Dec 23, 2015 | By Tim Powers

The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: Truly Coming Clean

12 Step Recovery

step one of alcoholics anonymous

It is often said that no journey starts without taking the first step–no matter how small or timid it may be. By taking this first all-important step, you set into motion a chain of events that can help improve your life and the environment surrounding you. If you seeking to break the vicious cycle of alcoholism and start your journey to sobriety, the first step is admitting that you have a problem with alcohol. It goes beyond the mere utterance of the words I have a problem; you must also truly believe with your conscious and soul that your life has spun out of control and that you are truly ready to accept help.

When people enter alcohol rehab to address their alcohol abuse, one of the first things they are introduced to is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA is a 12-Step program that provides a blueprint to help those struggling with alcoholism address move past their addiction an towards a happier, healthier and more spiritual existence in recovery. Each step centers around a theme or concept that must be addressed and overcome before moving to the next. The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous is the most important, and those who start the first step must truly come clean and admit they are powerless in regards to their addiction.

The Obstacles of Admitting Powerlessness in Addiction

The concept of powerlessness is the biggest obstacle to address when it comes to addiction. We as human beings are of the belief that we can control what happens in our lives, and when our lives have become unmanageable due to alcohol dependence it is very difficult to accept. All addicts operate in a heavy state of denial, and by continuing to ignore of that is falling apart around them they stay stuck in their addiction and further spiral out of control.

The first step of Alcoholics Anonymous addresses the need for alcoholics to break free of their denial and admit their powerlessness in the face of their alcoholism. To say this is crucial is an understatement; it is absolutely mandatory. The first step of AA is considered an all or nothing step in the fact that if the alcoholic cannot admit their addiction has made their life unmanageable, they will never truly experience long-term recovery. Any sobriety they do manage to achieve will be short-lived and they will continue to slide further into their alcohol addiction.

The True Meaning of the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous

For those who are starting to work a 12-Step program, they can get hung up on the language that the Twelve Steps are written in and will miss the deeper meaning of the Steps. When we look at the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous, the works powerless and unmanageable are front and center. As stated earlier, many who look at the first step of AA (and in the first steps of other 12-step groups) may wrestle with these concepts

Instead, the powerlessness that is referred to in the First Step centers on the method that addicts choose in order to feel happiness or to address pain in their lives. For those who abuse alcohol, it can create feelings of pleasure and comfort, but those feelings are short-lived. While alcohol gives the user the illusion of feeling better, in reality the use and abuse of alcohol is seen as a symptom of deeper issues that are continuing to spiral out of control. Without acknowledging and addressing these deeper issues on a realistic level there is little to no hope of the alcoholic ever breaking free.

The Stages of Understanding Powerlessness in the First Step of AA

While the first step of AA may seem simple, there are a range of emotions that people must navigate. These emotions can be broken down into five essential steps that ultimately lead to the alcoholic finally breaking through. These steps can be seen as follows:


In this initial stage, people are firmly in denial in regards to their alcohol abuse and go through great lengths to deflect blame. People in this stage still view themselves as a victim of circumstance. While they may experience thoughts they losing control on occasion, those in the denial stage are still able to keep those thoughts at bay. People in the denial stage are scared and angry at themselves beneath the surface, but they minimize those feelings and keep up appearances that things are under control despite what is going on around them.


In this stage, people start coming to the realization in regards to the seriousness of their alcoholism. They are able to put two and two together and may have started to seek out information on alcoholism or maybe are starting to become receptive to the thought of getting help. People in this stage often have weathered the anger of the denial stage and can start to intellectualize they truly have a problem with alcohol. The anger they feel towards themselves starts to turn inward and they may feel guilty or disappointed they allowed themselves to get to this point. The fear may be still present, but since they have at least come to a point they can admit their powerlessness over their addiction things are going in the right direction.

Having Second Thoughts

When people who struggle with alcohol finally admit they truly have a problem, denial can creep back into the picture. People may start to think they had overreacted and that they are truly learned their lesson about overindulging in alcohol. They also may start to think they can moderate their drinking and come up with some general plans on how they will start drinking more responsibly. While these thoughts are normal in this stage, it is important to emphasize these thoughts are merely a trap and if people act on these thoughts they will slide right back into drinking.


It is important to understand that acceptance is very different from admission. Acceptance is knowing at the deepest gut level that a problem exists and it becomes clear that steps must be taken to address and overcome those issues. While people accept they have an alcohol addiction, they have experienced the fear, shame, guilt and anger and now have complete clarity.


The final stage that is found in the first step of AA is the willingness to accept the help and support of drug treatment, their peers in recovery and the family and friends that are truly supportive of their decision to become clean and sober. Willingness moves beyond willpower in the fact that the alcoholic is “all in” and will do everything that is necessary to resolve and move past the issues that have kept them stuck in their addiction.

Are You Ready To Take Your Life Back?

If you are struggling with alcoholism, you may feel that you will be stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction the rest of your life. While these feelings can be overwhelming, there is help available to you if you are truly ready to make a change in your life. If you need more information on the disease of alcoholism or need help looking for an alcohol treatment facility, Sober Nation can help you. We are the leading addiction, treatment and recovery resource on the internet, and our experienced and compassionate staff can help you get the knowledge and support you need to break free from your addiction once and for all.

Call us toll-free today at 1-866-317-7050. or visit our website. Make your recovery a reality–starting today.

6 responses to “The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous: Truly Coming Clean

  • RationalRecoveredPerson

    8 years ago

    Addiction is

    Mental Obsession and Physical Craving but
    WE control our minds and WE control our bodies
    Therefore, NO ONE is POWERLESS
    You have CHOICES
    Therefore you have great POWER OVER IT
    Those who seek help to end addiction are actually EMPOWERING THEMSELVES not admitting defeat like Step 1 wants to teach

    • Wow i loved this article and it could not have come at a more perfect time. I have been clean for almost 3 days now from heroin and am doing good from buying suboxone not dope. I needed this more than i knew to guide my mind and goal into the right direction. I truly believe everything happens for a reason. God bless you all at sober nation. You truly are changing lives.

      Thanks again,

    • Rob Wardach

      8 years ago

      You just don’t get it. We win by conceding defeat. You’re trying to exert your will over your addiction .

      If you could do that successfully, you would have done it already. We win when we stop fighting, our ability to control was lost long ago.

    • Daniel James

      8 years ago

      AA works, you are missing the point……. Spoken like a true addict

  • for RationalRecoveredPerson
    re: addiction
    Addiction is a state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. It can be thought of as a disease or biological process leading to such behaviors.
    Powerlessness: “lacking might or fortitude,” which is where we are when we enter the rooms, NONE, to my knowledge, of the steps teach defeat, only how to deal with life without alcohol; i.e., don’t buy it, use it, etc…….but I had to learn how to do that…….thank god for AA, for me, I need AA.

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