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Updated on March 31, 2022

Step 3 (AA & 12 Step Programs)

Overview: Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) & The Twelve Steps

Alcoholics Anonymous, founded by Bill W., is a treatment option centered around 12 steps. The 12 steps act as rules and guidelines to overcoming alcoholism. 

The goals, steps, and structure of Alcoholics Anonymous come from “The Big Book.” Written by Bill W., it's the equivalent of the bible for those in recovery.

Alcoholics Anonymous groups are centered around spirituality, self-reflection, and change.

What is Step 3 in A.A.?

The 3rd 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 3rd step of A.A. dictates a willingness to turn one’s life around and place it in the care of a higher being. All steps of A.A. focus on the personalized change needed to overcome addiction.

Step 3 is the culmination of steps 1 and 2, which touch on admitting alcohol addiction and the belief in a higher power. 

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What is the Purpose of Step 3 in A.A.?

A.A. recognizes that once one becomes an alcoholic, they are helpless to the pull of alcohol.

The purpose of step three is to succumb to a higher power. To be clear, A.A. doesn’t require a stout religious view or upbringing. 

A.A. only requires that a participant genuinely seeks help and accepts that they cannot defeat addiction alone.

The first three steps of A.A. require the participant to admit they're powerless over alcohol and need the help of a higher power.

What are the Spiritual Principles of Step 3 in A.A.?

Each of the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous has spiritual principles to go with them. The spiritual principles serve to 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 triggers for alcoholism. They must also have faith that the system works and that the higher power will help them overcome their addiction. 

For many, faith can be a difficult principle. Those that come from non-religious upbringings or atheist points of view may struggle. However, it’s important to remember that faith in a higher power is key to the success of Alcoholics Anonymous

The third step prayer, different from the serenity prayer, can be summed up as giving oneself unto a higher power.

Lastly, the term higher power often refers to God’s will. But it doesn’t have to. A higher power or higher purpose can vary between people.

For example, some may consider their children, partner, or their work to be the force they need to overcome addiction.

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How Do You Complete This Step?

It’s important to remember that A.A. is a form of addiction treatment. A.A. provides tools to use throughout a lifetime. This means that the steps of A.A. are not simply to be completed but also guidelines to live by. 

Completing step 3 means consciously repeating to oneself one's impotence over alcohol.

A.A. only works on those that genuinely seek help and treatment for their substance abuse. To complete step 3, an individual needs only to truly surrender their self-will and lives over to a higher power or purpose. They need to fully admit their addiction, reject their old ways, and embrace treatment. 

Like any step in A.A., this step can only truly be completed if accepted and truly believed by the person.

Many people may only declare their want to quit alcohol to placate their friends and family. This mentality will reduce the effectiveness of A.A.

Simply put, one must internally want to quit drinking for the program to succeed.

Questions About Getting Sober?

If you or a loved one have alcohol substance use issues, then the A.A. a twelve-step program can help. The recovery process is life-long, but with the proper help, you can overcome addiction. 

Treatment centers and Alcoholics Anonymous groups all over the United States are ready and equipped to help.

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

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

Here are some of the best treatments for AUD:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective option for alcohol addiction treatment. These programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days. They may be longer in some cases.

Throughout an inpatient program, you'll live on-site in a safe, substance-free environment. You'll go through medically supervised detox first, then behavioral therapy. Other services may be added to your regimen.

Many of these treatment programs assist you with an aftercare program afterward.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

PHPs are the second most intensive alcohol addiction programs. They're sometimes called intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). PHPs provide comparable services to inpatient programs.

These services may include:

  • Detox
  • Medical services
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Support groups
  • Other holistic or custom treatments

The main difference between PHPs and inpatient programs is that you return home and sleep at your house during a partial hospitalization program.

Some PHPs provide food and transportation. This varies by program.

PHPs are ideal for new patients and those who have completed an inpatient program and still require intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs and PHPs. They're best for people who are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Patients usually have responsibilities at work, home, or school.

These programs customize your treatment sessions around your schedule.

Outpatient programs may be part of aftercare once a patient completes an inpatient program or PHP.

Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Certain people qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Some medications can assist you throughout detox and withdrawal. Others can reduce cravings and normalize your bodily functions.

The most common medications used to treat AUD are:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol)

MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery if combined with other therapies.

Support Groups

Support groups are peer-led organizations made of people dedicated to helping each other stay sober. They can be the first step towards sobriety or part of an aftercare plan.

Many of these programs follow the 12-step approach.

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  1. W., Bill. “Step 3.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939,
  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,
  5. “What Makes AA Work?” Harvard Gazette, 12 Sept. 2011,
  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.

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