Step 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Read on to discover how step 5 of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous can help those struggle with alcohol addiction.

If you or someone you care about are struggling with alcohol abuse, you might be wondering about the methods that are available to help you (or your loved one) overcome addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most popular support methods and many people rely on it during their lifelong journey toward alcohol sobriety. The 12 steps of AA are designed to guide and support members as they work on their recovery. In addition to the support of sponsors and the fellowship of the group, the 12 steps involve a tangible process that provides people with a structured method for working on themselves and their recovery from alcohol addiction.

The fifth step of AA is often referred to as the “confession” step. Considered by many to be the most important step, it can provide relief from feelings of anxiety, irritability, and depression.1 Keep reading to learn more about this important step and how it can help you as you travel on the path to recovery.

What Is Step 5 of AA?

The fifth step of AA is stated as:

“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”1

Some people may feel uncomfortable with the religious connotation of the word “God,” but it’s important to understand that AA is not a religious organization, and there is room in AA for people who have specific beliefs as well as those who do not. Believers, atheists, and agnostics are all welcome in AA. The term “God” can be interpreted to mean anything that provides you with inspiration, a sense of a higher power, or guidance for step 5 for AA purposes.2

The fifth step is essential for helping you make fundamental changes in your thoughts and feelings, which is a necessary component of overcoming alcohol addiction. The main action of this step involves confessing your personal wrongdoings to another person. The fifth step says that this confession is a vital part of the lives of spiritually centered people, but it also points out that psychologists and psychiatrists believe that everyone has a need for personal insight and knowledge of their own personality flaws, regardless of their spiritual beliefs. AA is founded on the belief that, without completing this step, people likely cannot maintain sobriety.1

How Does the Fifth Step of AA Work?

During the fifth step of Alcoholics Anonymous, people are required to make a moral inventory, meaning that they are encouraged to discover their personal liabilities or “emotional deformities,” which are those desires and feelings that have led them down the wrong path. By uncovering these desires and feelings, you are empowered to take responsibility for and discover the effect of your actions on yourself and others.3

The fifth step builds on the fourth step and involves not only admitting your wrongdoings, it also involves understanding the nature of the mistakes that you may have made. You discuss these wrongdoings with another person who is often, but not always, your AA sponsor. This person provides support throughout the process of revealing your secrets, character issues, and behaviors that have hurt not only yourself, but others as well.1

The fifth step is considered to be one of the most challenging steps for a reason. It’s often not easy to admit your flaws to yourself, let alone another person. However, by doing so, most people feel a sense of relief because they no longer have to carry the burden on their own.1 The fifth step requires you to become vulnerable in the presence of another person, and that can be difficult for many people. For this reason, it’s usually advisable to undertake this step with your sponsor because they understand alcohol recovery and will offer friendship, compassion, and support rather than judgment, blame, or shame.4

Why Is the Fifth Step of AA Important?

People may find the fifth step difficult because it tends to cause feelings of discomfort, embarrassment, or shame that can accompany the process of admitting your worst traits and secrets to someone else. A study published in the journal, “Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology,” explains that feelings of shame are often a key trigger to drinking for many people.5 This is why it’s important to admit these feelings in the most honest and sincere way possible when you complete this step. It is only by being honest with yourself and someone else that you can obtain the sense of relief that comes from sharing this sensitive information and gain insight and understanding into who you are.1

You may be so used to hiding your feelings from others and yourself that you no longer feel like you are living an authentic and honest life. You’re not alone—many people who struggle with alcoholism, also referred to as alcohol use disorder (AUD), feel like they’re living a double life.6 They’re not able to be honest with themselves or the people they love and care about. Once you reveal wrongdoings and defects by completing the fifth step, you’re able to come clean and no longer need to continue living this double life. This can help you release your fears and help you relate to others in an honest and authentic way, which can provide a tremendous sense of relief and open new pathways in your life.1

AA Step 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’ve been putting off the fifth step, you should know that the benefits outweigh any potential negatives you might be afraid of. Getting everything off your chest and laying it all out on the table can be like releasing the valve on a pressure cooker. It can give you the chance to release your negative feelings, stop the cycle of unhelpful and harmful behaviors, and allow you to start the process of moving forward in your life.

There are many different AA step 5 questions you can ask yourself as a way of preparing for and completing this step. Contemplating the following questions may serve as a guide to help you get started.

  • After working through step 4, do I feel that I have enough understanding of my weaknesses and wrongdoings to move on to step 5?
  • How long have I been living a double life? How long have I been keeping my wrongdoings a secret?
  • Am I willing to let go of the things that are impeding my recovery?
  • What’s holding me back from completing the fifth step?
  • What specific things am I worried about if I complete step 5? Are my fears based in reality? Can I discuss those fears with my sponsor?
  • Can I honestly admit my wrongdoings to myself? Am I able to accept these wrongdoings without judgment?
  • Is it more difficult to admit these wrongdoings to myself or someone else? Why?
  • Can I see the benefits of completing the fifth step?
  • Have I decided on when, where, and with whom I want to complete this step?

The following questions can be useful for you to reflect upon both as you journey through, and after you complete, step 5.

  • If I am still hanging on to certain flaws, negative feelings, or wrongdoings, can I see a way of letting them go?
  • Can I ask for help in this process from my higher power or sponsor?
  • Do I feel that my relationship with my higher power has changed in any way because of undertaking this step?
  • Is there anything I might have left out or any hurts I’ve done to someone else that I’ve forgotten to acknowledge?
  • Do I feel that my view of who I am has changed because of completing step 5?
  • Do I have more insight into who I am as a person?

Next: Step 6

Previous: Step 4