Step 8 in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program is all about your personal relations and making amends for your past mistakes.1, first sentence Throughout the entire 12-step program of AA, you’ll work to combat your alcohol abuse and addiction. Each step is designed to move you forward in your journey toward long-term sobriety from alcohol.

What Is Step 8 of AA?

Step 8 of AA is when you’ll start thinking about all the mistakes you’ve made in the past. In full, the step states:

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”1, under heading

Chances are your alcohol abuse has caused you to hurt a lot of people. Maybe you stole from your friends to afford more liquor, or maybe you lied to your family about being sober. These are all things you will need to account for. This won’t be an easy process. It will likely open up old wounds, especially now that you’ve come so far in your journey and realized the pain you’ve made others feel.

This is different from Step 4 of the 12 steps, where you made a moral inventory of yourself. That step was more about personal housecleaning; you did some soul searching to see the ways in which you went wrong.2, 3rd paragraph Step 8 of AA is more of a social action in which you work to reduce the shame you might have felt in Step 4. Rather than focusing on yourself, as you did in Step 4, Step 8 is about focusing on others.

Keep in mind, this isn’t just about asking for forgiveness. You’ll also need to be willing to forgive others for any mistakes they’ve made. Blaming others for the wrongs they’ve committed against you takes the focus off your own mistakes.1, p. 78 In turn, they will hopefully find it in their power to forgive you as well.

In this 8th Step of AA, you’ll make a physical list of all the people you’ve harmed and the specific ways in which you’ve harmed them. Making this list helps you become willing to make amends. It may be shocking at first to compile such a list, especially when you realize you’ll have to admit your guilt face-to-face.1, p. 78 But by powering through, you can take action toward healing the past with yourself and others.

It won’t be easy. This step is extremely challenging and requires you to take an honest look at how much your alcoholism has affected and impacted others. It takes a great deal of courage to be able to undertake this step, but just know that the rest of your AA group will be there to support you.

How Does the 8th Step of AA Work?

During the 8th Step of AA, you will make a thorough list of all the ways in which you possibly caused harm to other people due to your alcoholism. This isn’t just physical abuse. It could involve things like bullying, emotionally manipulating, or even stealing from others. The AA Handbook describes harming people as causing physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual damage.1, p; 80

Sometimes, the harm you’ve caused will be obvious, like that time you stole $100 from your mom’s wallet. Other times, it may be less visible. Perhaps you ignored a loved one and left them alone on their birthday. Whatever the case, it’s extremely important that you lay everything out on the table and make this list as thorough as possible.

This can be scary. You probably don’t want to think about all the bad things you have ever done, which is why a lot of people delay starting this step. But it’s crucial if you ever want to rebuild your relationships and try to get your old life back. Once you start making amends to others, you’ll find the pain is lessened each time, and you’ll start to see real benefits in your personal life.1, p. 77-78

At this point in your 12-step journey, you should realize for sure that your drinking hurt more than just yourself. This is a common deflection many people have at this step.1, p. 79 They might refuse to believe they really affected others if they stayed at home, paid the bills, and didn’t abuse anyone. However, this is a form of purposeful forgetting; you cover up the parts of your life that hurt too much and fail to take responsibility. Step 8 is about breaking through this barrier.1, p. 79

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With that said, remember that you don’t want to be too harsh on yourself. Yes, you may have made some bad mistakes, but you’re only human. Those who struggle with alcoholism aren’t the only people who have poor behaviors — everyone can and does.1, p. 78 Extreme judgments, both of yourself and of the others involved in your life, are to be avoided.1, 82

One important thing is making sure to write down everything. A mental checklist will be too hard to keep track of, and you won’t get that satisfaction of crossing something off once you make amends. Since you’ve already catalogued your personal inventory in Step 4, this shouldn’t be too hard to manage. Use that list to examine some of those situations from a different perspective.

Don’t worry if this all seems like a lot. You’re not alone. Your AA sponsor will be there to help you throughout the entire process. Their job is to listen to and understand your situation fully. They’ll be there if you have questions or problems, and you don’t have to stress about being embarrassed around them.3, p. 9

If you’re struggling to come up with things for your list, your sponsor may even be able to share their own experiences so you can better understand the types of things you need to make amends for. After all, they’ve already created their list, so they should be able to assist you here.

Questions to Ask Yourself During Step 8 of AA

Step 8 takes a lot of honesty, courage, and accountability. It’s a challenging step for most people. That said, it doesn’t have to be a roadblock. Take things slowly and you can be ready to tackle it with ease. In preparation, ask yourself some of these questions to guide yourself through Step 8:

  • Do you have any stored-up resentment? Is this preventing you from being willing to make amends?
  • Why are you hesitant about Step 8? What is holding you back?
  • In what ways do you think it will be valuable to make a list of the people you harmed?
  • Are there any people with whom you are afraid to make amends because you fear for your safety or theirs? If so, are there any ways around this?
  • What are some ways to go beyond simply saying “I’m sorry?” How can you make your apologies more authentic?
  • Is there anything you can do to prepare to make financial amends, such as taking out a loan to pay others back?
  • What do you hope to gain from making amends?
  • Have the people you want to make amends with also harmed you? Can you learn to forgive them?
  • Why isn’t just changing your behavior enough of an apology?
  • Can you think about a future after you’ve made amends? What do you envision it looking like?
  • What are some ways you can work on taking responsibility for your actions, both now and in the future?
  • How can your sponsor help you through Step 8 and beyond?

[1]. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). Step Eight.

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

[3]. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2019). Questions & Answers on Sponsorship.