Why is Admitting You Have a Problem the First Step?


There are plenty of terms and ideologies from Alcoholics Anonymous that have crossed over into mainstream vernacular. The most well-known by far is the concept that admitting you have a problem is the first step to fixing it. This is a reference to Step 1 from AA, one that you’ve very likely heard before even if you’re not in the addiction recovery community. 

Not only is this concept the beginning of the foundation on which all of AA’s 12 Steps are based, but it is central to the fundamental principles of the organization as a whole. If you’re brand new to 12-step-based recovery groups, read this first to learn why being able to admit you have a problem is so important. 

The trouble with denying that you have a drinking problem

Alcoholics—anyone with any type of addiction, really—are often really good at hiding things. This includes hiding things like receipts, injuries, and any signs that their lives are falling apart. Sometimes, they’re so good at this that they end up fooling themselves as well. 

They convince themselves that their drinking habits are fine—and since everything is “fine”, there’s no reason to change. Then, as their substance abuse drives them further and further into isolation and there are only a few (if any) people around them to try and tell them that their drinking is out of hand, this lie gets easier to tell. 

That’s why admitting you have a drinking problem is absolutely pivotal to overcoming addiction. Until reaching this point, an alcoholic likely wouldn’t be receptive to any attempts to change their behavior. Being able to make such an admission is the very sign that you’re now mentally at a place to confront an out-of-control drinking habit.

What are the five stages of recovery?

When working the steps of AA, the first step to recovery is acceptance. However, there’s quite a bit that goes on before a person gets to this stage. The transtheoretical model is a concept that explains the different phases a person goes through before they’re mentally ready to go through addiction treatment. 

  1. Precontemplation 

During the precontemplation stage, seeking treatment for alcohol addiction is nowhere on the person’s radar. They’re deeply in denial about their issue; defensive and actively rationalizing their destructive behaviors. Not only are they unwilling to face the reality of their substance abuse, but they’re unable to fully grasp the full scale of the negative consequences.

  1. Contemplation

A person who’s open to the idea of getting help or getting treatment has moved into what’s known as the contemplation stage. They’re willing to consider a future that involves being drug-free. They may or may not be willing to admit they have a problem, but they’re far more receptive to friends and family members.

  1. Preparation

The preparation stage is entered when a person begins making efforts to change. This could be searching for drug rehab centers online, reading others’ sobriety journeys in forums, dumping their alcohol down the drain, or admitting that they have a drinking problem.

They may successfully go without drinking for a few days. However, it’s common that during this stage people have second thoughts when they realize how much effort getting sober will actually require, and return to the contemplation or even precontemplation stage. 

  1. Action

The action stage is marked by continued efforts to make a change in multiple aspects of their life: be it physical, emotional, mental, or social. They’re committed to the process and have successfully maintained prolonged periods of abstinence. Not only are they making the necessary corrections to undo their substance abuse, but they are actively attempting to unlearn old patterns while gaining positive new ones.  

  1. Maintenance

As its name implies, the maintenance stage is when a person is continuing their healthy, drug-free lifestyle, and turning abstinence into a permanent habit. Relapse prevention is the primary focus and they have several tools to use to help them deal with triggers and cravings. The person is more independent, confident, and positive about their ability to remain abstinent.

You can only help someone who wants to be helped

No matter how dire a person’s drinking problem may be, nothing will change unless they’re willing to acknowledge its necessity. This can be frustrating to family members and friends as they watch their loved ones self-destruct. While they may be limited in the help they can provide, the situation is far from hopeless. 

A great way to start the addiction recovery process to simply get that afflicted person to an AA meeting. Being confronted with others who have been in their shoes can be the wake-up call they need to get the wheels churning. Find an AA meeting near you and get started for free.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *