Updated on April 3, 2024
3 min read

What is the 13th Step in AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step program that helps people rebuild life after addiction. However, those involved in the program may become familiar with the 13th step.

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What is the “13th Step” in AA?

The 13th Step is an unofficial part of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is when an AA veteran makes sexual advances on a new member.2

Despite being frowned upon, the 13th step happens enough that people have given it an unofficial title in the AA recovery process. It is ultimately predatory and problematic.

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.3,4

Newcomers in recovery are vulnerable and lonely. They have lowered self-esteem and don't know how to set boundaries. Members who still target newcomers are at risk of becoming 13th steppers.6


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How Does 13th Stepping Occur?

The 13th step happens when an AA veteran approaches a new member beyond the intentions of friendship, instigating a sexual relationship with them. It is often due to people thinking sex will make them feel better.

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

This step can also occur because most 12-step groups are informal, with regulations drafted and enforced by members, making it difficult to monitor everyone’s actions. In some groups, once the 13th step occurs, there is nobody to appeal to unless something illegal has happened.1

Why is 13th Stepping Discouraged?

Newcomers are often emotionally vulnerable as they begin their sobriety journey. Because of that, it can be easy for predators to manipulate them into a romantic relationship.

Aside from that, recovering alcoholics may also have difficulty developing relationships without alcohol. This is often why experienced 12-Step members view newcomers as potential conquests.3,4

Some people could also treat AA as a social club, using it as a place to meet potential sexual partners. Going into AA with this intention can distract members from focusing on their recovery and risk relapse for all parties involved in the 13th step.

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Dangers of 13th Stepping

New AA members join 12-Step meetings looking for support and community. Committing the 13th step has the opposite effect, harming their experience and potentially causing relapse.5

The nature of sexual advances on vulnerable people is predatory. It can also lead to problems such as:

  • Interfering with sobriety
  • Inappropriate sexual relationships
  • Discouraging newcomers to return to AA
  • An uncomfortable and stressful environment
  • Damaging the AA’s reputation

How to Prevent 13th Stepping

You can do many things to discourage 13th stepping. These measures include:5

  • Ending a relationship with a sponsor if they make any advancements
  • Let newcomers know that they should avoid sexual relationships during the beginning stages of 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
  • Understand that sexual relationships between group members are acceptable only if sobriety has been secured for both members

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. 

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The 13th step refers to a situation where a veteran member of AA makes sexual advances on a new member. It is often discouraged because of how predatory and exploitative it can be.

13th stepping can negatively affect a newcomer’s experience and may hinder their sobriety.

To avoid this, veterans should educate members and discourage them from the 13th step.

Contact a healthcare professional or a treatment center if you have concerns about the possibility of 13th stepping in your group.

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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