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! 

Can I Go To AA If I’ve Been Drinking?

One of the biggest appeals of peer-based addiction recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous is the promise of anonymity in a judgment-free zone. They teach that being short of perfection is okay and that it’s more important to have the right mindset than simply getting everything right the first time. But is there a limit to their ‘come as you are’ attitude? Coming to an AA meeting while intoxicated seems like a (pretty obvious) bad idea. What isn’t immediately clear is whether that’s actively disallowed or just something that’s frowned upon. 


Can I Go To AA If I’ve Been Drinking?

Technically, yes, you can attend an AA meeting while drunk or high. While it’s not ideal, there are no official Alcoholics Anonymous rules about who can attend group meetings or what condition they must be in. That said, individual groups have nearly full autonomy to conduct themselves how they wish (after following the foundations of the Traditions, of course) and may have their own rules regarding a participant showing up in this state. Typically, it’s only those who are belligerent and disruptive that are ever asked to leave. 


Why Is It Frowned Upon?

It boils down to two main reasons. One: If you’re drunk, you’re less likely to get the full benefit of what’s being shared. Attending a meeting might ultimately be a waste of your time and put you at a greater likelihood of being disruptive to others. Two: The sight or smell of an intoxicated person could be triggering to other attendees. Your presence might not just be disruptive, but actually detrimental to someone else’s recovery.   

However, people going to AA meetings after they’ve been drinking is far from a rare occurrence. Many groups have unofficial protocols for how these individuals are dealt with and whose members have literally been in that same position.


What to Expect if You’re Drunk at an AA Meeting

Despite how discreet you think you are being, other Alcoholics Anonymous attendees will likely be able to tell if you’ve been drinking. In most cases, you will be allowed to stay, though it is within their rights to ask you to leave which is not unheard of. Here are some things you can expect to happen:

  • You’ll be asked not to share: Speaking is considered a privilege to those who have abstained from drinking for at least 24 hours. Instead, they’ll ask that you only listen. 
  • You can still meet and speak with other members: Odds are strong that at the beginning or end of the meeting, other sober members may take you aside to speak. You’ll likely get several pamphlets, phone numbers, and advice.
  • You’ll be encouraged to come back: Alcoholics Anonymous groups are filled with people who have been in your shoes and genuinely want you to get better. You won’t be shunned or shamed if you go to a meeting drunk. Instead, you’ll be encouraged to return with a gentle suggestion to abstain from drinking prior to attending.


You’ve Got To Start Somewhere

Don’t let a fear of judgment stop you from getting the help you need. You aren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last person to have gone to AA while drunk and the only true requirement to joining is a desire to stop drinking (see: Tradition Three). Get your sobriety journey started and find an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting near you today.

Who Runs AA Meetings? Alcoholics Anonymous Leadership Roles

Alcoholics Anonymous is the largest peer-based support group in the world with a presence in 180 nations. Despite its widespread growth and staying power (AA is nearly a century old!)This organization has no formal ruling body. Instead, the smallest levels of the organization, the AA groups themselves, hold most of the power. They run autonomously with little to no interference from the overall organization except for Alcoholics Anonymous’ core principles, the Twelve Traditions as well as bylaws. With so little governance at the base and top levels, it can leave many wondering who runs AA meetings and how anything gets done. 


Alcoholics Anonymous Leadership Roles & Duties: AA Service Structure

Although AA purposefully lacks a formal hierarchy (a decision the founders made in order to prevent corruption of the organization’s initial purpose), that’s not to say that there’s no form of leadership at all. There are multiple leadership roles in AA, all of which are vital to maintaining the structure and functionality of meetings. Tradition Nine specifically speaks on the necessity of leadership to “preserve our spiritual and democratic Fellowship”.

These duties include the running of the meetings themselves (i.e. welcoming new attendees and leading the introductions; selecting the reading and guiding the discussion) as well as the equally important behind-the-scenes operations (i.e. buying and setting up refreshments, securing the meeting space, etc.). 


Overseer of the meetings, the chairperson coordinates the other group officers and effectively runs AA meetings. They determine what type of meeting is being held (open or closed), the passages that are read, what the discussion format will be, etc. They also lead the cornerstone aspects of meetings such as reading the Preamble to begin meetings and then closing with the Serenity Prayer.  


The secretary is responsible for record-keeping, making announcements, and general upkeep of the groups’ communications. This includes maintaining bulletin boards, newsletters, email/phone contact lists, and taking minutes at business meetings. If an AA group doesn’t have a chairperson, the secretary is the role that usually takes over those duties.


The treasurer allocates group funds (voluntary donations by AA members) to ensure various essential costs are covered such as rent, AA literature, refreshments, and local meeting lists. In addition to covering the bills, they must maintain records of group funds to determine what to do in the case of excess. 


Who Decides Who Holds A Position?

The individuals who uptake these responsibilities are regarded as the ‘Trusted Servants’ or officers of the group. The multiple positions are chosen democratically by the group attendees. The eligibility criteria and term lengths are similarly determined by each individual group. Most leader positions involve individuals who have been sober for at least a year and/or have been a member of that group for a while. 

These officers are also a great point of contact for prospective AA members and can answer important questions as to the structure of how group meetings are run and what a new attendee can expect. Curious about Alcoholics Anonymous or 12 Step groups in general? Learn more about what they are and how they work, here. 



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.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 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.


Although this is the final step of Alcoholics Anonymous, your journey is far from over. In Step 12 participants are urged to carry on the message of AA as well as to honestly live its principles each and every day. In this guide to working step 12, you’ll learn what a “spiritual awakening” is, how to avoid the trap of complacency and the right ways to help other alcoholics. 

What Is a Spiritual Awakening? 

Whether you are religious or not, the twelve steps are a journey based on your acceptance and development of your spirituality. In each step, you were faced with a different focus that challenged you to grow in a certain part of yourself: learning humility, understanding personal responsibility, developing a desire to be your best self. It is this newfound spirituality that has enabled you to look inward and open yourself up to change and makes you excited to continue to change. 

The original text describes a spiritual awakening as a new state of consciousness where you can do, feel, and believe what you previously couldn’t on your own. It could be hope, that you deserve love, or that you would ever break alcohol’s hold on you. It is both a mental and emotional transformation that has made you more resilient to life’s hardships. This doesn’t mean you no longer have flaws and shortcomings, but that you can address and fix them where before Alcoholics Anonymous you did not. 

Avoiding Complacency: What Is Two Stepping?

Many of those who have completed the last step in Alcoholics Anonymous will say how satisfying it is–understandable, as it required jumping through numerous emotional hurdles to get to this point. For some, this satisfaction comes from having their personal, professional, social, and romantic relationships greatly improved. While these are all wonderful positives, they are superficial victories that can prevent these individuals from growing further. 

This is a fairly commonplace occurrence, so much so that it has a term associated with it called “two-stepping”. This occurs when an individual who is still involved in AA doesn’t feel it necessary to go through all the 12 steps again. It might be for the reasons listed above or not, but either way, there is such a sense of self-satisfaction that they only do a select few of the steps. Two-stepping refers to doing only the first and twelfth step of Alcoholics Anonymous.  This highly erroneous way of thinking is dangerous because it can prevent you from growing further.

Working Step 12: Carrying the AA Message To Other Alcoholics

The majority of the text about Step 12 is essentially a recap of all that you’ve learned and emphasizes the importance of living the principles of AA in your everyday life. The actionable part of this step is quite well-known: spreading the message of Alcoholics Anonymous to others who need help. 

There are multiple ways to do this: speaking at meetings, convincing other alcoholics to attend meetings, and sponsoring others. However, speaking to or in front of others isn’t the only way to spread the message (you’re welcome, introverts). It can mean taking more of a backstage role that helps keep your local AA chapter functioning or keeping the meetings running smoothly. This can mean booking venues, setting up seating, or even managing the refreshments. Ultimately, carrying the message is about supporting the organization and those within it. 

But, we are humans, and sometimes pride or other messy emotions can get in the way of our good intentions. Here are a few things not to do when attempting to carry the message:

  • Don’t get discouraged if the people you try to help end up relapsing or reject your advice
  • Don’t be overeager to share your advice; you might inadvertently lead someone down a path that was right for you but not for them
  • Don’t take a leadership position before you feel ready for it

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 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.

Nearing the end of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Steps program we are now fully in future-mode and preparing ourselves to cement the positive changes we have undergone thus far. At first glance this step might seem quite passive, simply encouraging participants to pray and meditate to obtain “knowledge of His will”. Working Step 11 is unexpectedly multi-faceted, however. In addition to explaining the different objectives that meditation and prayer are meant to accomplish, this step highlights the importance of having the right mindset in your approach. Otherwise, your prayer and meditation could backfire, leading to recovery-impeding pitfalls. 

What If I’m Not Religious? 

Naturally, this step can seem quite challenging–or even impossible–for someone who is non-religious. Outwardly, completing this step seems to be almost entirely dependent on the acknowledgment of a formal God figure. However, as is the case with previous steps that have had a religious tone, you are encouraged to apply your own interpretation of God. Further, the fundamental principles of step eleven can still apply in non-religious reflection. 

The Objective of Prayer & Meditation

Step 11 seems rather straightforward, but it is not as simple as meditation and prayer for the sake of getting something off your chest or strengthening your relationship with your higher power. The intention of prayer and meditation within the 12 Steps is to move away from worldly concerns and to realize our ideal selves. In the original text, this is referred to as the “spiritual objective” which serves as a goal to keep us on a positive track. Prayer and meditation are intended to help discover what this is for each individual.

The Difference Between Prayer and Meditation

These distinctions might not be relevant to secular individuals, but for those who are religious, it is helpful to understand the difference between these two acts. Step 11 denotes the unique intent and function of each type of spiritual outreach. Prayer is when one actively asks things of God (or your higher power). Meditation, on the other hand, is exploratory and introspective which is where our ideal selves (a.k.a. “spiritual objective”) are first envisioned. 

Working Step 11: The Goal of Prayer

The biggest takeaway of this step isn’t to simply encourage regular participation in spiritual reflection. Step 11 provides a helpful guide and highlights the importance of going into these activities with a proper mindset. The initial instinct might be to reach out to a higher power seeking guidance on specific issues (i.e. What to do about a fight with your sibling) or to ask for specific things (i.e. Cure your friend diagnosed with cancer). This does virtually nothing for your personal growth. Instead, think big picture: Ask for qualities or traits (ex. understanding, patience, or compassion) that will help you live according to the principles of AA and will empower you to resolve your issues yourself. 

Let’s use the above example about a person praying for help regarding a fight with their sibling. Rather than hoping for a resolution to be handed to them, it would much more constructive to ask for greater empathy (to better understand why she’s upset), grace (which might prevent future flaring of tempers, thus preventing arguments from occurring in the future), or perhaps even humility so that a person can apologize quickly and prevent disagreements from escalating in the first place.  

Another danger of turning to prayer for help with micro-level problems is that you may unconsciously use it to rationalize your own wishful thinking. No matter how well-intentioned you may be, this “guidance” can be very self-serving. It can actually push you away from the Alcoholics Anonymous path. This is why step eleven emphasizes “will” and “knowledge”.  Otherwise, the act of prayer and meditation would be little more than going through motions.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Working Step 10

Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

We first took inventory of ourselves in Step 4, but self-improvement isn’t just a one-and-done deal. Working Step 10 pushes us to do this on a daily basis. Remember: Recovery is a life-long journey that continues long after you have worked all twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is an ongoing process where, in order to grow, you must continuously shed your old self. The only way this can happen is through constant and continuous self-reflection. But this still begs the question: how does continued personal inventory help you stay sober?

Why Step 10 Matters

Step 10 is significant in that it’s the first one concerned with future behavior rather than analyzing past actions. It encourages ongoing personal inventory and self-assessment in order to continue the progress you’ve made thus far. If this step were to be summed up in a single word it would be ‘maintenance’. However, making self-examination a daily habit isn’t just for the benefit of practicing mindfulness. This works like a daily spot check. It can help you identify specific points in your day where you may have struggled (or excelled) in applying the principles of AA teachings. 

To put it simply, step 10 is all about control–specifically, control over one’s reactions. Think back to how your alcoholism habit started. You may have turned to drink because of a reaction to some sort of stressor (a bad day at work, an argument with a loved one, feeling depressed)–this was a lack of control over your emotional outlets. Then, when you drank, you did so in such excess that it interfered with the foundations of your daily life–another display of a lack of control. Fortunately, this is an ability that can be developed and improved upon. Steps 1-9 gave you the foundation to do so, now it’s up to you to put it into practice. 

The Importance of Self-Restraint

One of the highlights in the Step 10 text is an emphasis on self-restraint- but what is it exactly?  Self-restraint is not

  • Repressing negative emotions (like anger, jealousy, frustration, or sadness) 
  • Feeling bad or guilty about having negative emotions 
  • Denial of your feelings
  • Removing yourself from situations that might incur these feelings

Self-restraint is the cognitive ability to regulate your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors regardless of the situation. Just as with any other type of skill, it can be learned, but it’s not something that simply develops overnight. Exercising self-restraint in your smaller daily interactions will better prepare you when bigger issues arise–major stressors that might otherwise tempt you to relapse. You won’t always have control over where you’re at, who you’re around, or what happens to you, which is why earning (and practicing) self-restraint is key to maintaining sobriety. 

Tips For Working Step 10

Being mindful and continuously rehashing your immediate behavior can give you valuable insight into your triggers, recognizing your response patterns, and recognizing the consequences of your responses. This means taking a moment to stop and analyze whenever you find yourself in an emotionally-charged situation: 

  • How does this make me feel?
  • Why do I feel this way?
  • What would happen if I gave into my instinctual reaction and would it fix/improve the situation?

The other half of this is looking at how you did end up responding to a situation. Did you do it in a way that you would look back on and feel proud of? If not, do you think that the person or situation deserved the reaction you gave? Part of self-restraint means always striving to hold yourself to a higher standard even when someone else doesn’t (see: Step 9). 

Try to practice this self-reflection both in the moment and at the end of each day. Over time, this skill will become second nature, giving you ultimate control over yourself. 

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.