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What is Step 3 of AA?

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over the care of God as we understood Him.”

The third step of the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is to make a decision about the higher power you acknowledged in step 2. In this step, you turn your will over to your higher power. This step comes after learning and accepting that your life is unmanageable and that you have no control over restoring sanity. Only a higher power can restore you to sanity.

Step 3 is about giving up the power struggle and deciding to turn your will over to a higher power. 

In this step, you open yourself up to faith, hope, and trust, and feel serenity. It’s about getting out of your way and allowing your higher power to begin working in your life.

What Does the Third Step of AA Mean?

The third step is about making a decision. It requires you to look at how staying committed to self-will means focusing on only your wants and not considering others. 

It helps you understand how acting on your impulses leaves a path of destruction behind you. 

This step also allows you to see how the way you were living caused you to lose touch with your higher power and helps you understand how to regain that connection.


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How Does Step 3 Work?

In step 3 of AA’s 12-step program, you focus your attention on learning about your higher power’s will for you. You turn your life over to your higher power and turn away from your own will. The decision is made and it’s followed by action. 

One of the most powerful tools AA participants use in this step is the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. The Serenity Prayer states, 

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This prayer helps AA participants accept the serenity that comes with understanding you cannot control other people, but you can control your reaction to a situation. There might also be things in your own life that you can change, but you can decide to surrender and trust a higher power to help you with the things you cannot change or control.

The Spiritual Principles of Step 3

The first three steps of AA’s twelve step program focus on one’s higher power. 

Unfortunately, some people are put off by the spiritual aspects of AA. Even the mention of the word “God” in AA literature makes some uncomfortable. 

However, the organization does what it can to help people understand that “higher power” doesn’t need to mean a specific god. Participants in AA are not required to accept anyone else’s definition or concept of God. They are free to create their idea of a higher power.

It should also be noted that a large swathe of AA participants considered themselves agnostic or atheistic before beginning the twelve steps. 

Once they began the program, they chose to put aside their previous beliefs and accept a power greater than themselves. Some call that higher power God. Others call it “the universe,” others call it “a force,” and still others call it simply “higher power.”

An important part of working through step 3 is discovering the positive aspects of being open-minded about a higher power. Not only must someone with a substance use issue admit they might have been wrong and that there is a higher power, but they must also accept that not everyone’s definition of a higher power must match their own. 

Part of addiction recovery is accepting that spirituality is expansive and all-inclusive, and a necessary part of living a sober life.

Some people are reluctant to participate in AA because of the spiritual element. It’s important to remember that the program is an important part of addiction treatment and long-term sobriety. It doesn't matter if someone has no existing spiritual practice. Even people who do not consider themselves religious benefit from AA. 

The important part is acknowledging God’s will or the will of a higher power in your life and your powerlessness over an alcohol addiction.


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The Third Step Prayer

In addition to the Serenity Prayer, step 3 includes a prayer of its own. The Third Step Prayer is as follows:

“God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

Questions to Ask During Step 3 of AA

There are several questions that you can ask yourself and answer that will help you work through step 3, including:

  • How has acting on your self-will affected your life and the lives of those around you?
  • How can I take the action of turning my will over to a higher power?
  • What is the difference between my will and my higher power’s will?
  • How is my higher power working in my life?
  • Is my concept of a higher power working for me or do I need to rethink it?
  • What changes might occur in my life if and when I decide to turn over my will to my higher power?
  • Is there anything in my recovery I’m unwilling to do and if so, why?
  • How does step one help or relate to the decision I’m to make in this step?


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“Why Is Spirituality an Essential Part of a Recovery Program?” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-craving-brain/201706/why-is-spirituality-essential-part-recovery-program.

“Alcoholics Anonymous: Is A.A. For You?” www.aa.org. https://www.aa.org/pages/en_US/is-aa-for-you.

Tonigan, J, and Susanne Sturmhöfel. Alcoholics Anonymous: Who Benefits?. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/ahrw18-4/308-312.pdf.

“What Makes AA Work?” Harvard Gazette, 12 Sept. 2011, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2011/09/what-makes-aa-work/.

Suire, Jared G., and Robert K. Bothwell. “The Psychosocial Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous.” American Journal on Addictions, vol. 15, no. 3, Jan. 2006, pp. 252–255, 10.1080/10550490600626622. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10550490600626622.

Schneider, Kathleen M., et al. “Evaluating Multiple Outcomes and Gender Differences in Alcoholism Treatment.” Addictive Behaviors, vol. 20, no. 1, Jan. 1995, pp. 1–21, 10.1016/0306-4603(94)00037-y.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/030646039400037Y?imgSel=Y.

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