Step 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Read on to learn how step 6 of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program can help those who are struggling with alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step peer support group. The AA 12-step program is designed to guide and help individuals who are struggling with problem drinking and alcoholism on their journey towards long-term sobriety.1 The AA fellowship is comprised of men and women who work together to overcome alcoholism by sharing their own experiences and participating in the Twelve Steps.1,2 This page will discuss Step Six of AA, which is a challenging step for many people, since it requires you to acknowledge all of your imperfections and behaviors that you may be ashamed of, as well as being ready to let them go.3

What Is Step 6 of AA?

The 6th step in AA states that members “were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”3 Step 6 relies heavily on what is done in prior steps, especially Step 4 which involves making “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves,” and Step 5 which involves admitting “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”4, 5 Completing this moral inventory, understanding what your faults are, exploring what emotions or fears make you act on these faults, and owning up to them in the presence of another person and your Higher Power gives you a sense of awareness of your character defects and how they affect you and others.4,5 Once you have a strong understanding of what your character defects are and how they have been influencing your thoughts and behaviors, you are more likely to understand how these contribute to unhealthy, self-destructive habits that no longer work for you and become ready to let them go.3

Some people may feel uncomfortable with the use of the word “God” in the program and throughout the steps, especially people who don’t have a connection to God or those who identify as agnostic or atheist.2,6 However, AA makes sure to emphasize that the fellowship is a spiritual program rather than a religious one. It allows each member to develop their own concept of God, or a Higher Power.2,6 For people who are reluctant to use a religious concept of God, they may be more comfortable relying on the AA program, the group, nature, or anything greater than themselves as a Higher Power.2,6 It may be suggested that God can be an acronym for “Good, Orderly Direction” or “Group of Drunks” if it makes people feel more comfortable.2,6

Why Is the 6th Step of AA Important?

The character defects that contribute to unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior may commonly have been a part of people’s lives for many years.3 Completing Step 6 in AA has the potential to create major, long-lasting changes by changing established patterns of thoughts and behaviors.3 After completing a thorough moral inventory in Step 4 and admitting the exact nature of your wrongs to yourself, another person, and your Higher Power in Step 5, you and your sponsor can explore how these character defects have an impact on your emotions, thoughts, and behavior, as well as how they affect the people around you.4,5 You may notice, or your sponsor may point out patterns of behavior, which will continue until you address the defects that influence your thoughts and lead to the problematic behaviors.3 In addition, your sponsor will also highlight some of your strengths and positive qualities to help you build a balanced view of yourself rather than simply focusing on negative aspects of yourself.4

Learning about character defects can seem intimidating or upsetting, but when we view how deeply they impact our lives and those of the people around us, we may become more understanding of how harmful these character defects can be.3 The steps leading up to Step Six open your eyes to how detrimental your character defects have become, and prepare you to work towards freedom from these problematic patterns of thoughts and behaviors.3 Skipping Step 6 can lead to the continued presence of harmful patterns of character defects and eventually contribute to relapse.3,7 All Step 6 asks is for you to be willing to have these defects removed, rather than to actively work on them.3

How to Follow Step Six of AA

People in AA tend to have character defects and the resulting patterns of behavior for long periods of time, so it can be scary to make the changes associated with the 12 Steps, especially Step 6. These changes can kick up a variety of fears and insecurities that become a trigger, which can contribute to relapse if they aren’t addressed.7 Some common triggers surrounding recovery include fears about not liking the person you turn into while working the steps, not being able to successfully work the steps, fears about being too sick to recover, not being able to do the work, or having someone judge you for things you’ve done or who you are.7,8

Going through the steps with a sponsor is important, primarily because they are there to guide you through the process of recovery and doing the 12 Steps.9,10 A sponsor can also give you honest feedback, as well as a sense of acceptance, identification, and hope.9 While going through this step, you may feel the urge to control issues, problems, or situations, rather than focusing on willingness to let go of your character defects. Your sponsor may encourage patience with the recovery process so that you can stay focused on the true purpose of this step.10

AA Step 6 Questions to Ask Yourself

Step 6, just like all of the 12 Steps, involves holding yourself accountable for your actions and behaviors, while working on self-improvement. These steps aren’t done once, but they are done repeatedly over the course of your recovery. Each sponsor may have their own specific way of completing Step 6, but there are some questions you can ask yourself to help you with Step Six:

  • Why do my character defects need to be removed? How have they harmed me or others?
  • Have I tried to control or remove these character defects on my own? If so, what happens when I’ve tried to do this?
  • Are there any character defects that I like, or don’t want to let go of? Why am I holding on to these character defects?
  • Are there any character defects that I think can’t or won’t be removed? Which ones? Why do I think they can’t or won’t be removed?
  • Do I have any fears about completing Step 6? If so, what are they?
  • How will I know when I’m entirely ready to have my character defects removed?
  • Am I willing to have these character defects removed? If not, what is holding me back?
  • What steps can I take to become entirely ready?
  • How can I demonstrate my readiness to have these character defects removed?
  • What are some positive changes I’ve noticed from working the Steps so far?
  • What would my life be like if all these character defects were removed?
  • Are there any character defects that have already been removed?
  • What do I accept about myself?

[1]. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2017). This is A.A.: An introduction to the A.A. recovery program.

[2]. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2014). Many paths to spirituality.

[3]. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Step Six.

[4]. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Step Four.

[5]. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Step Five.

[6]. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2018). The “God” word.

[7]. Melemis, S.M. (2015). Relapse prevention and the five rules of recovery. The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325-332.

[8]. Asensio, S., Hernández-Rabaza, V., & Orón Semper, J.V. (2020). What is the “trigger” of addiction? Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 14(54).

[9]. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2019). Questions and answers on sponsorship.

[10]. Whelan, P.J.P., Marshall, E.J., Ball, D.M., & Humphreys, K. (2009). The role of AA sponsors: A pilot study. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 44(4), 416-422.