What Does Unmanageability Mean In AA?

So you’ve decided to get sober, begin your journey to recovery, and follow a 12 step program. That’s awesome! Only, here you are looking at step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous:

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

When reading this sentence, you may think to yourself, what does “unmanageable” mean? The Big Book examines powerlessness very deeply but doesn’t go as in-depth about unmanageability. Let’s take a look at how alcohol can lead to an “unmanageable” life, what unmanageability is in AA, and how it is correlated with addiction or alcohol abuse.

Manageability: The Line Between Alcohol Use & Addiction

Alcohol use is extremely common in societies across the globe, and not everyone who drinks alcohol develops an alcohol addiction. Many people who drink on an even somewhat regular basis may at some point ask themselves, “Am I am alcoholic?”. How can you tell the difference between simple alcohol use and addiction? Well, understanding manageability is a factor that can be used to determine if someone has crossed that line.

When someone who is not struggling with addiction begins to experience the consequences of their drinking, they simply stop drinking. However, if someone is drinking, experiencing consequence after consequence and does not or cannot stop, then this is an unmanageable life. Everyone makes mistakes, but they usually learn from them and make better choices moving forward. Someone who seeks help for addiction is either someone who is court-ordered to, or someone who is not able to manage their drinking, and ultimately their life.

The DSM-V and Alcohol Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders, or DMS, lists Alcohol Use Disorders in the manual and includes 11 criteria. Only 2 of the 11 criteria have to be met to be diagnosed with the disorder. Of these 11 symptoms, 4 of them are social symptoms that align with an unmanageable life. 

Signs Your Life Is Unmanageable

  • Frequently running late for events or meetings
  • Using the “I’m too busy” excuse often
  • Uncontrollable, angry outbursts without any regret or remorse
  • Getting fired because of inappropriate behaviors
  • Maintaining emotional distance from loved ones due to a focus on substance use
  • A lack of romance or intimacy caused by intrusive thoughts of substance use
  • Consistent alcohol use despite a fear of being called out
  • Cravings prevent responsibilities from being tended to
  • Hospitalization or self-harm
  • Uncontrollable depression, anxiety, or loneliness

Internal Vs. External Unmanageability

Signs of an unmanageable life can be broken down into 2 different categories, internal and external factors. Internal factors include being unable to manage emotions, feelings, and thought. Internal factors often contribute to external factors such as relying on excuses, exhibiting inappropriate behaviors, and projecting emotions onto others. 


If you or your loved one’s life has become unmanageable, get help from a local AA meeting or treatment center today.

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