alcoholics anonymous

The Twelve Steps: Step two

Drinker’s Helper is not a twelve-step based program, but we want to help raise awareness of what the Twelve Steps are, as well as clarify why these steps may be helpful, according to our own understanding of what helps people reduce their drinking.

We’ve done previous posts on Alcoholics Anonymous overall, and on the first step. The second step of the famous “Twelve Steps” of Alcoholics Anonymous is:

“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

This step is the one that most commonly trips up people like us, who aren’t religious, or people who don’t believe in a God that can change their behavior.

However, there are reasons why it is a helpful step for those who do believe in a higher power.

First, almost any therapy benefits from people believing that it will work (see research on the “placebo effect”). Alcoholics Anonymous is saying that the ultimate power in the universe is on your side, helping you to quit drinking. To be clear: we’re not calling God fake medicine. We’re simply saying that you’re more likely to succeed at any major habit change if you believe you can.

Second, many who work at cutting back or quitting drinking try and fail once (or even multiple times!) before succeeding. It can lead to thinking you’re simply incurable, ruining motivation to try again. One way to escape this mental trap is to believe that something outside of you can help you succeed where you’ve previously failed. This step provides hope that makes the motivation to try again stronger. In some way, you need to believe this attempt is fundamentally different from what you’ve tried before and will address the reasons you continue to drink when it doesn’t make sense on the surface.

Third, it is recognizing, subtly, that the style of drinking to which they’ve become accustomed is crazy. “Restore us to sanity”? It doesn’t just say that this greater power can help them stop drinking. It says it can help them change and behave in ways that make rational sense, unlike what they’re currently doing. That’s why we place so much emphasis on understanding the pros and cons of drinking for you in Drinker’s Helper, so that you can help yourself begin to act in accordance with what you believe is actually good for you long term.

If you’ve decided to cut back or quit drinking, we’d love to help. Drinker’s Helper is an app that provides motivational exercises, drink tracking, and a peer support group to help you along the way. Try it out free today!


How we're different from AA

Let’s start with a clarification: we think AA is incredible. It’s helped millions of people quit drinking. Its program can be incredibly effective for those who believe in a higher power. We think Drinker’s Helper can be a complement to AA meetings to help out in between sessions; we don’t think the two are fundamentally incompatible.

However, we do have some differences both in our understanding of the problem and in the way we attempt to help.

Here’s a quick overview of how we are different from Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. We hope to help people a little earlier in the process. Alcoholics Anonymous in its Big Book describes the ‘alcoholic’ as someone who drinks extremely heavily and can’t seem to give it up despite very severe impact on their life. We hope to help people when they realize they might have a problem, and are deciding whether or not to do something about it.

  2. We acknowledge moderation as a valid goal. This is partly tied to #1 - if you are meeting the AA Big Book description of an alcoholic, you’re probably past the point where moderation is feasible for you. But for many people who are not dependent on alcohol, but do drink to excess, moderation is possible if they know the right limits to aim for, can track progress, and can acknowledge the reasons for their drinking and fix the underlying problems.

  3. We believe it’s possible to get past the struggle phase. In AA, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Every day is a new challenge; a new potential relapse. It requires hard work to stay sober. But when you understand why you drink, really change the way you think about alcohol, and change your thinking and circumstances, we believe it’s possible to get to the point where you simply don’t want to drink anymore, at all. We know because we’ve done it!

  4. We don’t require that people believe in a higher power. The core of AA is surrendering to a higher power and allowing it to remove your character defects that lead to drinking. We try to help with underlying problems through therapeutic exercises that don’t rely on belief in a higher power. While we respect others who believe in God, we don’t, and we want to ensure everyone has the tools they need to address the underlying issues that lead to their drinking.

If you want to know more about our approach, download the app today! We help people quit or cut back on drinking with tracking, insights, exercises, and support groups.

What I learned by reading the Big Book

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous tells the story of how the organization was founded. It also explains the core principles behind the recovery system, and shares success stories from those who have recovered.

Like many of you I assume, had only vague impressions of Alcoholics Anonymous (mostly from TV shows and movies). I knew people everyone stood up and introduced themselves as “I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic.” and I knew there were sobriety coins for people who achieved certain milestones.

But I learned quite a bit about AA by reading the Big Book, and so I’m sharing what I learned with you in case it’s helpful.

  1. Their definition of an alcoholic is a person with a very, very extreme drinking problem. Partly this may be down to when AA was founded, and the prevalence of heavy drinking as part of normal life at the time. I’d imagine today some people they describe as ‘not true alcoholics’ would meet the criteria for an alcohol abuse disorder. The people they describe as alcoholics in the book are putting away bottles (plural) of gin in a day. On their own. They think of an alcoholic as someone whose brain is perhaps so damaged by alcohol that they will have a hard time recovering in any way other than a spiritual experience.

  2. They believe you can stop yourself without the religious experience earlier on in the process of becoming an alcoholic. The interesting part about this extreme definition of an alcoholic - someone who is beyond all hope - is that it leaves a lot of room for people who aren’t at that stage yet to recover. Obviously, you have to actually want to stop, but they acknowledge it is possible.

  3. They acknowledge that people have to decide they will do anything to get free of alcohol in order to actually do so. It requires wholehearted commitment, where many drinkers still argue with themselves internally about whether they want to stop or not. This reminded me heavily of This Naked Mind’s argument that stopping drinking requires changing the unconscious mind’s desire for alcohol.

  4. The core of the program is a religious experience of submitting your life over to God and his decisions. There is flexibility in the interpretation of God, and people of many faiths may join AA. But if you fundamentally don’t believe in any kind of higher power, you will have real trouble completing an AA-based program.

  5. One of the reasons their program may work so well is that it gives people a sense of purpose. Often, when drinking has taken over your life, you’ve given up hobbies and become less interested in work. Living according to God’s will, and helping other alcoholics, gives people a feeling of an indisputably good purpose that helps them avoid slipping into depression. Life has meaning again.

  6. Another reason their program may work so well is that reliance on God enables people to “match calamity with serenity.” In other words, they are better shielded from things going wrong in life. Often, spirals into anxiety or depression can send people off to drink. After all, “liquor [is often] but a symptom” of an underlying emotional issue. If you feel calm, because God has control of your life, you’re less likely to be blown around by bad days or even real crises. You accept what’s not in your control.

  7. They believe that helping others is critical to recovery. This makes so much sense! Part of the twelve steps is about teaching other alcoholics how to do the program. The act of helping helps the helper as well as the helped.

  8. A lot of people like AA because they can get empathy from others in the same place that they’re in. A core belief is that peers can help an alcoholic in a way others can’t. Again, this makes some real sense. The shame that can come along with abusing alcohol may make it hard to reach out to people who’ve never struggled with it. But a peer can offer empathy as well as advice.

  9. They know that offering hope is critical. By meeting sponsors and those who’ve been in the program a while, they can learn that it is in fact possible to quit drinking. This is desperately needed inspiration and motivation.

  10. They acknowledge that the goal is to be able to be around alcohol without trouble. Early on, people simply avoid triggers. That can work for a while. But ultimately, if you can’t handle being at a bar, or at a party, with booze present, then some part of you still wants it.

If you’re thinking about quitting or cutting back on drinking, whether you’re in AA or not, we’d love to help! Try out the app today at the link below.

Can moderation work?

There is a widely held belief, in the US especially, that if you have a drinking problem (a ‘real ‘drinking problem, or alcohol abuse disorder) that your only option to get better is to stop drinking alcohol entirely. This is partly because of the prevalence of Alcoholics Anonymous as the only brand name treatment for alcohol abuse disorder - they advocate for abstinence and maintain it is the only possible course of action to resolve a drinking problem.

This belief in the US was strengthened by the death of the founder of Moderation Management, a popular online moderation program, in a drunk driving accident (however, it should be noted that said founder had actually returned to Alcoholics Anonymous and was trying to quit entirely at that point).

While there are benefits to quitting drinking (see our previous post on this topic), there is strong evidence that moderation can work well as a goal, and actually has some additional side benefits.

As for the proof that moderation can work, here are just a few examples of studies showing that programs designed to reduce drinking rather than eliminate drinking can work:

  1. One University of New Mexico study followed people 3 to 8 years after completing moderation-focused goal-setting and self-monitoring therapy for problem drinking, and found 65% were doing better than they were originally. It suggested moderation could work for all but the most heavily addicted to alcohol.

  2. A University of Texas study followed up with people a year after an 8-week drinking reduction program, and found they had reduced their drinking by 64%, and that those who still used the strategies from the program were most likely to be controlling their drinking.

  3. Two surveys published in the American Journal of Public Health showed that of people who resolved their drinking problems on their own, without treatment, 40-60% were successfully moderating their drinking.

Now, for the side benefits:

  1. Better awareness of your problem: If you start moderating your drinking (and tracking it, using an app like Drinker’s Helper), you become more aware of how much you’ve been drinking and how strong your desire to keep going after 1 or 2 drinks is. If you simply quit, you miss the booze, but it’s easier to convince yourself that you might not have had a problem in the first place.

  2. More people getting help. More people are comfortable with the idea of moderating their drinking than quitting entirely (in fact, one study found that when people are given the option, 80% choose moderation over abstinence). If you try to ask for a change as significant as quitting entirely, you may just get a no. But once someone is moderating, it is much easier to then contemplate taking that further step.

The most interesting part is that aside from having a LOWER level of dependence on alcohol, one of the biggest contributing factors to success with moderation is BELIEF that you can do it.

So go forth and do it! We believe you can, and we can help, with Drinker’s Helper.

What are the 12 steps of alcoholics anonymous?

We know that, for many people, the first and only option they know of to quit drinking is to join Alcoholics Anonymous and follow the 12 steps.

We do not draw from the 12 steps for any of our exercises or app features, but it’s not because the program is ineffective. In fact, 12-step facilitation was shown to be about equally effective to both CBT and MET, the two treatments we do draw from in Drinker’s Helper.

It is partly because they are religious in nature, and we want to offer help to people who both do and do not have religious faith.

It is also because the first step requires people to say they are powerless over alcohol, and we believe that people do have the power to quit or cut back. However, for some people, this can be a very effective form of treatment.

For the record, here are the 12 steps, and here is where you can find more information about the program:

  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.