What Are the Main Principles of AA? The 12 Steps Explained
Updated: Oct 24
The journey to addiction recovery may not be linear, and it most definitely isn’t always easy. Getting treatment for addiction means putting a lot of hard work and effort into maintaining sobriety and improving your health. A person who struggles with addiction is likely going through hard times and could use guidance during the process.
Many people who attempt sobriety and addiction recovery opt for using the 12-step method practiced by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). These 12 principles aren’t just for people who struggle with alcohol addiction. Anyone suffering from addiction can use these 12 principles to seek recovery.
If you or a loved one are interested in learning more about the main 12 principles of AA, keep reading!
History of the 12 Principles of AA
Alcoholics Anonymous was created in 1935 by two men, Bill Wilson and Robert Smith, who were both struggling with alcohol dependency. The group was founded to bring together a sense of community within the disease and to use that community to become successful in recovery.
The two men attributed their success in overcoming alcohol dependence to the fact that they were able to work with other alcoholics. There is an ease in discussion and sharing when everyone around you has gone through similar struggles. This group believed that alcohol affected the body, mind, and spirit and that all three needed to be treated to recover.
In 1939, Wilson and Smith wrote a book called “The Big Book,” which outlined 12 principles for recovery. These were heavily inspired by Christianity when first written, but many AA groups have modernized the interpretations of the principles to be more accepting and functional to a diverse audience.
The 12 Principles of AA
When given an outline, people release the anxiety of coming up with guidelines to follow on their own. A structure is already laid out for you when you follow AA’s 12 steps.
You may tweak them to fit in with your personal beliefs and needs, but overall, they allow you to follow a pretty straightforward process.
Additionally, a person can always refer back to these 12 steps when they feel their recovery is hitting a rough patch and need extra guidance.
1. Honesty and Acceptance
Honesty and acceptance – “We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.”
It’s a great first step to admit that you need help. Being honest with yourself will be key — and you can do it. Once you understand that you are not in total control and that your addiction is calling the shots, you can begin to release some of your shame.
The first inklings of doubts might begin to appear when you recognize that you are doing more harm to yourself than good. You might experience a moment of clarity where seeking help becomes the only obvious choice. And that is a beautiful thing.
Hope – “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
This step is about finding a great power to put your faith in. You shouldn’t give up hope for recovery even during setbacks because you have faith that something greater than you is looking out for your well-being.
Many moments that you experience in recovery are going to test your faith. You might feel like things aren’t going your way and that you are constantly struggling. It can be hard to overcome, but you have to trust that there is a solution and that you will be free from addiction one day.
And don’t forget — you can put your faith in anything bigger than yourself. More on that in the next step!
Surrender – “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
During this step, you surrender to a higher power, whatever that might be for you. This is when you decide to move forward in recovery for that higher being despite the selfishness of addiction.
You put your faith in the fact that someone out there is giving you a new chance. If you are not religious or spiritual, some people find their higher power is their Higher Self — the self free from addiction.
Courage – “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
This step can be tough, but it is possible with support and self-compassion. Looking at the ways in which you have contributed to the hardship of your loved ones is key, and we know it’s hard. Courage is the strength to admit that you have been wrong and let others know about your wrongdoings.
It can be difficult to face your biggest regrets, but moving on from things that hold you back will allow a healthy recovery to take place.
Integrity – “Admitted to a God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
You want to live honestly. Recovery is about living in your truth and sharing that truth with others around you. You can take the courage from step four and admit your regrets to a higher being, to yourself, and to others. If you can practice this, you can help to eliminate shame as your recovery progresses.
Willingness – “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”
Are you ready to move past your hardships? This is when it’s important to ask for help. This takes work and vulnerability, but nothing feels better than moving forward surrounded by love. Accept that to move forward, you have to work towards becoming a better person.
Accepting that outside help is necessary for recovery is crucial. You cannot be fearful of what treatment will look like, because the end result is your goal. This is your comeback story!
Humility – “Humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.”
During this step, it’s important to look to your higher power to help free you from your past. Once willing to remove feelings of shame and guilt, we can begin to let go of the things in the past that we wish to hide.
Who we were in the past does not have to be a reflection of where we want to go in the future. This step also helps to teach us that we are not more important than the next person, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t deserving of health and happiness. Every single person is worthy without conditions.
Love – “Made a list of all the persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to all of them.”
Not only is it important to make a list of all the wrongdoings you have done toward people you love, but be willing to make amends and ask for forgiveness. Much of our inability to recover is because of the shame we feel from letting loved ones down.
If you want to move forward, building a safe community for yourself is essential. If you’ve hurt someone, apologizing and working toward mending the relationship will build a solid foundation for your future recovery.
Responsibility – “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Taking responsibility for your past actions is a form of love. Actively working towards building your relationship with people shows them that you are respectful of their time and energy and don’t wish to make things harder for them. You understand that you are deserving of love, but that you need to treat the people around you with respect.
Discipline – “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.”
This principle is something that you will need to work on daily. Once you can admit your wrongdoings and start to make the changes in your life to build a better future, keep practicing them. Work on the discipline of taking care of yourself and those around you every day so that you can maintain your sobriety and your community of support.
Awareness – “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”
Make everyday about living in your truth and giving yourself to your higher power. Once you begin your recovery journey, it can be easy to lose focus on what is important. When you continue to seek guidance from a higher power you can better maintain your recovery. You will see better results if you can maintain awareness in this sense of oneness with something outside of yourself.
Service – “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
You want to pay all of your knowledge forward. AA wants you to share your understanding of recovery with other people who are struggling. You can extend your efforts to people who are in the same place that you used to be. Within AA, paying it forward is an important responsibility toward the community.
Seeking Help Through Sober Sidekick
The 12 principles of AA help to guide people and give them a sense of community during their recovery. Addiction is a terrifying and isolating disease that impacts all people. AA is a community-led space that promotes health and well-being to people who are in need.
If you are seeking more than just a couple meetings a week, consider joining the app Sober Sidekick. Not only can you access AA meetings 24/7, but you can work to support other sober individuals who are seeking guidance. Practice the 12th step by downloading Sober Sidekick on Android or iPhone and join the community today!