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What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935 by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson as a type of fellowship for alcoholics. They gathered to overcome their drinking problems together. It's based on a 12-step blueprint for recovery.

The 12-Step program is religious. The emphasis is on spiritual and character development. It states that alcoholism can be conquered through God’s power.

Alcoholics Anonymous helps rebuild life after addiction. It has helped many people conquer addiction. They work toward a valid, purposeful life.

The program mentions "Four Absolutes." These absolutes include:

  • Honesty
  • Purity
  • Unselfishness
  • Love

Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

AA’s twelve steps are followed in order. Members can revisit these steps along the road to recovery.

The twelve steps, in verbatim, are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

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What is the “13th Step” in Recovery?

Alcoholics Anonymous, despite its good intentions, is far from perfect. It's made up of a diverse group of people who are trying to recover. With diversity comes the possibility of exploitation - like 13th stepping.

The 13th Step is an unwelcome and unofficial part of the 12-Step program. It's when an AA veteran makes sexual advancement on a new member.

This can be due to physical, emotional, or financial reasons. However, the reasons are often sexual. It's always problematic. Someone in power is taking advantage of a vulnerable person.

How Does 13th Stepping Occur?

This occurs when a program veteran approaches a new member beyond friendship. It's strongly discouraged because it can cause damage. However, it does occasionally happen.

Most 12-Step groups are informal, with regulations drafted and enforced by members. In some groups, there's nobody to appeal to. This is unless something illegal has happened. This can result in 13th stepping.

Newcomers are often vulnerable because sobriety is difficult. Trying to stay sober is already challenging. Adding a romantic relationship can get overwhelming.

It's common for people to think that sex will help them feel better. This may lead them to instigate sexual relationships with other members. Established program veterans should know to reject any advances of this kind.

Veteran 12-Step members may also have a hard time developing relationships without alcohol. This is often why they view newcomers as potential conquests.

Quitting drinking does not automatically make someone a better person. Some people treat it as a social club. They use it as a place to meet potential sexual partners.

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Who is at Risk of Becoming a “13th Stepper?”

Any person who remains in the AA program could become a 13th stepper. That applies to all genders and sexes. 13th step predators are not limited solely to being men.

Newcomers in recovery are vulnerable and lonely. They have lowered self-esteem and don't know how to set boundaries. Members recognize this. However, they still target newcomers for their personal gain. They are at risk of becoming 13th steppers.

Unfortunately, many new members become romantically involved with a 13th stepper. This usually happens within a few months.

Dangers of 13th Stepping

There are many dangers associated with 13th stepping. The nature of sexual advances on vulnerable people are predatory. It can negatively impact the chances of achieving sobriety.

New AA members join 12-Step meetings looking for help. 13th stepping has the opposite effect.

The ramifications of 13th stepping are almost always problematic. Advances can be successful. This results in an inappropriate sexual relationship. If the advances are not successful, the newcomer feels uncomfortable. Or the person decides not to return at all.

Deciding to attend a 12-Step group program is challenging enough. This is without having to deal with unwanted advances. This significantly hinders the success rate of AA for the victim.

Furthermore, AA meetings are meant to be unwaveringly supportive. 13th stepping endangers the entire group’s reputation. It could possibly harm the image of all groups.

How to Prevent 13th Stepping 

There are many things that can be done to discourage 13th stepping. These measures include:

  • Making it known from the start that sexual relationships between group members are acceptable. This is only if sobriety has been secured for both members.
  • Ending a relationship with a sponsor if they make any advancements. Sponsors are meant to provide only support and advice — nothing more.
  • Letting newcomers know that they should avoid sexual relationships during the beginning stages of their recovery. 
  • Draw a line between flirting and preying on vulnerable members
  • Encourage gay members to choose a sponsor of the opposite sex.
  • Encourage heterosexual members to choose a sponsor of the same sex.
  • Speak to a sponsor if flirting is creating an uncomfortable situation.

Contact a healthcare professional or treatment center for concerns on the potential dangers of 13th stepping. There are also virtual AA groups open to anyone. These are beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Resources

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  1. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. "The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous." AAWS. 
  2. AAC Agnostica. "13th Step." 
  3. St. Thomas, S. . "Inside the World of "13th-Steppers," People Who Prey on Recovering Substance Abusers.
  4. Bogart, C and Pearce, C. "13th-Stepping:" Why Alcoholics Anonymous is Not Always a Safe Place for Women." Journal of Addictions Nursing. 12 July 2009.
  5. Fulton, Heather. "13th Stepping and the Role of Peer Support in Recovery." LinkedIn.
  6. McGuiness, Kristen. "The 13th Step: People Who Prey on Newcomers." The Fix.

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