Step 4 of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Find out more on how step 4 of the alcoholics anonymous 12 step program can help those struggling with alcoholism.

Recovering from alcohol addiction and achieving long-term alcohol abstinence requires a structured treatment plan. You can be successful in your efforts by implementing a treatment plan that has been shown to work. The Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program has been proven to be successful in helping people stay on the path on their journey to sobriety. The 12-step process guides participants through the recovery process incrementally by taking them through a series of clearly defined steps. Each step addresses a different need that is common to people who struggle with alcoholism.

The fourth step involves taking a personal inventory of your personal character strengths and weaknesses. This article discusses step 4 and its importance in your recovery.

What Is Step 4 of AA?

Step 4 of the 12 steps of AA is about looking inward. The other 3 steps up to this point involved admitting your powerlessness over the addiction and giving up your will to a higher power. Now, it’s time to for the fourth step—inventory of self. Self-inventory requires naming things within you that you may not have thought much about in the past.

When you look within, you must also consider things that trigger inner emotions and outward behaviors. It can bring up memories of painful situations, but it is an important part of the healing process.

The exact wording of Step 4 of AA is as follows:1

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Step 4 helps you get to the root causes of your alcohol addiction. Once you understand yourself better and know what is driving your decisions and urges to drink alcohol, you can get a better hold on the addiction itself.

Sometimes the root causes need to be addressed with further counseling or therapy. For now, though, your only concern is looking inward for a deeper self-discovery. You may discover weaknesses in your character or personality that contribute to alcohol use. Although it might be challenging to face this and admit these weaknesses, there is no shame in doing so—everyone has weaknesses and strengths. When we understand ourselves better, we can be stronger in overcoming alcohol addiction.

This fourth step also requires humility and honesty, which are just as essential for you now as they will be in the ongoing journey of alcohol abstinence.

AA Fourth Step Inventory Process

As you begin the inventory process, it’s important to prepare your mind for an honest assessment of your character assets. During Step 4, you want to identify the following:

  • Negative thinking patterns that drive your behavior
  • Negative emotions
  • Destructive behavior toward yourself or others
  • Blaming others for your behavior
  • Justifying your behavior

It may be challenging at first to address some of these issues and admit them to yourself. It’s common for people to deny their actions or justify their behaviors. Some people blame difficult life circumstances for their drinking habits. Other people might justify their actions by thinking that they don’t drink as much as someone else or behave as badly as someone else they know when they drink.

These justifications and denials may be common, but they are also not helpful and will impede your progress. During step 4 of the AA 12 Steps, it’s time to take responsibility for all your past and current actions.

How to Do Inventory

Now it’s time to put Step 4 of AA into practice. You will work with a sponsor as you begin your self-inventory. You can start by getting a notebook and listing different emotions, such as sadness, regret, anger, shame, and hurt, at the top of each page. You should list any others that are important to you as well. Underneath each emotion, write down all the things that trigger that emotion, such as people, places, ideas, beliefs, experiences, institutions, circumstances, and so on.

Cataloging your emotions could lead to some painful memories or feelings. However, a sponsor will be by your side to work with you. Your sponsor will do everything in their power to be there to help you get sober and stay sober.2 They will be with you every step of the way as you are taking your self-inventory. Having been through this same process themselves, they understand what you’re going through and can provide insight and advice.

Sometimes people avoid listing certain things because it’s too painful or embarrassing, or they feel great shame over it. Keep in mind that your sponsor and others in AA have probably had similar experiences and so it’s critical to be as thorough and honest as you can because that is what makes this step so effective for healing.

Questions to Help with Step 4 Inventory

As you work through the Step 4 inventory, you may feel “stuck” at times. It’s helpful to ask yourself some probing questions to guide the self-inventory process. However, keep in mind that asking and answering the questions is not a replacement for conducting the fourth step inventory, which is outlined in The Big Book of AA.

Following are some questions to get you started:

  • What people, places, or things do you have negative emotions toward and why?
  • Do you feel resentment toward any of the above people, places, or things?
  • How did your behavior encourage resentment or negative emotions?
  • How have your resentments played a role in your relationships with others?
  • Has resentment affected your life in any other ways? If so, how?
  • What are your greatest fears, and why?
  • In what destructive ways do you respond when confronted with fear or something you resent?
  • What or who makes you feel ashamed or guilty?
  • What feelings are the most difficult to face or the most difficult to allow yourself to feel? What do you do when confronted with these emotions?
  • How have your fears and resentments affected your interpersonal relationships? Is there a strain on your family life or ability to work because of it? What about your romantic relationships?
  • Have you used sex to try to fill any inner voids or loneliness? Have any of your sexual practices hurt others or yourself?
  • How do you envision a healthy relationship?
  • Do you have any secrets that you haven’t told anyone or written about in your step work?

Get Help with Step 4 of the 12 Steps

If you are ready to begin the recovery journey, help is only a step away. You can achieve long-term sobriety from alcoholism with the proper guidance and support. You can reach out to the Alcoholics Anonymous and SAMHSA websites to find a meeting near you. Don’t delay in seeking treatment that will put you on the path to a brighter future.

Next: Step 5

Previous: Step 3