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Al-Anon Step One (Recovery Work)

Peace of Mind for You Soberlink

We are filled with despair and hopelessness when we first come to Al-Anon meetings. Some of us come because we want to learn how to teach our family members to stop drinking. We are looking for a quick fix. Some of us grew up in an alcoholic home or a home with other substance use disorders. We have a hard time with our feelings and living life. Many of us would not look to the Al-Anon support group for help if it weren’t for the deep pain we were in for such a long time.

al-anon hopeless late night looking for alcoholic

Not yet understanding that alcoholism is a disease, we try to take care of others’ substance abuse into our own hands. We pour out liquor, make excuses and phone calls for our alcoholic, nag, and plead for alcoholic marriages. We finished our alcoholics’ unfinished projects, paid off their credit lines, and hid their drinking problems from their bosses.

Find an Al-Anon Meeting Near You

The first step in recovery is to find a list of Al-Anon groups in your area. You can find a list on the Al-Anon Family Group Headquarters website. At meetings, you will find others just like you who have already worked the steps. You can also attend open Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to learn more about alcoholism from the alcoholic’s point of view. To find a list of AA meetings, visit How to Find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

The Disease of Alcoholism

Before we take the first step, we need to understand the disease of addiction and alcoholism. Medical authorities agree that alcohol use disorder is a family disease that can be arrested but not cured. The only way to arrest the disease is total abstinence.

alcoholism family disease al-anon alanon al anon

As a family disease, the one with the drinking problem is not the only sick one. The disease affects the entire family. In alcoholic homes, relationships are affected, and each family member has their own experiences and learned behaviors to recover from. For years, family members have tried to control the alcoholic’s behavior. They often blame themselves for it and are hurt by it.

Illusion of Control

We might be the breadwinners, hold the family together, and make all the decisions; how are we POWERLESS? In this illusion of control, the disease of alcoholism has a hold on our minds. Admitting powerlessness may be very difficult for us. We are the competent ones. 

How can it be that the responsible ones are powerless? In the Al-Anon program, we recognize that our lives become unmanageable when we attempt to control people and situations that are beyond our control. How can our well-meaning efforts be part of the problem? In Al-Anon’s recovery, we are ready to try something new.

We learn the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change (the alcoholic),
The courage to change the things I can (ourselves),
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This is when we begin to learn how to keep our focus on ourselves. This is how we begin to recover.

As we start to look over our own experience and our own life, we acknowledge our powerlessness over alcohol, the alcoholic, and every person and event we sought to control. By letting go of others and control, we find an enormous burden is lifted, and we begin to discover our freedom and power.

Step 1

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

We Are Not Alone

The first word of the first step is a big part of Al-Anon’s recovery: WE are not alone. We never have to do this alone again. Many of us have lived a life of utter aloneness. And the most important thing in Al-Anon recovery is each other.

al-anon friends al anon alanon friends step one

Ideas to think about when working on Step 1:

  • Do I accept that I cannot control another person’s drinking? And another person’s behavior?
  • How do I recognize that the alcoholic is their own person, separate from me?
  • Do I validate my own feelings? Do I know what they are?
  • Do I accept alcoholism as a disease? How does this change how I deal with an alcoholic?
  • How do I feel when the alcoholic/addict will not do what I want them to do? How do I respond?
  • In what situations do I feel shame or embarrassment for someone else’s behavior?
  • How do I know when my life is unmanageable?

As the Al-Anon Suggested Welcome says, “We who live, or have lived, with the problem of alcoholism understand as few others can. We, too, were lonely and frustrated. Still, in Al-Anon, we discover that no situation is hopeless and that we can find contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not.”

When we begin to understand that someone’s drinking has affected our lives, we may want to blame everything on them. We are sure they must stop drinking for us to get better. We have no idea that we are as powerless over alcohol as the alcoholic.

The Three C’s

In the first encounter, step one in Al-Anon meetings, we hear the three C’s: we didn’t cause, can’t cure it, and can’t control it. We begin to take the focus off the alcoholic and start to focus on ourselves for the first time.

Acceptance of Step One brings relief from impossible responsibilities for the first time.


The Al-Anon Family Groups are a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength, and hope in order to solve their common problems. We believe that alcoholism is a family illness and that changed attitudes can aid recovery.

Al-Anon is not allied with any sect, denomination, political entity, organization, or institution; does not engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any cause. There are no dues or for membership. Al-Anon is self-supporting through its own voluntary contributions.

Al-Anon has but one purpose: to help families of alcoholics. We do this by practicing the Twelve Steps, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.

-The Suggested Preamble to the Twelve Steps

Al-Anon’s Declaration

Let It Begin With Me

When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help

let the hand of Al-Anon and Alateen

always be there, and – Let It Begin With Me

The Twelve Steps

A study of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is essential to progress in the Al-Anon program. The principles they embody are universal and applicable to everyone. We pray for the wisdom to apply the Steps to our lives.

  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.

We may not yet know a Higher Power since we just entered the rooms of 12-step programs. We can keep an open mind and begin to pray to be willing to be under the care of God and to have a spiritual awakening while working the 12 steps.

Source: This blog post was written using Paths to Recovery: Al-Anon’s Steps, Traditions, and Concepts, 1997

About the author
Shannon M
Shannon M's extensive experience in addiction recovery spans several decades. Her journey started at a young age when she attended treatment aftercare sessions for a family member and joined Alateen meetings, a support group for young people affected by a loved one's addiction. In 1994, Shannon personally experienced the challenges of addiction and took the courageous step of joining Alcoholics Anonymous. This experience gave her a unique perspective on the addiction recovery process, which would prove invaluable in her future work. Shannon's passion for helping others navigate the complexities of addiction led her to pursue a degree in English with a minor in Substance Abuse Studies from Texas Tech University. She completed her degree in 1996, equipping her with the knowledge and skills necessary to provide compassionate and effective support to those struggling with addiction.