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Understanding AA: Acceptance and Coping with Alcoholism

by Landmark Recovery

May 1, 2019
How To Help An Alcoholic

Acceptance is one of the most difficult but important things to understand in order to achieve long lasting recovery from alcoholism. This means learning to relinquish your control, realize your limitations, and face reality.

Acceptance is one of the biggest subjects discussed in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, and probably the most quoted in all of recovery literature. Here are several quotes from Alcoholics Anonymous as well as several other sources that explore the theme of acceptance.

“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” pg.417 – The Big Book

“Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world, as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.” pg. 430 – The Big Book

“Recovery is an acceptance that your life is in shambles, and you have to change.” – Jamie Lee Curtis

When we allow ourselves to live in the moment and perceive what is happening non-judgmentally, we begin to understand the concept of acceptance and move towards happiness. This involves not just logical acceptance of what is going on, but also emotional acceptance.


Acceptance in AA for Alcoholism

A group of individuals coming together and putting their hands together to show support for recovering from alcoholism

When we deny the disease of alcohol dependence, guilt ourselves over the illness, and fight it with all our being, we increase the risk of relapse. It’s natural to experience these feelings, but we must work to understand the powerlessness of the alcoholic over alcohol. Continual anger, shame, fear, and self-pity are signs that you haven’t fully accepted your disease.

Through professional counseling, therapy, or attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, people can learn to recognize when they are denying the reality of alcohol use. Usually, this stems from poor decision-making and coping skills developed during adolescence. However, with help, individuals can devise healthy strategies that promote acceptance and encourage recovery.

Once you realize the importance of acceptance in coping with an alcohol use disorder, it is important to reach out for help, if you have not already. Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available at your disposal. The first step should be to talk with your primary care provider. They can help provide you with a diagnosis, treatment referrals, and whether further medication or psychiatric care may be necessary.


The Benefits of Acceptance

Acceptance is such an important component of addiction recovery that it is actually used as a specific therapy. Known as Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, this form of treatment consists of six core processes that use mindfulness techniques to foster and deepen acceptance. Mindfulness and acceptance go hand in hand because they center around being present in the moment and allowing the world to be the way it is. According to researchers out of Duke University:

“Mindfulness has been associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, agreeableness, conscientiousness, vitality, self-esteem, empathy, a sense of autonomy, competence, optimism, and pleasant affect. Studies have also demonstrated significant negative correlations between mindfulness and depression, neuroticism, absent-mindedness, dissociation, rumination, cognitive reactivity, social anxiety, difficulties in emotion regulation, experiential avoidance, alexithymia, intensity of delusional experience in the context of psychosis and general psychological symptoms.”


What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

A woman at an AA meeting writing down the 12 steps of how to recover from alcoholism

For those suffering from the disease of alcoholism, there is hope in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous. This organization has helped people around the world struggling with alcohol use disorder to find clarity, peace, and a positive framework for sobriety. Originally founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, A.A. defines itself as an international fellowship of men and women whose stated purpose is to enable its members to “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. Support groups are available across the world, attendance and participation is free, and upwards of 2 million people are members.


Understanding the 12 Steps

The 12 Steps of AA make up the foundation of the program and are what members use in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. It is not required that members follow these 12 Steps, but they are encouraged to try and read them as they have helped past members to get sober. The basic idea of the 12 Steps is that it gives alcoholics a process through which they can understand and manage their disease, as well as provide social support for discussing issues related to alcoholism that they find difficult to talk about in daily life. According to the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, cognitive restructuring, wherein people change their behavior patterns, is an important element of substance abuse treatment. The 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


What are the 12 Traditions?

In addition to the 12 Steps, Alcoholics Anonymous also provides members with the 12 Traditions. These traditions were written down in order to give members a framework for managing and making the most of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. These traditions help provide answers as to how A.A. can best function, how A.A. can continue to thrive, and the purpose behind meetings. The 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.


Next Steps

If you find yourself struggling with the acceptance of alcoholism, then we strongly recommend checking out your local Alcoholics Anonymous organization or checking into a residential or outpatient treatment center. Seek treatment sooner than later, as alcohol use disorder tends to worsen if left unchecked.

At Landmark Recovery, we advocate for any treatment program that shows in success in helping people achieve and maintain sobriety. As such, we advocate for 12 Step recovery solutions as well as agnostic treatment programs such as SMART Recovery.

Contact our admissions team today to get more information about treatment options, or to simply talk with someone who can understand the situation and offer love and support. For more addiction resources, check out the Landmark blog.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.