The journey to recovery often begins with a single step, and for millions of individuals battling alcohol addiction through the Alcoholic Anonymous Pathway, the first step is known as “1st Step AA” or “Step One AA.” It involves acknowledging one’s powerlessness over alcohol. In the words of the authors of AA’s Big Book, which has been translated into more than 70 languages, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
In 1939, Bill W. and Dr. Bob S., the founders of Alcoholic Anonymous, published the first edition of “The Big Book.” In it, they outlined AA’s philosophy and methods for a peer-based recovery program for alcoholics based on the Twelve Steps of recovery.
Worldwide, alcoholics, addicts and treatment professionals embraced the Twelve Steps, and more than 35 million copies of AA’s Big Book have been distributed in over 70 languages. First developed specifically for people with alcoholism (now known as alcohol use disorder), dozens of 12-step programs are now available for a variety of addictions including Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and specific LGBTQ AA programs.
What is Step 1 in AA?
Step One of the AA’s Twelve Steps is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
What is Admitting Powerlessness Over Alcohol or Drugs?
Recognizing your powerlessness over alcohol isn’t a sign of weakness but rather an acknowledgment of the addiction’s strength. Many who struggle with alcoholism have tried to control or moderate their drinking, only to find themselves repeatedly falling into the same destructive patterns. Step One AA emphasizes the futility of attempting to manage something that’s proven uncontrollable.
Step One AA acknowledges that not only are you powerless over alcohol, but your life has also become unmanageable as a result. This unmanageability often manifests in various ways, such as deteriorating relationships, declining physical and mental health and a growing sense of despair. Recognizing this unmanageability is crucial because it propels individuals toward seeking help and making lasting changes.
Those who subscribe to the 12 steps of AA recognize that for most addicts, the AA first step is usually the hardest. Admitting you are powerless over alcohol requires a tremendous amount of courage, humility and even fear. It can bring on a flood of powerful emotions including shame, anger and grief. However, it can also be a tremendous relief.
Why Is Admitting Powerlessness the 1st Step in AA?
The founders of AA understood that for alcoholics to truly take ownership of their recovery, they needed to accept that their life had become unmanageable due to their addiction. Excessive alcohol use not only leads to more than 140,000 deaths nationally each year but can also cause lives to spin out of control.
To admit powerlessness over alcohol (or drugs) means accepting the fact that you’ve lost control over your substance use. You accept that your life now largely revolves around maintaining your addiction and your addiction is now the driving force behind all your thoughts and actions.
Step One AA is fundamentally about honesty, while active addiction is characterized by lies you tell yourself and everyone around you. Until you reach the point where you choose to get real, stop lying and accept that you need help, any efforts you make to deal with your addiction simply won’t be genuine or effective.
Do You Have to Believe in God for 1st Step AA?
The original version of the Twelve Steps and The Big Book makes numerous references to God, and this is largely because AA’s founders were Christians. The original references to God were quickly challenged in the early days of AA, and Bill W. addressed those challenges by explaining that every member was welcome to interpret God to mean whatever higher power they chose to believe in while working the steps.
Bill W. said, “In Step Two we decided to describe God as a ‘Power greater than ourselves,’ and in Steps Three and Eleven, we inserted the words ‘God as we understood Him'” to make the Twelve Steps nondenominational and meaningful for people of all faiths and beliefs.
The concept behind the references to God or a higher power in the 12-step program is to support addicts in the understanding that they need to find a source of strength that’s greater than themselves alone. This could mean God, a general belief system or the recovery community itself. Regardless of what addicts identify as their own personal higher power, it’s an expression that means they’re accountable to someone or something that’s bigger, more powerful and more influential than themselves.
Even if you don’t believe in God, you can still undergo the AA first step. In fact, Step One AA is an essential part of your recovery.
How Will AA First Step Help Me Recover From Addiction?
AA Step One is often scrutinized by critics who claim the concept of addicts admitting that they’re powerless is a cop-out: a way to simply blame the alcohol or drugs for everything that had ever gone wrong in their lives.
While admitting powerlessness over a substance may seem at odds with efforts to hold addicts responsible for their behaviors, the opposite is true. By accepting that you’re powerless over alcohol, drugs or addictive behavior, you’ve come to terms with your personal limitations.
In essence, in Step One AA you’re making a conscious choice to stop lying to yourself. You accept that you can’t continue drinking alcohol or using drugs and that you have absolutely no control when you’re using. You’re also embracing your need to learn what led you to become addicted in the first place, the thoughts and behaviors that fuel your addiction and what you must do to achieve and maintain sobriety.
Questions to Ask Yourself in 1st Step AA
As you embark on the first step of your journey in Alcoholics Anonymous, consider asking yourself these questions to deepen your understanding and commitment:
- What role has alcohol played in my life, and how has it affected my relationships, health and overall well-being?
- Have I ever tried to control or stop my drinking and failed repeatedly?
- Do I recognize any patterns of unmanageability in my life as a result of alcohol use?
- Have I been in denial about the extent of my alcohol problem, and what are the consequences of this denial?
- Am I willing to accept that I’m powerless over alcohol and that my life has become unmanageable as a result?
Need Help With Alcohol Abuse? We’re Here for You
The AA first step, admitting powerlessness and acknowledging the unmanageability your addiction brings, is a crucial leap toward lasting recovery. It’s a moment of profound self-realization and humility, opening the door to hope, healing and transformation. Remember, the 1st step AA is not the end but the beginning of a brighter future. If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction or drug addiction, please contact us now at FHE Health for compassionate help and support.
Further Reading: See our articles on…
- Why the 12-step Program Still Works
- Step 1: Why the 12-step Journey Begins with Powerlessness (This Blog)
- Step 2: What is a Higher Power?
- Step 3: God as you Understand Him
- Step 4: Your Moral Inventory
- Step 5: Admitting Your Wrongs
- Step 6: Addressing Character Defects
- Step 7: Removing our Defects
- Step 8: Willing to Make Amends
- Step 9: Making Amends, How to Approach Step 9
- Step 10: Ongoing Inventory
- Step 11: How to Deepen Your Connection with a Higher Power
- Step 12: Sharing Your Spiritual Awakening With Others
- Understanding AA Lingo
- The Principles of AA