What Is Powerlessness? A Staggering Admission (Step One Worksheet Included)

Alcoholics Anonymous, more casually known as A.A., is built upon a simple set of 12 steps in order to achieve daily sobriety. 

“Daily” is a keyword in the system because it sets out to construct a new lifestyle in the individual. A lifestyle that is not compatible with addiction. The admission of powerlessness is the beginning of this lifestyle. 

Alcoholics Anonymous is also a fellowship – a group of recovering alcoholics – who have either worked through the steps (oldtimers) or are about to begin (newcomers). 

The AA group meetings should be thought of as a “support group” in that they support the individual through their 12-step process, additionally, one individual, also known as a sponsor, provides more nuanced direction and direct accountability to provide the daily reprieve from alcohol dependency. 

step one meaning of powerlessness

“Acceptance cannot be forced on us. It is an interior act. Circumstances may force me to admit, but not to accept. It is possible to admit that one is powerless over alcohol, that one cannot stop drinking on one’s own, yet have attitudes which betray a lack of acceptance. These attitudes get in the way of a complete surrender and block the way to subsequent Steps.”
 – Practice These Principles

Powerlessness & Step One Explained

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


“Step 1: Alcohol will kill me.”
–The Twelve Steps In Plain English

Admitting powerlessness over alcohol is the cornerstone of your recovery. 

If you still think you can control your drinking, you most certainly will again. Give up this control and you begin the journey of mastering your alcoholism. 

What Does Powerlessness Mean?

It means that every time you start drinking you ultimately lose control and disaster follows. Yet, once you get sober you commit the most insane act from a state of mind called “sobriety” by picking up the drink again. 

You can’t drink because of your body, because for some unknown reason, it craves more and more and more. 


You can’t quit because of your mind because against all odds, you convince yourself to drink again!

Once you are thoroughly convinced of this truth you can finally begin to traverse through the steps. 

Why? Because if the mind is well it won’t take that first drink that triggers the intense cravings. Step 2 is the belief that the mind can get well!

“These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. If you ask him why he started on that last bender, the chances are he will offer you any one of a hundred alibis.

Sometimes these excuses have a certain plausibility, but none of them really makes sense in the light of the havoc an alcoholic’s drinking bout creates. They sound like the philosophy of the man who, having a headache, beats himself on the head with a hammer so that he can’t feel the ache. If you draw this fallacious reasoning to the attention of an alcoholic, he will laugh it off, or become irritated and refuse to talk.”
Alcoholics Anonymous p. 23

At any rate, an admission of powerless does not mean you are weak or pathetic.

On the contrary, the admission demonstrates that you are self-aware of your limitations and an honest person.

Knowing your limitations assists you in accomplishing future goals. Why? Because it’s the manufacturer of efficiency. 

It’s crucial to absorb this fact. 

The concept of admitting total defeat can be misleading. It’s more accurately recognizing that you can handle some things and others you can not. 

If that weren’t the case we wouldn’t have the diversity of jobs and skills which compose society. Your strength may be my weakness and my weakness may be your strength.  To be human is a give and take enterprise.

Consequently, admitting powerlessness is what provides you with strength. This may feel counterintuitive, but if you are absolutely convinced you cannot drink, then nothing can make you return to it. 

A Lifestyle That Is Not Compatible With The Drink

Once more, as you progress through the remainder of the steps you will cultivate a lifestyle that is not compatible with the drink. 

Prior to step one, your life is not compatible with sobriety. This is fundamental to step one. No longer can you try harder using the wrong method to get the right result. Instead, you must change the method. Admitting powerlessness is simply the acknowledgment that a method change is demanded.

Additionally, admitting powerlessness is the white flag demonstrating an understanding that drinking is no longer an option for you (Check out our article exploring further this concept of the “non-option”).

If once you start you just can’t stop and once you stop you always convince yourself to start back up again. If you have examined your history and discovered the “can’t use, can’t quit” pattern.

That my friend is powerlessness.

Once you’ve truly grasped this information, you will change. You will become a strong-willed person in recovery. Remember, it starts with accepting that alcohol doesn’t add to your life anymore, it just takes everything away. 

So ask yourself the following question:

step 1 aa

==>Read our examination of the “unmanageability” of Step One

==>Read an exploration of the historically concept of powerlessness

==>Read our article reading common myths of the AA Big Book

==>Read our Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions summary

==>Read a brief history of Alcoholics Anonymous

==>Read our examination of AA meetings in the 1940s