One of the biggest issues for someone suffering from drug or alcohol addiction or someone just beginning to recover from addiction or alcoholism is the idea of powerlessness. The concept of powerlessness not only can act as a barrier for getting clean and sober but can also act as an excuse, a rationalization or a justification for someone not getting clean and sober. The idea of powerlessness plays into the victimization roles that most addicts and alcoholics create for themselves and the misconception of powerlessness can aid in someone continuing to drink and use.

“It’s not my fault I got high. I’m powerless.”

“I relapsed because I’m powerless over my addiction.”

“I have a disease. I’m powerless to stop.”

These are common statements by addicts. While some are partially true, the overall motive or meaning is nonsense. Unfortunately, the addiction treatment industry and the 12 Step fellowships of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) seem to promote and support this idea of powerlessness, and not in the way it was originally intended. This idea helps no one and offers excuses to continue using.

Understanding an Addicts Lack of Power

The truth is, as much of the literature of the 12 Step fellowships will attest, the problem for an addict or alcoholic IS lack of power. The idea of powerlessness comes from the powerlessness over the substance and it’s effect on the user. When an addict or alcoholic uses or drinks, they often have little or no control over the amount of consumption. Their body, due to a physical reaction to the substance, begins craving more. They literally are POWERLESS over the amount they consume or the ability to stop once they start. Additionally, when an addict or alcoholic stops using or drinking on their own or through a detox or treatment center, due to the mental condition of addiction and alcoholism, they are often POWERLESS from picking up again. Based on how previous alcohol and drug use has effected their brain, the reward system, their biology and their mental condition, addicts and alcoholics will often pick up after a period of sobriety even know they are aware the drugs and alcohol are killing them. In this regard, they are also POWERLESS.

Unfortunately, the idea of powerlessness as it was originally intended related to addiction and recovery has become convoluted. Many current 12 Step fellowship meetings and addiction treatment centers and therapists use this idea of powerlessness and throw a blanket over addicts and alcoholics. They say “You are powerless. There’s nothing you can do” or “You don’t have a choice”. This type of thinking creates a victim mentality. It allows for justification and rationalization, such as “I have a disease. I am powerless. I might as well use” or “It’s not my fault, I’m powerless.” This is not the idea of powerlessness that Bill Wilson wrote about in the first step in 1939 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea has become twisted. Addict and alcoholics are powerless over drugs and alcohol but in recovery, they are not powerless.

Lack of Power Doesn’t Mean you’re a Victim

The original members of AA did not see alcoholics or addicts in recovery as victims. They saw lack of power as the issue and the solution being finding a power. They equate this to a High Power. The 12 Steps of AA and NA are a set of principles that are spiritual in nature and are designed to take the addict and alcoholic from a state of powerlessness to a state of power. The actions taken in the 12 Steps create a relationship with a “power greater than ourselves”. Therefore, once the addict or alcoholic in recovery is able to admit powerlessness towards drugs/alcohol and begins creating a relationship with a power greater than themselves through the 12 Steps, the addict and alcohol ceases to be powerless. Sure, if they relapse they will again be powerless over drugs and alcohol, but that powerlessness is removed from the equation as long as the addict or alcoholic continues to seek and enhance their relationship with a power greater than themselves. This is a practice that must be done daily.

An addict or alcoholic DOES NOT CHOOSE to drink or use on a daily basis. In active addiction, that choice is made for them. They cannot just CHOOSE to not drink or use. And once in recovery, they still DO NOT CHOOSE to not drink or not use on a daily basis. Once an addict or alcoholic enters recovery and takes the 12 Steps, they receive a power by which they can live. Then, on a daily basis, they wake up and have the choice to either live by the spiritual principles of the 12 Steps to ensure they stay clean and sober or to not live by those spiritual principles. If they choose not to live by spiritual principles, they eventually drink and use. That choice has been made and was not up to them. They chose to not access the power they need to live. And that power is truly an individual journey. The 12 Steps are spiritual principles; they direct the addict and the alcoholic to live life by principles such as honesty, brotherly love, open-mindedness and unselfishness. The power greater than themselves and what that power turns out to be is an individual journey for each person. The key, however, is once accessing that power, an addict and alcoholic no longer remains powerlessness. They may always be powerless over drugs and alcohol but they no longer remain powerless over their illness of addiction or alcoholism. They no longer remain powerless over their lives. Instead, they have become powerful and have the ability to do anything they choose to do in life.


Need Help? Contact a Recovery Professional Today

If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug and alcohol addiction and needs treatment please call us for help. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive addiction treatment in the area. If we aren’t the best fit, we will work with you to find a treatment center that fits your needs. Please call us at (410) 773-0500 or email For more information on all of our alcohol and addiction treatment services and resources, please visit the web site at

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