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Alcohol & Health
Helping Alcoholics
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Updated on July 20, 2023
6 min read

Step 4 AA

The 12-step program developed in 1935 by Bill W. and Doctor Bob Smith allows recovering alcoholics to undergo a step-by-step process of overcoming their alcohol dependence. Step 4 in the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program provides a framework to examine yourself spiritually to gain insight into your character while recognizing your alcoholism.

This guide shows how AA works through this step and gives helpful tips to ensure your journey is as successful as possible.

What is Step 4 of AA?

The focus of the fourth step in AA Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve-step program is to “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.” It involves addressing the character flaws you must face to recover.

You'll discover and examine personal responsibility by writing a moral inventory during the fourth step. It helps you answer the question, "What causes a person's alcoholism?"

According to AA’s philosophy, alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a symptom of spiritual disease, and recognizing that illness is necessary for recovery. Through a “moral inventory,” you use writing to evaluate yourself and acknowledge where you are on your road to sobriety.


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

Step four and its inventory process begins the spiritual growth necessary for recovery. It emphasizes establishing or improving your relationship with yourself, your loved ones, and a higher power.

This step requires honesty and a candid look at:

  • Yourself
  • Your past
  • Your character defects and flaws

Understanding Perspective and Responsibility in Recovery

Most people with AUD struggle to understand the difference between fact and fiction due to alcohol use affecting their memory. They tend to create stories that allow them to live as they do until they're ready to begin recovery.

In this step, you gain a new perspective on your patterns, mistakes, and responsibilities. Instead of being stuck in self-pity, step 4 helps you consider your previous behaviors and take responsibility for them.

How Do You Write a “Fearless Moral Inventory” in Step 4?

The fearless moral inventory is the action you take in the recovery process through recollection and recognition. What you write is rooted in being honest with oneself and letting go of the delusional thinking that was part of addiction.

This step works for many because it lets them be truthful by removing the weight of living a lie. In step four, you take responsibility for your past and current behavior by identifying the roots and consequences of your addiction.

Identifying and Addressing the Roots of Addiction

An inventory in this step will allow you to identify negative thoughts and difficulties that caused your dependence. You'll acknowledge and examine the roots of your addiction, such as feelings of:

  • Pity
  • Pain
  • Fear
  • Anger or resentment
  • Shame or embarrassment

Writing the list will require you to look at how you avoided responsibility and blamed others for your behavior. It will help you address any abuse you’ve experienced or secrets you’ve kept.


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How to Complete Step 4

Step four is about sorting through past behavior with complete honesty. This step can be challenging because it requires reflection on the damage you caused in your relationships.

Although you may feel like you're in control of your addiction, you probably aren't. The challenges of step 4 include:

  • Understanding your strengths and flaws
  • Overcoming past and current mistakes
  • Long hours of self-reflection
  • Allowing yourself to feel vulnerable

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Tips for Completing the Fourth Step Moral Inventory

Step four of AA’s 12-step program can be challenging for many AA participants. Many recovering alcoholics have spent a long time justifying their behavior and addictions.

If you aren’t sure where to begin, start by:

  • Listing people, places, ideas, and situations that trigger positive or negative feelings (some items might appear more than once)
  • Setting aside feelings of embarrassment or fear when creating the list
  • Remembering that no matter how many times you think about this list in your mind, it’s not complete until it’s in a tangible, hard copy format

You must focus on being honest with yourself to gain the benefits of accomplishing step 4.

How to Stay Honest When Writing a Moral Inventory

Nearly everyone who completes this step has things they believe are too terrible to include on the list. But include them anyway. Otherwise, your list is incomplete, and you're not being honest.

It’s important to understand that AA is a place for people struggling with alcohol addiction. Nothing you can list is too embarrassing or shocking for other participants.

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 triggering resentment, and why?
  • What did you do that contributed to that resentment?
  • How do these resentments affect your life and relationships with others?
  • Who or what do you fear and why?
  • How do you respond negatively to your fears?
  • Who or what triggers feelings of shame or guilt for you?
  • What feelings do you struggle to allow yourself to feel? How do you act out because of this?
  • How do your fears and resentment affect your relationships?
  • Have you compulsively sought 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 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’ll grow spiritually in your recovery. You decide in this step what parts of your character to retain and emphasize what behavior to adjust or discard entirely. It helps you look back at your life and recognize the extent of addiction and its impact on your relationships.

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

What’s Next After Step 4?

Step 4 lets you form an honest overview of your character moving forward. The things you learn about yourself in this step can help you through the next steps of your journey.

Completing step 4 can help you achieve spiritual and personal growth to find harmony in yourself. Once you write down your moral inventory, you’ll be ready to head into the next step.

Step 5 will focus on acknowledging one's past mistakes and wrongs. The next step will have you confess your mistakes to yourself, others, and God.

Updated on July 20, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on July 20, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. Stone et al. “Therapeutic Factors and Psychological Concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Counselor Practice, 2017.
  2. Tonigan et al. "Alcoholics Anonymous: Who Benefits?" Alcoholics Anonymous, 1994.
  3. Suire, J., and Bothwell, R. “The psychosocial benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous.” The American Journal on Addictions, 2006.
  4. Erickson, M. "Alcoholics Anonymous most effective path to alcohol abstinence." Stanford Medicine News Center, 2020.
  5. Spickard, A. “Why Is Spirituality an Essential Part of a Recovery Program?” Psychology Today. 2017.
  6. Stony Brook University. “Alcoholics Anonymous - 10 Questions.” Center for Prevention and Outreach.
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