What is Step One?

May 15, 2021

When discussing the 12-Step program it is important to start at the beginning, which of course means we must start with Step one. So, what is step one? Step one as it appears in The Big Book, which is the basic text that lays the foundation of the 12-Step program, reads as follows: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives have become unmanageable” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59). What exactly does that mean? This essentially means that the first step for someone new to the 12-Step program is to acknowledge that they have a problem and that the solution to that problem is beyond their power.

Understanding and Identifying with Step One

The most simple and effective way to break down and understand step one is to understand two of the main things that make up the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction. These are the Physical Allergy and the Mental Obsession. The concept of the physical allergy was first presented in “The Doctor’s Opinion”. It reads as follows “We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to solve.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. XXVI). This can be simplified by asking oneself a simple question, “Do I have trouble controlling the amount I drink or use when I begin?”. 

The concept of the Mental Obsession is discussed all throughout the Big Book and is mostly represented in Chapter 3, “More About Alcoholism”. The mental obsession is described here: “The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.” (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30).  This is essentially saying that despite the obvious consequences and their inability to drink or use like other people, an alcoholic or addict will not be able to reason with themselves to stop using. 

These two concepts together create a terrible reality for alcoholics, but recognizing these things as truth is the first step on the path to recovery. The Big Book presents a perfect identifier for someone trying to figure out if they are an alcoholic or not. On Page 44 it states: “If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic.”

Working Step One

Putting the work into step one is usually a simple, yet difficult task that carries incredible consequences for the trajectory of one’s recovery. All someone needs to do is take an honest look at their using career and refer to the first few chapters of the Big Book. The goal of step one is to concede to our innermost selves that we are alcoholics and addicts, and that we don’t have the solution to fix that. Once someone can honestly say this, then they have successfully worked step one.

Here is a list of sources for information on step one:

Alcoholics Anonymous Pgs. XXIII-44

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions Pgs. 21-24