What is the First Step in Alcoholics Anonymous

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Understanding the First Step of the Alcoholics Anonymous Program

People who are suffering from an alcohol use disorder are at a low point in their lives. Their family relationships and friendships may suffer. Their careers may be on the line. People in the midst of an addiction are often unsure of what to do or where to go next. 

Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly known as AA, is an option for these individuals. Unlike many traditional healthcare services, AA is free and open to anyone. This program is known for the 12 steps that people go through in order to break away from addiction and embrace sobriety. The first step may be the most important because it introduces people to the program and prepares them for the rigorous work ahead.

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful and longest-standing organizations for addiction recovery in the United States. It is a program that uses social connections and the power of both faith and therapy to help bring people out of alcohol addiction. It has been in operation for over 80 years and has helped millions of people work their way out of addiction.

Given that the program was formed relatively early on in the development of modern therapy, it does not fit the general framework of cognitive behavioral therapy or other established forms of addiction treatment. Instead, it is based on both an approach fostered in religious counseling and on the proven power of individuals socially supporting each other in an endeavor. 

Alcoholics Anonymous works because the people in the program are all accountable to each other and support each other on their journey to successful outcomes. While individuals can rationalize their own life situations and find ways of evading recovery, a sponsor or the people in an alcoholics anonymous group are more likely to put positive pressure on one another to stay away from addiction.

How AA Works

The Alcoholics Anonymous process takes place over a series of meetings often held in a church building or public recreation facility. The individuals in the group openly discuss their lives and situations with alcohol without judgment. They attempt to progress together through the 12-step program that has been proven over the past several decades to help people get away from alcohol.

These 12 steps involve breaking down the walls and thought processes that push a person into addiction. Individuals who are attending AA meetings figure out why they drink and identify the factors in their lives that cause them to drink. 

Next, people progressing through the Alcoholics Anonymous program go through months of effort to reach out to all of the people that they wronged with their addiction and make amends. Through this process, they are becoming a new and different person than they were when they were drinking. Eventually, they are able to move on from the program and focus on supporting others who are just beginning to fight their battle against addiction.

The Importance of the First Step

Everything in AA begins with the first step. That first step is critical both for the initial move away from addiction and for the act of building a future outside of alcohol. The world of AA is a complicated one that is somewhat different than the regular medical system surrounding addiction. It helps individuals tackle tough questions about who they are and the role addiction plays in their lives, leading to a change in their relationship with alcohol and lasting recovery.

This system relies on the work of people who do not always have advanced degrees in understanding mental health issues. One common topic is the importance of God and religion. While religion is not essential to every AA outcome, this approach can seem unique for people who are coming into AA treatment from traditional, completely secular treatment programs.

The Importance of Preparation

AA takes months of active work in nearly all aspects of a person’s life. People who are planning to go into Alcoholics Anonymous need to take a number of steps before they start. First, they must actually want to stop drinking. The program does not work if a person is brought in involuntarily and does not have a deep-seated desire to move away from their alcohol addiction. 

Those ready to begin AA may need to put considerable plans on hold, at least temporarily. Many of those plans may have been designed with alcohol and addiction in mind. They need to prepare for backlash from their family and friends. Some people find it helpful to prepare a script to respond to their friends and family who may be abusing substances and not understand their sobriety journey. People may have to give up some of their friendships, memberships, and family connections. They may even have to leave their careers if they are in one of the many professions where drinking is socially acceptable. These changes take time and should be considered before starting the 12-step AA program.

Taking Action

The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that a person has a problem. More specifically, the person who is addicted to alcohol needs to understand that they are powerless over alcohol. They need to realize that what they have done so far has not worked and that they need a new approach.

This step is often difficult for those who believe they are in control of their lives and know what they are doing with regard to their alcohol use. Many people believe that their alcoholism is not serious. They do not know how the disorder is negatively affecting their lives and the lives of their families and friends. Alcoholics Anonymous forces people who are facing alcohol addiction to abandon these beliefs in favor of attachment to the program. 

Anyone who admits that they are powerless over alcohol also needs to admit that their lives have become unmanageable. The control the alcohol has over them has caused them to prioritize alcohol over their family, friends, and jobs. It has made their lives disordered and problematic. As a result, they need to start on the path to recovery and do so through the help of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Community and the First Step

One of the most important aspects of the first step of this program is that it is done among other people in a group setting. A person does not just admit to themselves at home that they are powerless over alcohol. It is helpful to do so in the sight of others and in the presence of an AA meeting.

The group setting helps a person feel validated in their relationship with alcohol and allows them to process any feelings that may come out of their admission of powerlessness. The meeting often involves a considerable group of people along with a teacher or mentor who will guide them through that first step. In some instances, a person may come to meetings for weeks or even months before taking the first step and making the acknowledgment.

Understanding that a person is powerless against alcohol and its effects is crucial for going through the rest of the program. Later steps involve turning a person’s connections over to a higher power and relying on the rest of the group for personal development. A person cannot turn to others to help them if they believe they have their situation entirely under control on their own.

Future Steps in the AA Program

The first step of AA often feels like a substantial personal triumph for the people who achieve it, but it is far from successful completion. A person still has months of work ahead of them after their initial admission. The second step involves giving the power that alcohol has over to a higher power. Later steps involve making lists of people who have been wronged by addiction and going through a concerted effort to right those wrongs.

The final steps involve fully overcoming addiction and then pledging to help teach other people how to work their way out of addiction. These steps are all essential for bringing a person away from alcohol dependence and also perpetuating the program for other people indefinitely. 

The AA program is far from a simple weekly meeting and a few letters written to family members. Anyone who is considering AA needs to consult with a partner who is dedicated to helping people overcome addiction. These partners will help introduce them to AA programs and other resources that will help them on their journey to sobriety. One of the most important lessons of AA is that it is much easier to overcome addiction with the help of others rather than on one’s own. 

Defining Wellness is an inpatient drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. We specialize in dual diagnoses and helping our clients understand the relationship between mental health and their addiction. We use a combination of evidence-based approaches, trauma-informed treatment, music-assisted therapy, art-assisted therapy, and other modalities to create customized addiction treatment programs for our clients. Contact Defining Wellness today to begin your journey toward sobriety.

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