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What is Step 8 in AA?

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”

For many AA participants, step 8 is the most difficult. This is because it’s the point in the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous in which you make a list of the people you’ve caused harm to because of your drinking. It’s difficult because you must be honest with yourself about the harm you’ve caused.

It’s one thing to face the damage created by alcoholism with yourself and your Higher Power or God. You did this during your moral inventory. Even admitting to someone who can relate is easier than discussing things with the people you’ve harmed. But step eight allows you to begin a life of peace and start to deal with personal relations.

step-8

Even if rebuilding isn’t an option, it provides closure and healing. It helps you find the greatest peace and restore your mental health.

Recovering alcoholics often see step four of the twelve-step process as personal house cleaning. Step eight is similar, but it’s about cleaning up your social house. You’ve learned that alcoholism has hurt others and step eight is your opportunity to be willing to make amends, which you’ll actively do in the next step. 

What’s Included in the 8th Step?

To complete step eight of the 12-step program, you begin by making a list of the people you’ve harmed because of your drinking. You also list the specific ways you caused each one of them harm. 

It doesn’t matter if the harm was intentional or not. It doesn’t matter if it was due to carelessness, selfishness, anger, dishonesty, or any other character defect. It doesn’t even matter if the person is still alive or not. If there’s a possibility you harmed someone, include them on the list. You must become willing to make amends with everyone on your list.

This is difficult and you must reflect on experiences you’d probably rather forget. It’s important to remember that each of the steps leading to this one were also challenging. You’ve built a foundation that requires courage and you can use it now to get through step eight.

Once your list is complete, you use it to plan for the amends you’ll make in step nine. You forgive others for the pain they’ve caused you. And if it won’t cause more harm, you ask for forgiveness from them. 

Ultimately, you want to take healing action and learn how to live in the world soberly. This prepares you to repair relationships with others in the next step.  

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What Does Making Amends With Someone Mean?

Some people assume that making amends means apologizing, but these two things are not the same. Apologizing might be part of making amends, but amends includes more than just saying “I’m sorry.”

Think of an apology like a bandage. You place it over the wound and with time it disappears. Saying you’re sorry covers pain, and it might help people feel better, but it doesn’t correct the wrong. 

It’s impossible for someone with AUD to simply apologize for the pain they’ve caused others and expect the damage to be undone.

Making amends helps you reconnect with people you’ve hurt in a deeper and more meaningful way than an apology. It requires honesty, self-awareness, and responsibility.

Importance of the Eighth Step

Step 8 is important because it enables you to move on to rebuilding relationships that were damaged. It doesn’t guarantee this will happen, but the step is the first toward achieving this.

It’s also about taking responsibility for your role and cleaning up your side of things during addiction recovery and in life. This includes holding yourself accountable for your actions, but not exaggerating your shortcomings or the shortcomings of others. Even if the harm caused to the relationship was mutual, in this step you are preparing to right your wrongs.

Finally, this step is important because it continues the honest present in the previous steps. As most AA participants will confirm, honesty provides freedom and opens the doors to joy. Sober, you are free to exist in the present moment and not always be waiting for the next bad thing to happen.

Keep in mind, as you move through this step, that things take time. There’s no good in rushing through it. Your sponsor provides a great deal of support and guidance during this step and helps you avoid the temptation of rushing into things and doing them incompletely or poorly.

Recognize if you are reluctant to begin or move through step 8 due to resentment. You might be reluctant to make amends with someone who harmed you because you resent them. You might not want this person in your life or it might be harmful to interact with them. 

This doesn’t mean that you can’t forgive them, though. The cost of holding onto your resentment is not gaining the freedom that’s available from the 12 steps. Many people are surprised by their eventual willingness to forgive and let go of self-pity. Be patient and let your positive feelings develop.

Questions to Ask Yourself During Step 8 of AA

There are several questions that you can ask yourself and answer that will help you work through step 8, including:

  • Are feelings of resentment blocking you from making amends?
  • Have you hesitated to begin this step? If so, why?
  • What’s the value in determining the exact nature of your wrongs?
  • Why is it important to take responsibility and be clear about the harm you’ve caused loved ones?
  • Is there anyone on your list who might be threatening or cause you ham if you attempt to make amends?
  • Would making amends with anyone on your list cause them more harm?
  • Why isn’t saying “I’m sorry” enough to repair the pain you’ve caused?
  • Why can’t you just change your substance abuse behavior without admitting you caused harm and making amends for it?
  • Do you have any financial amends? Is your current financial situation a hindrance to do so?
  • Are you able to envision your life post-amends making?
  • Do you have any amends to make to people who also hurt you?

How Do You Complete This Step?

The first part of this step is creating a list of the people with whom you need to make amends. You must write this list down. Keeping a list in your head is not sufficient to complete step 8. This “right-sizes” the list and allows you to prevent it from growing out of control in your imagination. 

Putting your list in writing also allows you to begin letting go of any resentment you have in your personal relationships who have harmed you.

Your list should include the names of every person you can think of who you might have harmed. Even if you aren’t sure if you owe someone amends, include their name on the list. 

Once you feel you have a thorough list, categorize it in the following way:

  1. People to make amends with as soon as you are sober
  2. People to make amends with partially so as not to cause further harm
  3. People to make amends with later
  4. People you might never be able to make amends with

The step is about surveying the damage AUD caused in your life. You’ll begin righting wrongs in the next step. In step 8, you must be courageous and honest with yourself. It’s important to recognize that you aren’t to limit your list to only people who you believe will accept your attempt to make amends. Everyone must be included, even if your efforts are refused.

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Resources

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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.

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

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://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1981.tb05352.x.

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.

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/.

“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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