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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., the big book is the equivalent of the bible to those in alcohol addiction 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 alcohol addiction alone. The first three steps of A.A. require the participant to admit they are powerless over alcohol and that they need a greater power to help them recover. 

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 principal. 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 the system. 

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. However, it doesn’t have to. A higher power or higher purpose can vary between individuals. For example, some may consider their children, partner, or even their work to stabilize 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 does not mean that individuals never again need to give themselves over to a higher power but must consciously and repeatedly admit to themselves their powerlessness 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 believed by the individual. Many people may only declare their want to quit alcohol as a placebo to their friends and family. This mentality will experience diminished results within the A.A. program. Simply put, one must internally want to quit drinking for A.A. to be effective.

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, if alcohol consumes your thoughts, and if your life is falling apart because of alcohol, then it’s time to seek help. Reach out to local groups and treatment facilities for more information. 

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

  • Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective option for alcohol addiction treatment. These programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days, however they may be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of an inpatient program you will live on site in a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Many of these treatment programs will assist you with an aftercare program afterwards.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) PHPs are the second most intensive alcohol addiction programs. They are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Partial hospitalization programs provide comparable services to inpatient programs. These may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. The main difference between PHPs and inpatient programs is that in a partial hospitalization program, you return home and sleep at your house. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. PHPs are ideal for new patients, as well as patients who have completed an inpatient program and still require intensive treatment.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs and PHPs. They are best for people who are highly motivated to achieve sobriety and have responsibilities at work, home, or school. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success. They may also be a part of aftercare programs once a patient completes an inpatient program or PHP.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Certain patients will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Some medications can assist you throughout detoxification and withdrawal. Others can reduce cravings and normalize your bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. 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 a first step towards sobriety or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of these programs follow the 12-step approach.

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W., Bill. “Step 3.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939,

Related Pages


13th Step

Addiction Support Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

AA Sponsor & Sponsee Relationship

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