Admitting Powerlessness and Unmanageability

Table of Contents

Powerlessness and Unmanageability

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

This is Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). When we finally make it into the AA rooms, we are likely beaten down, broken, and brimming with shame and self-loathing. We have successfully screwed up our lives, and there is no denying that drinking has become a serious issue. For many of us, the second half of the step — the unmanageability piece — is easy to acknowledge. Yes, absolutely, our lives have become completely unmanageable. Our interpersonal relationships have dissolved, our careers are either over or on the way out, we are in financial ruin, we might even be out of a place to live. For some of us, associated consequences are more internal than external. We lose all semblance of self-esteem and self-respect, become shells of our former selves filled with nothing but deep-seated shame and despair. Yes, unmanageability is often undeniable towards the end of our drinking careers.

But what about powerlessness? This concept is significantly more difficult to grasp. However, for members of AA who are serious about maintaining sobriety, admitting powerlessness is a crucial part of the process. No matter where you are in your personal recovery journey, 12 Step Illinois is available to help. Contact us today to learn more.

Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous

Why is Step One such an important piece of the puzzle? There are two predominant reasons. First of all, it is crucial that we understand the hold that alcohol has on us. As soon as we transition from problem drinkers to alcoholics — to individuals with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder and a physical and psychological dependence on the substance — we lose all choice in the matter. We can no longer decide how much we drink. As soon as we pick up the first drink all bets are off. The reward center of our brain is triggered and we are off to the races regardless of how severe associated consequences become.

When we first come to AA, we likely don’t know where to start — and that’s more than okay. All we have to do is continue showing up to meetings and introducing ourselves, and others who have already been through the Steps will start to show us the ropes. Eventually, we will find a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who has already been through the Steps and who is willing to take us through the Steps in turn. They act as a mentor and often as a friend, guiding us through the process and helping us navigate early sobriety. As we embark on our stepwork we come face-to-face with Step One, which reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Admitting We Were Powerless Over Alcohol

What exactly does it mean to admit we are powerless over alcohol? First, consider other aspects of life that you are powerless over. You are powerless over the weather, over the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others, over the time passing, and over the color of the sky. Being powerless over alcohol essentially means that you have lost control over how it affects you. You might try and try and try to drink like other people, trying to limit your intake to one or two beverages, and only in social settings. But no matter how hard you try, even when you succeed at limiting your intake, obsessive thoughts about drinking more overpower your mind in time. Admitting powerlessness means that no matter how hard you try to control your drinking and no matter how much self-will you have, you are powerless over the ways in which alcohol affects your brain. It is important to understand that no matter how much time passes, true alcoholics will never regain power over alcohol or control over their drinking.

Our Lives Had Become Unmanageable

The unmanageability piece, as mentioned before, is usually a little easier for us to acknowledge. Most people don’t make it to the rooms of AA because they are thriving in all aspects of their lives. There are many ways that drinking makes our lives unmanageable. Some examples of alcohol-related unmanageability include:

  • Legal issues caused by excessive drinking, like DUIs.
  • Relationship problems, which could include problems with friends, family members, your spouse, employers, or coworkers.
  • Emotional problems, like persistent feelings of sadness.
  • New or worsening mental health concerns.
  • Physical issues related to or caused by drinking.
  • Financial difficulties.
  • Problems at work or at school.
  • Feelings of overwhelm and inability to tackle day-to-day tasks.

The Importance of Surrendering

The principle behind Step One is “surrender.” There is a saying in AA that goes, “We must surrender to win.” There are many paradoxes in AA, and this is likely the most widely recognized. But what does this mean? It essentially means letting go — letting go of the idea that we will someday be able to control and enjoy our drinking. Letting go of the fear we carry surrounding the unknown (which, in this case, is committing to a life of recovery). Once you have surrendered you are well on your way to living a life beyond your wildest dreams.


If you or someone close to you has been struggling with a substance use issue of any type or severity, engaging in a 12 Step program might be a beneficial solution. 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can serve as a standalone treatment option in some instances, though we recommend a step-down treatment program for those who have been using chemical substances continuously for an extended period of time. A higher level of care might also be beneficial to those who have underlying, co-occurring issues, like unresolved trauma, anxiety, or depression. If you would like to learn more about the treatment options available to you, or if you would like help determining which course of action makes the most sense for your unique case, contact us today. At 12 Step Illinois we are dedicated to helping people of all ages and walks of life move in the direction of recovery. We understand how difficult it can be to take the initial step and reach out for help. However, once you take this step, you are well on your way to living a beautiful and fulfilling life free from the devastation of addiction. We look forward to speaking with you soon and answering any additional questions you might have.

Find A Meeting | 888-530-5096