Alcoholism in Marriage: How to Cope When You’re Married to an Alcoholic

Being married to an alcoholic or even a recovering alcoholic can understandably lead to feelings of stress and hopelessness. When alcoholism and marriage coincide, a lot happens among both parties and the family. As you might know, alcohol use disorder affects the entire family and suddenly changes the family dynamics. When you’re married to someone with a substance use disorder, you might feel lost and scared about your relationship’s future. Keep reading to learn how to cope when you’re married to an alcoholic and how to be a supportive partner.

Alcoholism and Marriage

Someone with an alcohol use disorder makes drinking their priority, pushing other people and other things to the side. It’s common for marriages with alcoholic
partners to get into physical altercations, struggle with financial difficulties, and place strain on all family members.

Estimates believe between 10% to 45% of marriages in the United States are alcoholic marriages. Over time, researchers have studied the effects of alcoholism in marriage and found that:

  • Alcoholics are by far less likely to marry than nonalcoholic
  • Alcoholics who get married often either do so earlier or later than nonalcoholic
  • Recovering alcoholics are likely to reduce their alcohol use once married
  • Alcoholics are more likely to get divorced than nonalcoholic

Alcohol abuse can contribute to marital conflict, infidelity, domestic violence, unplanned pregnancy, and financial instability. Not to mention, it places a layer of stress and psychological strain that can be burdensome for anyone.

How Alcoholism Affects the Family Dynamics

Alcoholism can increase rates of divorce by at least 20%. It also increases irrational actions, including domestic abuse. Alcoholism in marriage can also cause significant distress, anger, resentment, dysfunctional communication, and mental health strain.

Today, about 1 in every 8 children grow up in a home where a parent or caregiver abuses drugs or alcohol. Being around alcoholism can also affect how children function later in life. In the short term, children may develop indifferent or demanding behaviors. Long-term, children who grew up in alcoholic marriages can develop PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Children of addicts are more likely to develop substance use disorders when they grow up. They’re also three times more likely to be neglected physically and sexually abused.

When there’s a family unit, alcoholism significantly changes the family dynamics. First of all, nonalcoholic spouses might often blame themselves or try to control the problem by themselves. These effects will trigger a chain of reactions that can place a significant burden on any marriage.

Another interesting result of alcoholism in marriage is the dynamic of the enabler. The enabler figure often appears in families with small children. As nonalcoholic partners want their children to live in a happy and safe environment, they’re likely to make excuses and cover up the evidence of alcoholism to make the problem disappear. However, in reality, they’re enabling the alcoholic’s behavior and patterns.

Codependency is another common effect of having an alcoholic marriage. Once a partner becomes an enabler, they can become co-alcoholics by helping their loved one with their alcohol abuse without noticing. Codependency treatment is also available in rehab and can be highly effective.

Top Books On Alcoholism and Marriage to Consider

For alcoholic marriages, there are many books on alcoholism and marriage that can be helpful. These are some popular books on alcoholic marriages to consider:

Can a Marriage Survive Alcoholism?

Many marriages do survive alcoholism. The first step is to seek help and consider having an intervention. With an intervention, your loved one can hopefully recognize their need for help. In this case, it’s always best to come prepared and already have a treatment center selected. Many rehab centers will work with you in organizing the intervention. The idea is to have everything ready in case the addict accepts help.

But addiction affects everyone in the family. Since alcoholism often strains relationships, it’s important to incorporate couples counseling and family therapy as part of the treatment. Seeking help for your loved one, for yourself, and your family is important.

It’s also important to note that you’re not supposed to save anyone from addiction – it’s not your role., if ultimately you have to consider divorce, don’t blame yourself. Seek help from support groups like Al-Anon family groups, or consider speaking to an addiction counselor to find the support you need to focus on your mental health as well.


What is Considered Heavy Drinking?

We have all been at the party where someone has drunk one too many glasses of alcohol and is now causing a scene. Unfortunately, heavy or excessive drinking has many more harmful consequences than simply ruining an evening. In order to discuss just how detrimental heavy drinking can be to your health and life, we must first talk about what heavy drinking actually is. 

What is Heavy Drinking?

It can be challenging to create a single definition of heavy drinking. Different organizations have provided various recommendations of what heavy drinking is considered to be. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes binge drinking as a consistent pattern of alcohol consumption that brings your blood alcohol level to 0.08 g/dl.

What is Heavy Drinking for a Woman Versus a Man?

Heavy drinking is also defined differently based on your sex (male/female). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) described binge drinking as four or more alcoholic drinks in a single sitting for females. Additionally, heavy drinking is considered drinking five or more alcoholic beverages on a single occasion for males. 

While the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s definitions of binge drinking may seem different, they are actually speaking about a similar quantity of alcohol. It typically takes 4-5 alcoholic beverages to get your blood alcohol level to a 0.08 g/dl. 

Furthermore, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines “heavy drinking” as binge drinking at least five days in the past month. 

How Much is Too Much Alcohol Per Week? 

If you want to avoid drinking too much alcohol in a given week, you should follow the guidelines set aside for moderate or low-risk drinking by the  National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. They describe moderate or low-risk drinking as no more than seven drinks per week for women. For men, low or moderate-risk drinking is considered less than 14 drinks in a single week. 

Warning: There are certain individuals that should refrain from drinking any alcohol at all, including those who are:

  • Pregnant or may be pregnant 
  • Diagnosed with certain medical conditions
  • Under 21 years old
  • Recovering from Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Taking certain over-the-counter or prescription medications that can negatively interact with alcohol
  • Driving or planning to drive

Avoiding drinking alcohol if you fall into these categories can help you save both your own life and the lives of others around you.

Symptoms of Drinking Too Much Alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can have significant harmful consequences both physically and mentally. Binge drinking can negatively affect almost every part of your body. You may experience the following symptoms while you are intoxicated:

  • Poor judgment
  • Slow reflexes
  • Lower inhibitions
  • Blackouts – not being able to remember things or events while you are intoxicated
  • Difficulty with walking, talking, or standing
  • Emotional or mood changes
  • Dehydration
  • Drowsiness
  • Distracted sleeping
  • Having to urinate more often

These symptoms can be dangerous for your safety, especially when mixed with one another. For example, an intoxicated person with impaired judgment is more likely to engage in risky behavior such as driving while intoxicated. Their vision and reflexes are also worse, so that combined with driving; they can easily lead to a car accident in which either they get hurt or hurt the other party. 

Long-Term Side Effects of Excessive Drinking

Indeed, 20 years of heavy drinking is much worse for you than a glass of wine or two now and then. Drinking excessively for a prolonged period of time will ultimately lead to the deterioration of both your mental and physical health. 

Possible Physical Health Consequences of Binge Drinking include: 

  • Anemia 
  • Increased risk of Cancer
  • Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Increased risk of Heart Disease
  • Increased risk of Dementia
  • Thinning of the bones
  • Damage to your Central Nervous System – this can also lead to tingling, numbness, or pain in your hands and feet.
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Lung Infections
  • Pancreatitis
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Shrinkage of the Frontal Lobes in Your Brain 
  • Infertility

Binge Drinking can also cause serious mental health consequences such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Decrease in cognitive abilities 
  • Aggression


One of the most severe consequences of heavy drinking is forming a dependency on alcohol, also known as an addiction. Becoming addicted to alcohol is incredibly dangerous as it will impact every single part of your life from your safety and daily functioning to your interpersonal relationships and your career.

How Much Drinking Will Make You an Alcoholic?

That is a difficult thing to answer since heavy drinking and alcoholism are not the same thing. Earlier, we defined what heavy drinking is. On the other hand, Alcoholism is classified as a substance use disorder that requires professional treatment in most cases. Many people might engage in heavy drinking but have not actually formed an addiction yet. However, heavy drinking does significantly increase your risk of developing alcohol addiction. 

Defining Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol Use Disorder, also known as Alcoholism, occurs when a person drinks so excessively that their body becomes dependent on alcohol. Alcohol becomes the most important thing in their life. Furthermore, their alcohol abuse might cause them to lose their job, destroy their relationships, and severely impact their emotional health. They know that their alcoholism is causing all these negative consequences, but simple awareness is not enough to make them stop drinking. The changes in their brain are so strong that they need their alcohol fix. This is why alcoholism is often treated with the help of a professional treatment center or therapist.

Do Not be Afraid to Seek Help! 

If you are worried about your heavy drinking or fear that you might be an alcoholic, we are here to help you! With the right resources and treatment options available, you can turn your life around for the better and overcome your addiction. 

Click here to learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous and how this program can help you overcome your drinking problem and regain control of your life! 

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Free?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who have a desire to stop drinking. This program is based on the 12 steps and 12 traditions outlined by the founders of this program in the original text: The Big Book. The founding principles put a great focus on anonymity and accessibility. In order to make AA meetings and the 12 step accessible, the program is virtually free. You cannot be required to pay to attend a meeting and there are ways to get the books and pamphlets for free. So is Alcoholics Anonymous free? The short answer is yes.

How is AA Funded?

Members of AA gather in physical locations, provide free coffee and snacks, and review the text the program was created around. How can Alcoholics Anonymous be free when it requires meeting space, snacks, and books – things that cost money? In addition to that, the 7th tradition states that these groups “ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” So how in the heck do they pay for things? It all comes down to contributions from members within the organization. While not every member will have the means to contribute, those who do are encouraged to do so. 

The 1st tradition mentions unity and the 5th tradition says to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers. One way to carry out these traditions is for each member to donate what they can to keep the meetings going. By keeping the meetings going, they are maintaining a space to gather together (unity) and for new members to seek help through AA (carry its message). Carrying the message of AA is also a part of the 12th step.

Getting Materials for Free

From pamphlets to books, there is a lot of AA literature out there and getting them printed is not free. However, the fellowship does everything in its power to make the materials affordable or even free to its members. Here are some ways

  • AA is not setting out to make a profit, therefore if you do set out to buy new materials you can still get them at an affordable price. 
  • You can read an AA book anywhere you go as they are available as eBooks for just a few dollars.
  • When it comes to books, pamphlets, or any AA literature, members are encouraged to pass their literature on to someone else in need once they are done. When books are passed down, it allows those without extra money to gain insight into the program. This is just one way in which they can make the program more accessible and carry on the message of AA. 

Find an AA Meeting & Get Started for Free

AA meetings are free to attend throughout the country. This means you can begin your recovery journey and get support for zero dollars. There is no excuse to wait another day. Find an AA Meeting Near you.

Rebuilding Trust in Yourself & Others During Recovery

Substance use can cause an individual to do and say things that are embarrassing, upsetting, and frankly, wrong. This could be anything from missing important events and making inappropriate comments to stealing and lying. Any combination of these actions not only upsets your loved ones but also leads to a loss of trust. Especially when there is a history of relapse, it becomes difficult to believe that they will not relapse again and revert to the damaging behavior. It also becomes difficult to trust yourself in potentially triggering situations. Rebuilding trust in recovery is one of the most challenging parts of overcoming addiction and it is a process that happens over time.

Rules for Rebuilding Trust in Recovery

  1. Take it one day at a time. 
  2. You broke the trust in the first place, so it is up to you to earn it back.
  1. Use actions, not just words.
  2. Your loved ones may never fully trust that you will not relapse. 
  3. Consistency & honesty are key.

Taking Trust One Day at a Time

One of the first things taught in any recovery program is “take it one day at a time”. This goes for most aspects of recovery, including rebuilding trust. This process does not happen overnight and it may be frustrating for all parties involved. You may feel in your heart that you are not going to hurt your loved ones again and they probably want to believe you. Unfortunately, they may feel that by trusting again they are making themselves vulnerable to be hurt again. Similarly, you may have thoughts or feelings that make you question your trust in yourself. Even if you have a setback in building trust, know that tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to prove your trustworthiness.

It’s Up to You to Take the Initiative

Speaking of proving your trust, you are the one who broke the trust, and therefore you need to take the initiative to repair it. Don’t wait for your loved ones to welcome you in with open arms, go in and start showing them how dedicated you are to this process. Make the first call. Make amends. Say no to situations that could be triggering. Create your own opportunities to earn the trust back.

Don’t Say It. Show It.

Words mean little to nothing when you have broken your word in the past, but keeping to your word through your actions is what actually makes a big difference. Completing a treatment program, attending meetings regularly, making it to your daughter’s recital, being home every night sober; these are ways that show you can be trustworthy.  Focus on small consistent actions. Even creating a routine for physical activity, sleep, and diet is something that seems small but demonstrates your commitment to building a better, healthier life.

Living With a New Normal

You may always receive inquiries sparked by suspicion and your family may always worry when you don’t answer your phone. You may never be able to take a sip of an alcoholic beverage again without relapsing. In short, you and your loved ones may never be able to trust you in the ways that you were trusted before. These are some of the realities of being an addict. That doesn’t mean that you can’t work to create a new normal that is beautiful, positive, and productive.

Be Consistent. Be Honest.

It’s going to take a great deal of patience to get back to a place of trust. Just because you kept to your word last time doesn’t mean that you will next time. All of those little actions you are using to prove your trustworthiness, do them again and again and again. If you aren’t sure that you will be able to keep your word then be honest about it from the start and communicate that to your loved ones. The more you can be honest and consistent, the more you will trust yourself and the more others will trust you as well.

Reading for Addiction Recovery

Recovery is a time for healing, introspection, learning, and growing. While the first few days of recovery are often focused on detoxification, rest, and allowing the body to heal, the subsequent days are about establishing a new healthier routine and learning new skills for relapse prevention. Some recommended activities that promote the goals listed above include meditation, exercise, and reading for recovery. To provide some direction on where to start when it comes to recovery-related books and readings, here is a list to consider and what each text has to offer.

Alcoholics Anonymous – The Big Book

Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps to recovery are outlined in the text more commonly referred to as The Big Book. The book is an incredible resource for individuals in recovery whether they are working the 12 steps or not. One of the best aspects of this book is that it actually includes true recovery stories from AA members. These stories are updated when new editions of the book are released so that the stories are relatable to people today. People in recovery may find these stories helpful because of the fact that the stories are relatable, demonstrate that they are not alone, and provide insight as to what the recovery process can look like.

12 and 12

If you are working on the 12 steps, this book is a tremendously helpful resource. This book goes into detail with full chapters dedicated to each of the 12 steps and 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. The brief 1-2 sentences that identify each step can feel vague and confusing to many individuals. This book breaks down what each step means and how to apply the step to the recovery journey. It also goes into the traditions, a lesser-known, but equally important aspect of the program.

As Bill Sees It

Bill was one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and he was a man full of many insights and much wisdom. He also was a man who wrote a lot when it comes to the topic of recovery. In his lifetime, Bill put pen to paper and documented these insights and wisdom. The writings were compiled into a book titled As Bill Sees It, “a daily source of comfort and inspiration.”

Daily Reflections

Containing 365 quotes from AA literature, Daily Reflections is a book that offers exactly what is in its title – a written reflection for each day of the year. Each quote is accompanied by personal reflection from an actual member of Alcoholics Anonymous. A common approach for recovery is taking it one day at a time. This book provides a quick and direct source for recovering addicts to take a moment each day and re-center their focus to recovery. Use it to get through the first year of recovery and pass it on to a new member, or keep it and read through the reflections year after year. There is no wrong option here.

Buying Reading Materials for Recovery

You can easily buy The Big Book or any other AA books and reading materials from the Alcoholics Anonymous website, or you can reach out to your local AA chapter. Oftentimes, AA chapters have used books available for those who do not have the means to purchase a copy.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous is a continuation of the reckoning that began in Step 8. Now that we’ve given proper thought to who we’ve hurt and how we did it (even if we didn’t realize it at the time), the time has finally come to make contact and make amends. But, Step 9 isn’t only having the courage to initiate difficult conversations in order to right past wrongs. It’s also about considering the potential repercussions of your admissions/apologies and making sure you’re doing it in a way that doesn’t result in additional harm – either to the direct individual or to third parties. This means being mindful of how you choose to make amends, when you decide the time to do it, and how much you disclose.

Time To Make Contact: Where Do I Start?

Admitting past wrongdoings is not a one-size-fits-all type of situation. As stated in the original wording of the text, sometimes direct amends won’t always be possible – so what then? For this reason, the act of making amends is typically broken down into three types: direct, indirect, and living. Additionally, these amends can come in several forms, such as verbal apologies, apologies through action, or even restitution.

The 3 Types of Amends

  • Direct Amends – This method of making amends involves making direct contact with the affected person. This involves face-to-face, not just talking over the phone. There are a number of reasons that might make this approach unfeasible: physical distance, unwillingness on their part, or it could be an unsafe/triggering situation for yourself. If it’s the latter, it’s usually not advisable to attempt to make a direct amend.

  • Indirect Amends – When you’re unable to meet with someone face to face, indirect amends can still be meaningful. It can mean paying old debts, replacing things you’ve broken, returning items you stole, volunteering for a related cause, etc. These are helpful in fixing physical damage, however, may be limited by way of addressing emotional harm.  

  • Living Amends – Sometimes, words just don’t cut it; you’ve either broken promises too many times that saying an apology carries little weight. In these cases, living your apology is the next best thing. If you’re unable to verbally communicate with someone, you can atone for your past actions through your current ones. Committing to this new sober lifestyle can speak volumes to those you’ve let down in the past. Opting for living amends might be the most appropriate for individuals that you either can’t reach or who are unwilling to see you.

Tips For Making Amends

Just as the nature of the grievance itself can vary, so will the means of resolution. Different situations will warrant different ways of proving that you are sorry. To correctly assess which type of amendment is best on a per-case basis, it’s important not only to think about the individual themselves and what they’re more likely to appreciate but the very nature of the wrongdoing itself.

  • It’s not just an apology. Expressing remorse might make you feel better, but comes up short of actually making up for the harm caused
  • Try to see it from their perspective. Really evaluate the extent of your wrongdoings. The best way to show that you’re truly repentant is to show that you understand why your actions or words were so hurtful
  • Address the mistake itself. Even if it’s difficult to say out loud, you owe it to the person you care about to truly own up to your past actions
  • Prepare yourself in the instance that they might be unreceptive (or even hostile). No one owes you anything, much less their forgiveness. 
  • Have suggestions for making it up to them. Actions speak louder than words and shows you’re serious about making things right
  • Be patient. If you’ve lost someone’s trust, it can take a while to rebuild your relationship

Working Step 9: Action Meeting Intention

Step 9 emphasizes the importance of making amends in the least damaging way possible for both yourself and others. Just because you feel ready to bare your soul regarding a certain situation, doesn’t mean someone is ready to hear the whole truth. You might reveal something that opens up a fresh emotional wound or creates situations that adversely affect an innocent third party. 

However, this also doesn’t mean to shirk the hard confessions. The particularly heinous offenses you’ve committed (or perhaps one that would have drastic legal or financial consequences), will require your judgment call. Perhaps you own up to committing a crime – where would that leave your family if you were to go to jail? Talk to your sponsor to see if there is a happy medium that allows you to be true to the process but minimizes the most damaging consequences.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 8

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

Swallowing your pride and apologizing can be one of the most difficult things for a person to do. Admitting fault, taking blame…it’s an emotionally vulnerable situation and one that we naturally try to avoid. Step 8 continues to push us out of our comfort zone and forces us to do just that; reckoning with hurtful past deeds – even the ones committed unknowingly.

This step is equal parts planning and mindful reflection as it challenges recovering alcoholics to realize that the scope of the damage caused by their drinking was much wider than they initially believed. “Harm” does not necessarily mean physical damage, as it can include both emotional, psychological, physical, financial, and property damage as well.

The Purpose of Step 8

Owning up to past hurt is an important part of personal growth. Forcing yourself to face the victims of your wrongdoings is a reckoning force like no other. If you haven’t already atoned for your past actions, hearing about behavior directly from the affected person is sure to change that. The benefits of doing so are just as much for your victims’ peace of mind as it is yours. Whether the relationship is repairable or not, closure is invaluable to the soul.

However, the purpose of step 8 is not to make amends for the sake of easing a guilty conscience. Forgiveness from others is satisfying, but not the goal. Brace yourself for disappointment and even anger from those you apologize to – no one said this would be easy. Some conversations will be tougher than others so just keep in mind the ultimate goal: you are taking responsibility and confronting the ugly aftermath of your addiction.

Growth, Not Guilt

Step 8 is not intended to make you feel guilty or shame you out of your addiction. Rather, it is meant to make you mindful that your drinking negatively affects others besides yourself and on a scale much larger than you likely thought possible. Speaking with those individuals can really solidify your understanding of this and serve as a powerful motivation against the temptation to drink in the future.

Recognizing Who You’ve Hurt (It’s probably more than you think)

You’re already aware of a few who you’ve done harm to, but there are likely to be many more that you aren’t aware of. Just as alcoholics are prone to underestimate how much they drink, they tend to do the same with how much hurt their drinking habit has caused.

It can be easy to think that alcoholism is a victimless crime that only hurts the drinker, but that is far from the case. Think about it: Has your alcoholism ever caused you to be late to something? To tell a falsehood? To cancel on something important? 

Think Outside the Box

Even if you don’t remember intentionally doing any of these, it’s guaranteed that you probably have done so at some point during your addiction. This step is about coming to terms that your familial, professional, romantic, or any other kind of relationship have all been negatively affected by your alcoholism in some way. When it comes time to creating your list of people to make amends with, you’ll need to think outside the box. In many ways, this step is just as much about repairing relationships and encouraging personal growth as it is realizing the full extent of how harmful your alcoholism was. 

The People Who Don’t Deserve Amends

One of the most challenging aspects of working Step 8 is overcoming the thoughts that some of your hurtful acts were justified or even deserved. Perhaps your best friend yelled at you, maybe there are family members that cut off contact. You might feel that you don’t have to apologize to these individuals since they have wronged you as well. To fix this line of thinking, consider what you might have done to provoke them in the first place. You’ll soon realize that alcoholism caused many subtle rifts before it led to something major.

Working Step 8: Making Your List of Amends

To effectively complete step 8, you’ll need to physically write down a list of people with whom you need to make amends. Do not try and keep a running list in your head (it’ll likely be much longer than you think). Include every name you can think of, no matter how minute or mundane the circumstance. Next, it’s usually advised to break up your list into four categories :

  • People to make amends with now
  • People to make partial amends to
  • People to make amends to later
  • People you might not be able to reach

It’s common for AA participants to get discouraged once they’re confronted with so many names. Enlist the help of your sponsor to help you sort them. There is no time frame of how long it will take to do step 8, but don’t put it off, it’s an important part of the Alcoholics Anonymous process that’s crucial to moving on to the next step of the recovery process. 

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 7

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Step 4 had us conduct a “fearless moral inventory” of ourselves where we first recognized our shortcomings. Step 6 ensured we were in the correct headspace (i.e. willing) to give them up – especially the ones we didn’t think were shortcomings in the first place. Step 7 is the culmination of those efforts and requires genuine humility to complete.

What Is a Shortcoming? & Why It Matters

A shortcoming is anything that causes pain or misery in your life. They can be conceptual like a love of money, a fear of being laughed at, a desire for attention. Some are much more concrete such as raising your voice when you’re angry, lashing out when you’re frustrated, being impatient in line. These behaviors themselves are often problematic themselves, but it’s the “why” behind this behavior that we are concerned with. 

Often, this “why” is rooted in a lack of humility. This doesn’t always look like arrogance (i.e. feelings of grandeur or superiority to others), however, as it can manifest itself in many ways. It often leads to overconfidence in our own capabilities that 1) prevents us from recognizing the need to change ourselves and 2) makes our alcoholism worse by promoting self-reliance rather than turning to a Higher Power. For this reason, a lack of humility is also partially to blame as both cause and prolonger of one’s alcohol problem.

The Importance of Humility

Besides being an admirable trait for any human being to have, humility is especially necessary for alcoholics. Humility allows individuals to gain a new perspective. How can you even begin to entertain the idea of becoming a better person if you don’t think anything can be improved upon? No matter the convincing your sponsor, meeting chair, or therapist may try, unless the willingness to change comes from within, the changes you make are likely to be superficial in nature and short-lived.

Think of your mindset before you completed Step 1. You probably felt that you were in ultimate control of your life and that your Higher Power just helped out every once in a while. Since then, you’ve grown to accept that one can’t be self-reliant when it comes to change since it is our doings that got us into this mess in the first place.

Working Step 7: The Removal of Shortcomings

Completing this step requires more than simply reciting the Step 7 Prayer or having a meaningful heart-to-heart with your Higher Powerful. It’s counterintuitive, but although step 7 says to ask for the removal of shortcomings, it’s actually directing you to take action. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, asking for shortcomings to go away won’t happen with just words or intentions alone. “Asking” indicates a willingness to take actions that will eventually lead you to your goal. 

For example: say you employ the help of a personal trainer to lose 50 pounds. No matter how much you ask for the desired outcome, they can’t magically remove that weight. What they can do, however, is provide instructions and guidance on how to achieve it for yourself. The responsibility then falls on you to follow through, apply their teachings to your daily life, and ultimately make the choices that will bring you to where you want to be. So while step seven may seem passive by simply saying to “ask”, it’s actually priming you for action.

Final Thoughts

In Step 7, we are no longer simply acknowledging these flaws, but are urged to make actionable changes in both our mindset and our behavior; to approach everything we say, do, and think with character growth at the forefront of our thoughts. Humility is a crucial aspect of accomplishing this and is at the base of our willingness to accept and seek change for ourselves.

Having come this far, the hopes are that you genuinely appreciate the purpose of humility and truly want to learn how to be humble – not just as a checkmark to move on to the next steps. Step 7 is an ongoing exercise that is never truly finished so don’t be frustrated if you don’t nail it in a single go. If you’re still struggling with this concept, revisit Step Four.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 6

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

What Does Step 6 Mean?

Even after working steps 1 through 5 – taking a moral inventory, baring your soul (to either yourself, others, or your higher power), and declaring yourself ready to turn your life over – you still may not be as prepared for change as you think you are. Step 6 highlights that only being willing to change an individual part of your life or your mindset – in this case, alcoholism – will not work. You cannot beat your addiction by wanting change in an isolated, compartmentalized fashion. Only when you’re willing to change all aspects of yourself will you find yourself with the correct mindset to succeed in recovery.

The Goal of Working Step 6

It’s easy to get distracted by the mention of character defects and feel that this step is all about identifying (more) flaws in yourself. However, the word “ready” is what gives an insight into this step’s true purpose. The goal of working step 6 is all about putting ourselves in the right mindset of cultivating change. Ultimately, our efforts to overcome our addiction is to improve our lives, right? Alcoholics Anonymous uses step 6 as a holistic approach to encourage us to be the best version of ourselves in all aspects – not just our drinking. 

This “best version” of you does not mean perfection, however. The original literature acknowledges that we will still have innate desires or “instincts” that we may want to indulge ourselves in. Rather than saying to deny human nature, simply recognize that the same excuse-making mindset that allowed us to pursue self-destructive drinking behavior to such an extreme level is also present in our other vices.

What Is a Defect of Character? 

Step 6 has AA participants take a step back to recognize that they may possess unhealthy or negative vices, ways of thinking, or behaviors – hereby referred to as “defects of character”. Some of these character defects might have a direct influence on your drinking problem, some might not. 

Some of the defects will be obvious to you, as will their negative impact on your life – those aren’t the ones we’re concerned with (although it is important to address them and how they play a role in your interactions, your mindset, your goals, etc.). Instead, we want to get down to the character defects that, at first glance, might not seem so bad. 

Say for instance, that you partake in gossip from time to time. Harmless, right? Sticks and stones and all that. But deep down, we know that gossip can be quite hurtful and is overall, a negative behavior to partake in – so why do we downplay it? We shrug it off as something inconsequential even though it goes directly against what we know to be true about gossip (that it’s bad). Analyzing things like this that will bring out valuable insight not only about ourselves but highlight just how easily we rationalize and justify the negative behavior surrounding alcohol addiction.  

Types of Character Defects

One of the easiest ways to conceptualize these defects is to consider the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Many of the items you might include in your list of character defects would be offsets of these such as being judgemental (pride), a workaholic (greed), or overly critical (envy). 

Not all of the adjectives you think of to describe yourself will fall under one of the seven sins. More importantly, not all character defects are something that you might think of as negative. Let’s revisit the example of being a workaholic. You might actually take pride in this quality in yourself, you believe it to be a testament to your work ethic and reliability. However, deep down you might throw yourself into work for feeling guilty when you’re relaxing, overcompensating for feelings of insecurity regarding your accomplishments, or perhaps trying to make yourself look superior to others. 

Working Step 6: 

The easiest way to create a list of character defects is to include both negative and positive words you would use to describe yourself. Then, dive into the motivation behind those qualities. Take your time, this is not a quick process. In fact, many find this to be an ongoing exercise as they continue to discover more about themselves and dig deeper in their moral inventory

Just remember that the purpose of this process is to create a readiness and willingness to become better people – not an expectation to be perfect. To do this, you’ll be asked to identify undesirable behavior or ways of thinking that you’ve rationalized – or even find to be admirable.   Understand how that same line of thinking can be one of the reasons you have struggled with alcoholism thus far. Resolving your alcohol addiction requires a willingness to change everything about your way of life, not just what you “think” is the problem.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 5

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step 5 is the ultimate challenge of humility. It’s the first time that participants are asked to share their deepest, darkest wrongdoings out loud and with another person. If merely the thought of this has you ready to bolt from the meeting room, you’re certainly not alone. Ask any seasoned AA veteran and they’ll tell you that Step 5 is a doozy. But those who are able to do it have reported it as one of the most freeing experiences of their lives. 

A Brief Explanation of Step 5: Taking the Power Out of Past Pain

The thinking behind this step is that only by openly talking about the skeletons in our closets can one truly move past them. It’s a concept similar to that of Catholic confession, and while there may not be a priest to absolve you of your past, Step 5 offers the same promise of relief by allowing recovering addicts to let go of the terrible secrets that chained them to their past.  Like every step before this, working Step 5 requires a recovering alcoholic to knock down yet another wall of ego and pride.

The Purpose of Admitting Wrongs to Others 

There’s a steep price that comes at the cost of carrying a great secret: isolation. Feelings of shame are often derived out of fear or anticipation of judgment, leaving you to shoulder your feelings alone. This inherently creates a feeling of isolation, an invisible barrier you subconsciously put up with everyone you encounter.  

So why does Step 5 ask you to unearth and share your greatest and most shameful secrets? The purpose is quite straightforward. Doing so helps to knock down the walls that addiction puts up around our hearts. Sharing our truths – no matter how unpleasant – banishes the loneliness that addiction often brings. Additionally, revealing your lowest moments to another person releases a tremendous emotional burden, and helps you feel more connected to people once again.

The Biggest Obstacles to Working Step 5

The task of admitting “the exact nature of our wrongs” is considered to be one of the hardest in the Twelve Steps. For many, the promise of releasing the secrets that have been burdening them isn’t enough to entice them to overcome their fear of being judged. Simply by the nature of speaking something out loud can make things seem more “real”. To do so would force us to reckon with our past actions for the first time, adding to the reluctance to go through with the admittance of wrongs. There are two things in particular that tend to be the main point of concern when it comes to step five, here’s how to overcome them:

Choosing a confidante

At first, participants might assume that they will be sharing their most guarded secrets to the entire group or to a complete stranger. Step 5 does not require individuals to stand at a podium, metaphorical or otherwise. It should be comforting to know that you only need to tell one person, and it’s an individual of your choosing. The person who first comes to mind is likely to be your AA sponsor, but it doesn’t have to be. The recipient of your confession should be someone whom you trust, respect, and more than anything, feel comfortable with. It is recommended that it is someone who has also experienced addiction and has had life experiences similar to your own.  

Confessing illegal wrongdoings

Addiction can bring us to do terrible things that we otherwise would never think that we were capable of ( See Step 2: Admitting insanity). Some of those things might even err on the wrong side of the law. It’s not uncommon, but still adds an extra layer of difficulty when it comes to being open and honest. If you are concerned about your confidante being put in an uncomfortable position or the risk that you’ll be reported to authorities, not to worry. The person you choose to confide in does not have to be from the Alcoholics Anonymous organization. You can choose someone who is professionally bound to confidentiality such as a member of the church or a therapist.

Overcoming negative feelings of shame or fear

As social creatures, the thought of revealing the worst aspects of ourselves goes against our most basic of instincts. So if the thought of confessing your lowest moments fills you with dread, take comfort that everyone else in the room with you has (or will have) had to undergo this same task and likely felt the same way you’re feeling now. Think of Step 5 as a rite of passage. Once completed, you’ll feel a much closer bond with the other members of the group.

Tips for Having a Difficult Conversation

Don’t let temporary fear rob you of the opportunity to find peace. Once you’ve gathered the resolve to go through and work Step 5 in earnest, you can employ a few tactics to make the conversation easier: 

  • If a face-to-face conversation is too much, try being in the same room but with your backs turned to one another. Once you’ve begun and feel a bit more comfortable, then turn to face your listener.
  • Wear sunglasses or some sort of face covering. Things like masks and costumes make us feel shielded and thereby lower our inhibitions. Even if your speaker knows who you are, having some sort of physical barrier can help you feel more secure when sharing. 
  • Studies have shown that the brain finds it difficult to speak while maintaining eye contact. if you feel like you’re struggling, feel free to look at the floor, your hands, a spot on the wall, etc. Your listener will understand and won’t be offended.
  • Being vulnerable is one of the bravest things you could possibly be –  it is not a weakness. Embrace the opportunity to do so in a judgment-free environment and remember that you have given yourself over to your higher power and are no longer the person whose actions you are describing

Because of the difficult nature of this task, many in the AA program find it necessary to come back to this step multiple times to eventually get the entire truth out. Don’t feel pressured to have to bear your soul completely in the first go.