involve conducting a survey of your past, reflecting on your primary instincts for consuming alcohol, and asking questions about why you may be misusing alcohol and how you may be hurting others.2
How Do I Start and Work on Step 4?
Starting and working on Step 4 can begin by getting a pen and paper and reflecting on your life, looking at personal flaws that may be obvious and troublesome.2 You can focus on the big-picture items or flaws that you deem as troublesome and write them down. Treat this portion of working on Step 4 as a brainstorming session. You may find greater success in writing down all your emotions and everything you’re thinking.
Then, continue to delve deeper into other areas of your life, considering all personal relationships that bring recurring or continuous trouble. Remember, Step 4 is a lifelong program to work. It’s important to work on Step 4 by acknowledging any physical and mental liabilities you have, including how the 7 deadly sins affect your life and how these liabilities and the unhappiness within you can hurt others.
Every person goes through the 12 Steps at their own pace, and Step 4 should not be treated as a race. Self-reflection doesn’t come easily to everyone, regardless of how ready you think you are to embark on the journey.
How Do I Follow Step 4?
There is no right way to tackle Step 4 because, to be successful, you must be the driving force behind the completion of this step. That’s where working with your sponsor—since your sponsor has tested experience with Step 4—can come in handy. Additionally, by attending meetings and listening to others’ stories, you can understand the nuances of successfully working on Step 4.
Prioritize being honest and thorough, as it’s the only way to be true to the program. Additionally, you’ll want to be as objective as possible when self-reflecting. Many who complete this step feel like there are aspects of their past that are too negative to include on their list. But to do the program effectively, you’ll need to include them anyway.
Be sure to write out questions and answers on your list, and list people, places, and situations that trigger both positive and negative feelings. The more work you do in Step 4, and the more thorough you are, the better you set yourself up for Step 5 and your overall recovery.
Questions to Keep in Mind While Following Step 4
A primary component of successfully working through Step 4 of the program involves asking yourself the right questions. As a beginner to the program, you may be wondering what the right questions to ask are. While this list is by no means exhaustive, it can be used as a start:2
- Do I lean too heavily on people?
- To what extent have my own mistakes fed my gnawing anxieties?
- Who has my selfish pursuit of my addiction hurt besides myself?
- When did my selfish pursuit of my addiction damage myself?
- How did my selfish pursuit of my addiction damage myself?
- When did my selfish pursuit of my addiction damage others?
- How did my selfish pursuit of my addiction damage others?
- When and how have I jeopardized my standing in the community in pursuit of my addiction?
- What character defects contribute to my addiction?
- Do I try to cover up my feelings of failure with my addiction?
Remember, this list is not exhaustive and should be treated as a beginning to the overarching list of questions you’ll need to ask yourself. For more insight into how to work Step 4 or for help creating the list of questions that you should use, it may be helpful to reach out to your sponsor.
Misunderstandings about Alcoholics Anonymous Step 4
AA is a program designed to empower you on your path to recovery, but a lot of the work involves looking inward at your flaws and shortcomings to understand how you’ve been led down the path of addiction.1 In following this program, you cannot begin to recover until you’ve done the work, which can be a difficult thing to do for many.1
A concern some may have about Step 4 is that the process of looking inward at flaws can make people feel badly about themselves. While Step 4 of AA can be difficult, the benefits of AA’s 12-Step program, where faith meets science-based recovery, are vast. Persevering through the discomfort and pain can help set you up for long-term success, especially with Step 5.3 AA has been around since 1935, and it’s still prevalent today.4 More than 2,000,000 problem drinkers have been helped by AA to overcome their addiction.4
In addition to its popularity and name familiarity, 12-Step programs and participation in AA programs have been linked to better outcomes of healthy coping with stress, and rates of abstinence from drinking are almost twice as high among those who attend such programs than those who do not.5
How to Find Help with Alcoholics Anonymous Step 4
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction and is in search of treatment, we’re here to help. You can find a local alcohol rehab center using the drugabuse.com directory. You can also check whether you can use your health insurance to cover the costs associated with alcohol treatment, including inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment, by verifying your insurance online.
Alcoholics Anonymous makes it easy to find an AA meeting near you. Visit AA’s website or download AA’s “The Meeting Guide App,” available for iOS and Android smartphones, for help finding a meeting or program near you.
Using these resources can help you stay on the program whether you’re traveling or moving, as you can use the tools to find meetings near you, regardless of where you are. Prioritizing your recovery is essential, and AA’s program of self-accountability and reflection can help you stay the course of sobriety. For help with your addiction to alcohol call .