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Step 4 AA

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What is Step 4 of AA? 

The fourth step of the twelve steps 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 doesn't require above-average writing ability to create a moral inventory. But it does mean evaluating oneself and acknowledging what you find.

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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 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, and your character defects.

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

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

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.

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

The inventory allows you to examine the negative thoughts and emotions that ruled your life. It requires you to look at how you avoided responsibility and blamed others for your behavior.

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.  

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What are the Challenges of 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 the AA participant caused in their relationships.

Many participants have spent a long time justifying their behavior and addictions. This means they’ll need to focus on being honest with themselves to gain the benefits of step 4.

Others can feel like they’re in control of their addiction when they aren’t. Step 4 challenges people to face their strengths, flaws, and character.

Step 4 can also be time-consuming for people who attend school, work, or have families. Finding hours in the day to reflect on yourself can be challenging.

The inventory can leave you feeling vulnerable, but it is necessary. You’ll be a step closer to recovery when you overcome these difficulties.

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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:

  • Listing people, places, ideas, and situations, that trigger positive or negative feelings for you (some items might appear more than once).
  • Setting 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.
  • Remembering that 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're 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.

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 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 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.

What’s Next

Step 4 allows you to form an honest overview of your character, which makes it a vital step in recovery. 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 understand 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.

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Updated on October 11, 2022
6 sources cited
  1. Stone, D., et al. “Therapeutic Factors and Psychological Concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Journal of Counselor Practice, 2011.
  2. Tonigan, J., and Susanne, S. "Alcoholics Anonymous: Who Benefits?"
  3. What Makes AA Work?” Harvard Gazette, 2011.
  4. Erickson, M. "Alcoholics Anonymous most effective path to alcohol abstinence." Stanford Medicine News Center, 2020.
  5. Why Is Spirituality an Essential Part of a Recovery Program?” Psychology Today. 2017
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous : Is A.A. For You?” www.aa.org.

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