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Alcoholism is a disease. Because people with this disease do not choose this illness, coping mechanisms for recovery are essential to ensure lasting sobriety. The most proven, successful tools offered to addicts/alcoholics come from the 12-Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Through AA, those struggling with problematic drinking can find recovery through community support from others who share their experiences, strengths, and hope for recovery in group meeting environments.

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Because the program has been so widely successful, there are countless AA-affiliated groups around the world, in almost every city and throughout 175 countries, as well as other groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and other drug-related or addiction-related groups (shopping, eating, etc.) that have adopted these principles themselves.

What are the 12 Steps of AA, Including Step 4 of AA?

The 12 Steps of AA are a set of principles outlined for people struggling with compulsive, out-of-control behaviors that desire to seek recovery and lasting sobriety from alcoholism or drug addiction.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are: 

  1. Admit you are powerless over alcohol – that your life has become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that a Power greater than yourself could restore you to sanity.
  3. Make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of God as you understood Him
  4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to God, to yourself, and to another human being the exact nature of your wrongs.
  6. Be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly ask Him to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Make a list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make amends with them all.
  9. Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continue to take personal inventory and when you are wrong, promptly admit it.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to improve your conscious contact with God as you understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for you and the power to carry that out.
  12. Have a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, and try to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all your affairs.
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The Importance of Step 4 in the 12 Steps of AA

The purpose of Step 4, making a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself, is to begin to determine the root cause of one’s drinking, identify any weaknesses that may have contributed to alcoholism, and understand personal strengths that can help support the person with their self-discovery and recovery in the 12-step program. Through this moral inventory, the alcoholic will uncover negative thoughts, emotions, and actions that have contributed to the spiraling of their addiction. They will also direct their attention from blaming others to seeing their part in problems created. This step requires humility and rigorous honesty, as being truthful with oneself will be the blueprint for success with sobriety.

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This moral inventory will examine tendencies toward: 

  • Resentments/anger
  • Fear 
  • Pride 
  • Self-will
  • Self-pity
  • Guilt and shame
  • Relationships
  • Sex/abuse
  • Personal weaknesses and strengths (assets)

Because this step is so thorough in its quest to discover underlying secrets that have kept the addict/alcoholic bound in shame, regret, anger/resentment, etc. (therefore, increasing the chance of the user staying in a vicious cycle of drinking/using drugs to cope), the user must be willing to expose all secrets they may have been holding onto through this step. While this may seem daunting, releasing these secrets has proven to be quite healing for the user. Keeping secrets to ourselves, however, proves to destroy a person’s mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. That is why taking a thorough moral inventory in Step 4 can be essential to producing lasting sobriety. 

How to Do Step 4 in the 12 Steps of AA and a 4th Step Inventory Worksheet You Can Use

Different sponsors may approach the 4th step differently with their sponsees, depending on what they believe will be most beneficial for the person they are sponsoring. However, the three main categories that most elaborate on are: resentments, fears, and sexual conduct. One way to approach the 4th step is to list memories of people; institutions or organizations; principles, ideas, or beliefs; and events, situations, or circumstances that have produced negative feelings (anger, bitterness, resentment, etc.). It is important that while taking this inventory, one does not try to judge or analyze their writing abilities or hold back from writing certain resentments out of fear of being judged (e.g., feeling that the resentment is unwarranted, and they shouldn’t feel the way they do, so they try to ignore the person or situation instead).

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One just needs to be as thorough as possible with this step if they wish to benefit from the internal freedom that can be produced by working a 12-step program. Furthermore, it is important to understand that taking a “fearless” moral inventory does not imply that there has to be no “fear” when taking this step. It simply means that although one may feel fear, they are willing to search their innermost thoughts and feelings through the process, regardless of the fear. Lastly, while one may be afraid to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with another (most likely their sponsor), the truth is that one’s sponsor has probably heard “worse” things. Therefore, rest assured that your story is not all that unique, and there is personal healing and freedom if you choose to accept it. 

For more resources, check out our favorite 4th step inventory worksheet based upon the Big Book of Awakening.

How to Find Help with Doing the 4th Step Inventory of the 12 Steps of AA

To complete the fourth step, one must finish the first three steps of the 12-step program of AA. Each step builds on each other and is needed to have the “vital spiritual experience” one needs to maintain lasting sobriety. As such, a good first step prior to completing the first three steps is finding a sponsor willing to take you through all twelve steps. This person needs to be someone you will confide in and can help guide you on your journey to recovery. Sponsors are typically found in AA meetings or referred by alcohol or drug rehabs. Once you find a sponsor and work through the first three steps, you will be directed on how to complete the fourth-step inventory.

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Completing the fourth step does not need to be a daunting task if you can understand that every human has flaws and has made mistakes. It is what we do with those mistakes. However, that can define spiritual growth, harmony within ourselves, and, most importantly, lasting sobriety. So move through the fear and do a moral thorough inventory of yourself anyways. Your future self will thank you for taking the courageous steps toward emotional well-being.

Infinite Recovery provides addiction treatment in Texas. To learn about our drug rehab centers, reach out today. We are one of the top-rated United Healthcare rehab facilities in Texas and accept most other major insurance carriers.

Sources:

Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. BBC News. The many groups that have copied Alcoholics Anonymous. BBC News. Published June 9, 2015. Accessed July 4, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33049093
  2. Wahler J. Breaking Down Step Four of AA Alcoholics Anonymous. Jason Wahler :: Living Life With Purpose & Passion :: Celebrity, Wellness, Family & Recovery. Accessed July 4, 2022. https://www.jasonwahler.com/12-steps-of-aa/step-four-of-aa-alcoholics-anonymous
Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed July 4, 2022

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