Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) helps many people manage their alcohol problems and sustain recovery. This article will outline the first step in AA’s 12-step program, which addresses your inability to change your addiction condition alone.

What Is Step 1 of AA?

Although rehab facilities may make small tweaks or modifications to the wording, the above phrase is the exact way it was written when the 12-step program was first developed decades ago. Let’s look at it again:

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.”

It’s crucial to realize that this first step is not something you do once and then move past it forever. Step 1 is a vital tenet to always keep in mind, and you may need to revisit it in the future. For example, if you have a temporary relapse and return to drinking, you can begin again by admitting your powerlessness. Some members of the 12-step AA community review Step 1 regularly to keep themselves on track. Whatever methods and strategies you need to keep on your journey to sobriety, you can do it.

What Is Personal Powerlessness?

You might be wondering what Step 1 powerlessness means or what personal powerlessness is. This step involves admitting that you have no power in yourself—within your mind and within your body—to overcome alcohol and its hold on you. Alcohol is too strong a substance to eliminate from your life on your own. Alcohol can drive your mind to unimaginable cravings for it and it also affects the body. Trying to go without alcohol on your own can lead to incredible bodily discomfort.

Of course, the thought of being powerless in today’s society sounds counterintuitive. Everything you’ve ever been taught probably revolved around your strength and power. Our society promotes the idea of exercising self-confidence and willpower to overcome adversity, and there is some truth to that thought.

However, when it comes to alcohol addiction, you must first surrender your idea of self-will to gain power over it. It sounds like an oxymoron at first glance, but it is similar to the idea of letting go of someone you love to really “keep” them. You must let go of trying to use your own strength to win the battle against alcohol and surrender to the powerlessness of it. Then you will have the power to overcome it.

What Does Unmanageable Mean?

When alcohol begins to invade your life, it creeps in slowly and eventually starts taking over every aspect of your life. It affects the body, relationships, work, finances, home life, and happiness. When alcohol continues to be a part of your daily habit, you will notice that your life is starting to fall apart, and important things feel out of control. While everyone’s experience is different, here are a few examples:

  • You are experiencing hangovers regularly.
  • You have health issues due to drinking.
  • You can’t keep enough money to pay your bills on time due to drinking.
  • You keep forgetting important things.
  • Your family life is going down the drain.
  • You are blacking out regularly.

You may find it useful to write down the ways that alcohol is making your life unmanageable. This exercise will help you understand this concept better.

Ways to Follow Step 1 of AA

Sometimes, asking yourself questions about your addiction and how it has affected you can be a way to hold yourself accountable. These questions can trigger a deeper self-reflection about how alcohol has affected your life and lead you to take Step 1. Here are a few of these questions:

  • How is addiction hindering me from being my best self?
  • What are some of the consequences of this disease on me physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Financially?
  • Have I taken ownership of my alcohol addiction, or am I blaming other things or people?
  • How has alcoholism affected the people in my life?
  • Do I engage in comparisons when it comes to my addiction?
  • Have I gotten in any legal or financial trouble because of my addiction?
  • Am I using alcohol to suppress feelings? If so, what am I suppressing?
  • Do I have reservations about going forward with the program?
  • Do I accept that I can’t get “control” over my drinking alone?
  • Am I READY and WILLING to do what it takes to stay sober?

Speak Up During an AA Meeting

When you first join AA, you will introduce yourself and may choose to repeat Step 1 as a way to get started. Acknowledging that you have an alcohol problem shows others and yourself that you are serious about getting help.

During AA meetings, participants are given a chance to speak to the group about their struggles and challenges. They can also speak about where they are on their journey of sobriety—whether they are just starting or have been sober for years.

Speaking in front of others might feel intimidating at first. It’s important to do, though, for a variety of reasons. For one thing, admitting to the group and verbalizing your lack of control over your alcoholism can solidify this fact in your mind.

Alcoholism affects the body and mind. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “people with addiction lose control over their actions.”1 The NIH classifies addiction as a complex brain disease that must always assume the risk of a relapse.1 This is why admitting your powerlessness over the addiction is a crucial first step. With continued treatment and utilization of the tools and strategies you learn in rehab, you can live a sober life.

Talk to Someone If You Feel Like Drinking Alcohol

People often feel shame or embarrassment about their drinking habit. Maybe it’s a huge secret they are carrying alone. Others might feel shame because they have relapsed to drinking again, so they keep it to themselves. However, shameful feelings are a predictor of relapse, according to research.2 In other words, people who live with shame about their drinking are more likely to keep drinking or relapse back to drinking again.

So, how can you avoid this? How can you get rid of shame about drinking? Reach out to someone and talk about it. Be open and transparent about the issue. Don’t try to hide what is happening because that will make the problem worse. By following Step 1 of AA and admitting you are powerless on your own, you will dispel the shame and gain greater control.

Work with an AA Sponsor or Counselor

When you seek help for an alcohol problem and talk to someone else, you are admitting your powerlessness to stop drinking alone. Who can you turn to in this situation? Who can you talk to about Step 1? An AA sponsor is someone who is designated to assist you on your journey to overcome addiction. This person has also overcome alcoholism, so they know what you are going through.

In addition to a sponsor, you can talk to a counselor or therapist. A counselor is someone who is trained in providing strategies for overcoming triggers to use alcohol again. They will also be adept in getting to the root of addiction if any past trauma caused it.

Both a sponsor and counselor will benefit you as you quit drinking because you will always have someone to talk to.

Admit it if You Do Drink

Although some people do find success quitting alcohol on the first try, many others relapse a few times before finding a sober path forward. This is normal, and if it happens to you, it is best to reach out to your sponsor or counselor right away and admit you slipped up. Trying to hide the drinking relapse will only reinforce any shame you might feel and lead to a downward spiral. You will need to refer to Step 1 of the AA program and admit the powerlessness that you’re experiencing. Talk to someone and get back to work on your recovery faster.

Getting Help with the First Step of AA

The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem and then seeking treatment. Once you make up your mind to take this difficult step, you can visit AA and find a support group close to you. Reach out for help today and start your journey to a brighter future.

Next: Step 2

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