Updated on March 9, 2023
3 min read

Step 3 (AA & 12 Step Programs)

Overview: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) & The Twelve Steps

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a peer support group centered around spirituality, self-reflection, and change. The goals, steps, and structure of AA come from “The Big Book” by Bill W, who also founded it. AA is centered around 12 steps that act as guidelines to overcome alcoholism.

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What is Step 3 in AA?

The third step of A.A. is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” The third step is the culmination of steps 1 and 2, which involve admitting alcohol addiction and believing in a higher power. 

The third step of AA dictates a willingness to turn one’s life around and place it in the care of a higher being. All steps of AA focus on the personalized change needed to overcome addiction.

What is the Purpose of Step 3 in AA?

The purpose of step three is to succumb to a higher power. This involves allowing that higher purpose to be a driving force to avoid alcoholism.

AA doesn’t require a stout religious view or upbringing. AA only requires that a participant genuinely seeks help and accepts that they cannot defeat addiction alone.

The first three steps of AA require the participant to admit they're powerless over alcohol. These steps involve admitting you need help from a higher power.

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What are the Spiritual Principles of Step 3 in AA?

Each step in AA has spiritual principles. These provide direct actions to achieve the steps.

The primary principle for step 3 is faith. During this step, a participant is meant to give up their old ways and surrender control of their own lives.

In doing so, they may avoid certain alcohol triggers. They must also believe that the system works and that the higher power will help them overcome their addiction. 

What are the Challenges of Step 3?

For many, faith can be a difficult principle. People who come from non-religious upbringings or who hold atheist beliefs may struggle. However, it’s important to remember that faith in a higher power is key to the success of AA

Although a higher power often refers to God’s will, it doesn't necessarily have to be God. A higher power or higher purpose can vary between people.

For example, a higher power or purpose could refer to your:

  • Children
  • Partner
  • Work

How Do You Complete This Step?

Completing step 3 means consciously repeating your impotence over alcohol. AA only works for people genuinely seeking help and treatment for their substance abuse.

To complete step 3, you must surrender your will and life to a higher power or purpose. You must fully admit your addiction, reject your old ways and embrace treatment. 

Many people may only declare their desire to quit alcohol to placate their friends and family. This mentality will reduce AA's effectiveness. Simply put, you must internally want to quit drinking for the program to succeed.

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Questions About Getting Sober?

If you or a loved one have alcohol abuse issues, AA can help. The recovery process is life-long, but with the proper help, overcoming addiction is possible. 

Treatment centers and AA groups exist all over the U.S. and are equipped and ready to help.

The first step in AA and any recovery process is admitting there’s an issue. If you need alcohol to function, it’s time to seek help.

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Updated on March 9, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on March 9, 2023
  1. W., Bill. “Step 3.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939, https://www.aa.org/twelve-steps-twelve-traditions
  2. Kelly JF, Abry A, Ferri M, Humphreys K. Alcoholics anonymous and 12-step facilitation treatments for alcohol use disorder: A distillation of a 2020 cochrane review for clinicians and policy makers. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2020;55:641-651. doi:10.1093/alcalc/agaa050
  3. Village A, W. Hood R, eds. The pragmatic believer—faith development and personal experiences of a ‘higher power’ in seasoned members of narcotics anonymous. In: Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, Volume 29. BRILL; 2018:123-144. doi:10.1163/9789004382640_008
  4. “Why Is Spirituality an Essential Part of a Recovery Program?” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-craving-brain/201706/why-is-spirituality-essential-part-recovery-program.
  5. “What Makes AA Work?” Harvard Gazette, 12 Sept. 2011, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/what-makes-aa-work/.
  6. Suire, Jared G., and Robert K. Bothwell. “The Psychosocial Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous.” American Journal on Addictions, vol. 15, no. 3, Jan. 2006, pp. 252–255, 10.1080/10550490600626622. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10550490600626622.

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