How to Make Amends in AA

Older man having a serious talk with younger man outside.
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What Alcoholics Anonymous members call the "Big Book" contains a 12-step program for recovery from addiction. While the steps are considered equally important in that they all must be taken, steps eight and nine have particular meaning to the recovering alcoholic. These steps require him to make a list of the people he has harmed due to his drinking and to develop a plan to make amends to each one.

1 Make a List. Check It Twice.

Working through AA's 12-step process involves admitting to being powerless against alcohol, placing trust in a higher power, admitting to past wrongs, making amends for those wrongs, developing new, constructive behaviors and helping others who suffer from the same disease. Specifically, step eight reads, “Make a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” And step nine says: “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”

2 Amends Vs. Apologies

A 2010 article in "Psychology Today" explained that prolonged alcohol use "decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for decision making and rational thought." At some point, an alcoholic is literally no longer himself, and often, what's left behind is a trail of shattered relationships. In this situation, simple apologies won't do. AA calls for making amends and, as much as possible, restoring justice. The objective is to directly restore that which has been damaged or broken. If restoration cannot be done in a tangible manner, it's necessary to do so symbolically.

3 Common Sense Approach

Making amends needs to be balanced by reason. Recovering alcoholics are often dogmatic, even rigid, AA teaches that no pat answer exists for all dilemmas. The program always leaves room for common sense. Sometimes, making amends can be done only by staying sober a day at a time, which is referred to as "living amends." Amends are about a genuine change in behavior, not just about words offered in apology.

4 Monkey Off Back

Having sown the seeds of destruction, an alcoholic often finds large areas of his life closed off; making amends allows those areas to be opened up again. Overcoming regret for past actions is the first step for the alcoholic in getting the monkey of alcohol addiction off his back. Only after making amends can an alcoholic walk down the street again without constantly looking over his shoulder out of fear that someone, or something, from his past will come back to haunt him.

Mike Gonyea served as an account manager and strategic planner at a Detroit advertising agency for 20 years. He has covered automotive finance, state and local government and interfaith issues for publications and websites including “The Detroit News,” American Thinker and A Common Word.