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What is Step 4 of AA? 

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

The fourth step of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) addresses a person’s character flaws that one must face if recovery is to occur. It requires a search and inventory of oneself that considers what causes a person’s alcoholism. During the process, they discover and examine liabilities. 

According to Alcoholics Anonymous’ philosophy, AUD is a symptom of a spiritual disease, and recognizing that disease is necessary for a person to recover. Recovery does not require above-average writing ability to create a moral inventory. But it does mean evaluating oneself and acknowledging what you find.

What is the Purpose of the 4th Step of AA?

The purpose of step four is to begin the spiritual growth necessary for recovery. It emphasizes establishing and/or improving your relationship with a higher power, in addition to your relationship with yourself and your loved ones. 

This step requires honesty and a candid look at yourself, your past, and your character defects. The majority of people with AUD struggle to understand the difference between fact and fiction because of how alcohol affected their memory and caused lapses. They tend to create stories that allow them to live as they do until they are ready to begin recovery. 

This step is where someone gains a new perspective on their patterns, their mistakes, and the responsibilities. Instead of staying mired in their self-pity, they consider their previous behaviors and take responsibility for them. 


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What is the “Fearless Moral Inventory” of Step 4?

The fearless moral inventory, also known as searching and fearless moral inventory, is the action someone takes at this point in their recovery process. This step is rooted in being honest with oneself and letting go of the delusional thinking that was part of addiction. For many, this step feels good because they are finally being truthful and removing the weight of living a lie. However, it’s also a challenging step because it requires reflection on the damage the AA participant caused in their relationships.

Step four is about sorting through past behavior with complete honesty. The inventory allows you to examine your negative thoughts and emotions that ruled your life. It requires you to look at how you avoided responsibility for your behavior and set aside the blame you placed on others for your drinking.

In step four, you take responsibility for your past and current behavior. You acknowledge things that are embarrassing, painful, or difficult that are the root of your addiction.

AA participants write their fearless moral inventory while examining their feelings of fear, anger, resentment, pride, shame, and pity. They address any abuse they’ve experienced or any secrets they’ve kept. The inventory is a deep and vulnerable step requiring complete honesty, but it’s one that is necessary for recovery.   

Tips for Completing the Fourth Step Inventory

Step four of AA’s 12-step program is challenging for many AA participants. If you aren’t sure where to begin, start by:

  • List people, places, organizations, ideas, beliefs, events, and situations, that trigger positive or negative feelings for you (some items might appear more than once)
  • Set aside feelings of embarrassment or fear when creating the list. Don’t worry about anyone reading the list or if you are writing well. Or consider whether those feelings of fear or embarrassment belong on the list.
  • No matter how many times you compile this list in your mind, it is not complete until it is in a tangible, hard copy format.
  • Remember, nearly everyone who completes this step has things they believe are too terrible to include on the list. Include them anyway. Otherwise, your list is incomplete and you are not being honest. It’s important to understand that AA is a place for people who also struggle with alcohol addiction and there’s nothing you can list that is unique or too shocking for other participants.

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Questions to Keep in Mind While Following Step 4 of AA

There are several questions that you can ask yourself and answer that will help you work through step 4, including:

  • Who or what are the people, places, and things that trigger feelings of resentment, and why?
  • What did I do that contributed to that resentment?
  • How do these resentments affect my life and my relationships with others?
  • Who or what do I fear and why?
  • How do I respond negatively to my fears?
  • Who or what triggers feelings of shame or guilt for me?
  • What feelings do I struggle to allow myself to feel? How do I act out because of this?
  • How do my fears and resentment affect my relationships?
  • Have you compulsively sought out sex and do you use it to fill a void?
  • Have any sexual encounters caused you or someone else pain?
  • How do you describe a healthy relationship?
  • Do you have any secrets you haven’t shared with anyone or that you haven’t written about yet?

Why is Step Four of AA Necessary?

Step four is necessary because a personal inventory is crucial in understanding how you will grow spiritually in your recovery. You decide in this step what parts of your character to retain and emphasize and which parts to modify or discard entirely. Like most human beings, you have things you want to change or improve. This is when you address those things. 

In this step, you confront and assess the extent of your addiction. This helps you learn more about the severity of your substance abuse. Some people even discover other addictions they didn’t realize they had and can seek addiction treatment for more than alcohol.

Additionally, during this step, you look back at how your relationships with the people you love and trust who you harmed as a result of your addiction. You evaluate your own weaknesses and consider how they’ve caused harm. Your personal inventory includes the ways you have hurt them and hurt yourself.


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Stone, David A., et al. “Therapeutic Factors and Psychological Concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Counselor Practice, 1 Jan. 2011, 10.22229/nav074629.https://journalofcounselorpractice.com/uploads/6/8/9/4/68949193/stone_et_al_vol8_iss2.pdf.

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://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16923673/.

“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.

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