Moral Inventory

There is a saying that AA stands for “Altered Attitudes”, which is one of the slogans with which I actually agree. The AA experience is about changing almost everything, especially attitudes. The purpose of the steps is not to quit drinking, although that is what gets people through the door – it is about conditioning others to alter their fundamental belief systems to make AA the central focus of their lives. Remember, that AA’s stated belief is that the individual is subservient to the group. This is done by diminishing the individual, and praising the group. This isn’t just done in AA. It is a common cult tactic, as described in the cult awareness videos we posted here. One common thing you will see in AA is individuals saying such things as “before I joined AA, I was (insert pejorative here), but now I am (insert glowing individual trait here) – and I owe it all to AA“.

The ways of achieving this are to tear down the individual, and build up the group. Another thing often heard is “I had to be torn down before I could be built back up again”. This is done in a couple of ways. The first is take away the individuals freewill, which is achieved in accepting steps one through three. In those steps, people who have difficulty accepting a hands on god are encouraged to make the AA group itself their higher power™, and to give control over to the group. In step four, the individual is told to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” about himself or herself. Where the first three steps strip an individual of any self determination, the fourth step tears the individual down; and when an individual is torn down, the group stands waiting at their psychological bottom to pick them up, and save them from themselves.

What exactly is a moral inventory, and how does it work? Is it like a retail inventory, or a checklist on where an individual stands at that given moment in their personal morality? Not really. It is interesting to see the difference in definitions of the word inventory, when comparing the actual definition, to the AA definition. AA does with it what they so often do with words, and redefine it to suit their purpose. In this case the purpose is to tear down the individual. Here is a Fourt Step Worksheet, that has been used in AA for 70 years. In it, they include their definition of a moral inventory. Compare the difference between the actual definition, and AA’s definition:

Moral Inventory:

Merriam-Webster: an itemized list of current assets; a list of traits, preferences, attitudes, interests, or abilities used to evaluate personal characteristics or skills

Alcoholics Anonymous: a list of personality defects, violations of moral principles, defects in character, maladjustments, and dysfunctional behavior

So, AA redefines the term from “assets” to “liabilities”.

All kinds of people join Alcoholics Anonymous, including good, honest, nice, caring, giving people; as well as selfish, mean spirited, assholes. People who become alcoholics are no different than the general population. Most people with a drinking problem have done or said some things for which they regret. Some of which is caused by drinking, and some of as a result of being human. Although alcohol addiction changes people, no doubt, nothing has been shown alcoholics to be inherently different than non-alcoholics, aside from what was written in the ‘Big Book’. I recently read very good book called The Heart of Addiction by Lance Dodes, a researcher and Physician at Harvard Medical School, where he writes about these myths in greater detail. We’ll probably review this book on this blog in the near future, but I would suggest anyone read it, as it has some great, sound, scientific information about addiction.

The difference between the two viewpoints of an alcoholic stereotype – one from an addiction researcher, and the other from Alcoholics Anonymous – is that one view is founded on science, and the other is found upon the religious doctrine of original sin. AA took from the Oxford group certain beliefs about human nature, which took its beliefs from their view of Christianity and the human condition. Original sin states that we as people are inherently bad, which is a philosophical topic I am not trying to lead into here. I’m simply trying give some context in how these myths about alcoholics were perpetuated. AA, which was not even AA for the first few years of its existence, but was simply an offshoot of the Oxford group; simply replaced the world “person” with “alcoholic”, and viola! A Stereotype was born. Now, I’m not arguing for or against the concept of original sin. I’m simply saying it doesn’t apply only to alcoholics.

So, take out a pen a do yourself a moral inventory. A real one. You have a lot of good characteristics. We all do. You have bad traits, as well, but so what. Because you don’t drink anymore, the good will shine, and the bad will be reduced. That is what happens when we quit drinking. Life becomes better. For you, and for your family, and for your friends. Real family, and real friends who stood by you while you were drunk, and accepted you for who you are, character flaws and all — because they knew you were not much different than them. You just drank too much.

  • H

    All of that is wonderful. But, no one in AA is qualified to be a 'sponsor'. I met two people in AA who had any common sense. One was a convicted felon. The other was using AA as a talisman. The second had no intention of doing the steps. The others were blind kittens.
    As for the inventory: invasive. In a society that has no code of conduct. No standards worthy of the name.

    'Alcoholics' are as unique as any other mortal human. There is no 'acoholic personality'.

  • speedy0314


    probably the earliest red flag for me in AA was the juvenile, confrontational nature of the language in the opening in chapter 5 ('constitutionally incapable of being honest' 'they are not at fault … perhaps they were born that way'). it smacked of a schoolyard rebuke reminiscent of 'the dozens' (e.g., 'he can't help he's so stupid … he was born that way').

    the way a moral 'inventory' (as traditionally defined, you know, in, like, … english) transmogrified into an endless series of personal 'resentments' & sexual hangups was another. it just didn't make sense; it wasn't a case of 'apples vs. oranges' — it just seemed to me that an 'inventory' was a case of 'apples, oranges, miscellaneous, what's in surplus, what's needed, where's the areas we can stock better, etc.) where in the AA notion was mostly a list of [bad] apples.

    that's not an 'inventory'. that's a shit-list.

    writing that list up several times & sharing it with several sponsors never did a damned thing to make a better, 'more spiritual' person of me. and i'm sure it never made any real headway in keeping me sober. in actuality, during my third go at the 4th, i was hit with a serious case of, 'fuck this stupid, inane exercise! i'm gonna go get a shot & a beer & talk football with some human beings.'

    you know we're on the same page here, so i don't want to get too caught up in the "you GO MA, BOYYY!!!" thing & take a minute to talk about my experience with the 'attitude adjustment' bullshit.

    just one man's opinion, but i think my experience speaks to the larger [AA] population's 'real' experience than the really open — publicly at least — to letting on. there tons of meetings where i heard speakers talk about feeling 'empty' (or a similar feeling) after 'doing' 4, 5, & 6. of course, if they wanted to placate the faithful, they'd follow that up soon after with, 'in retrospect, i'm so grateful to have done it!'

    yada yada yada.

    the whole 'mcgowdog thing' has me feeling like i was forced to sit in a meeting & listen to the absurd ramblings of a monumental 12×12 asshole. of course, in this medium, i was allowed to respond … but it was still exhausting & frustrating — not because he made any worthwhile points, but because he was the ugly, retarded 'ghost of meetings left'. if some white supremacist hit the blog & started spouting bullshit about alcoholism being a ZOG conspiracy, that ticket would've been punched pretty early on.

    okay i'll stop now.


  • H

    I understand that speedy. I do not know what that 'inventory' has to do with drinking too much. Very little. Just as it has very little to do with ____ too much. I have to repeat: I never encontered anyone — except for those two – who were in a position to give advice to anyone. I had no intention of getting any where near doing those silly steps. I was not born yesterday.

  • AnnaZed

    If I were the type of person who went around thanking God for random events in my life I would thank him that I didn't do a 4th Step inventory with my first psycho sponsor; every single line item would be inflated and conflated with weird distortions and public knowledge by now. This is not for any lack of her trying. At one month sober she was telling me to just skip steps 2 and 3 (I was "hung up" on the God kerfuffle) and get to the "meat of the profram" and tell her all of my secrets. Some residual sense of se;f preservation kept me from doing that; well, that and my discomfort listening to her spew versions of the secrets of others every time I saw her.

    On a "spiritual" note, I found this pretty disturbing:

    Faith-based AA Groups Cheaper & More Effective Than Conventional Cognitive Behavioural [sic] Therapy

    • friendthegirl

      Yeesh. Thanks for the link, AZ. What I found interesting is that practicing meditation, and "surfing" through urges, can be a spiritual activity for some (if they're focused on the spiritual aspect of it), but essentially — as it is described in the post — it is simply a congnitive-behavioral exercize: teaching people to rewire themselves so that they are able to ride the wave, so to speak. It's an exercize in self-will.

    • speedy0314


      just went & whooped on that idiot now. the blog post is a virtual 'rubiks cube' for humanists to spin left, right, up, & down endlessly so that they might confuse themselves enough into thinking that the 12X12 actually respects their worldview.

      as for the 'god kerfuffle':

      physcist Pierre LaPlace in explaining how Newtonian theories of gravity & such could be useful on the battlefield to Napoleon was asked, "Where in your book on the universe is the place for its creator?"

      LaPlace answered simply, "I had no need for that hypothesis."

      Napoleon replied with a hearty laugh.

      i have no need for the 'kerfuffle'.



    • M A

      Hi, Anna. I don't know if you have read that study, but I was wanting to post about it. That article, and others I have seen in real newspapers, were wrong about what that study concluded. For one, it isn't randomized. Secondly, it only determined that those who are sober at one year and attend AA are more likely to be sober at two and three years than those who use CBT. Again, it only suggests this, and the authors wrote this was "semi academic", which is their out.

      What the study did not look at was which of the two therapies are more likely to get the person sober in the first place. In other words, of CBT patients, and 12 step patients, who will most likely reach a year of sobriety. This has been concluded in other studies that WERE RANDOMIZED (ie, Project MATCH). It concluded neither approach worked. CBT is just as ineffective as AA, and does no better than quitting on your own. The benefit to CBT, though, is that it isn't a cult religion. So, if you are going to do nothing, you should do CBT nothing.

  • KLM

    Thanks for the time and effort that has been put into your site. I have been weaning myself off of AA for the past 3 months and finally cut all ties earlier this week. I left for all of the reasons that are stated here. For the past two weeks I have been reading everything that I can find in order to help me with the deprogramming process. I am definitely feeling the negative effects of 2 1/2 years of AA brainwashing. The scariest part at this point is wondering how long this deprogramming process will take. If you get the chance to write a blog on "separation from AA" (something like that) I would imagine that you would get a fair number of comments that would be helpful to people that are taking this step. The right step! Thanks again.

    • friendthegirl

      Welcome, KLM! There are a number of people who visit this blog who have, or are in the process of, deprogramming. I think the post you suggested is a good one, something we will put some time into. We do have some links to forums, communities of people who are weaning themselves, like Escape from the Cult of AA, Blamedenail, 12-step free, Without AA…

      And if you have any experiences or guidance, please feel free to offer those here. We would very much appreciate hearing more.

      Thank you!


    • speedy0314


      the site hasn't been updated in some time, but is a great site. it's where agent orange got his start (the aadeprogramming domain was managed by a woman who went by the handle 'apple').

      check it out. plenty of information, solid, lucid arguments, & doesn't take itself too seriously.

      good luck,


    • M A

      Hey, KLM. If you can send us an email at, I can point you to a couple places that might help you, as well. We can't really post about it on the public forum because of privacy concerns.

      • KLM


        The address bounced back to me so I sent my email to the gmail account that you have listed.

  • AnnaZed

    By the way Speedy, it looks like they failed to post your comments at that "humanist" site.

  • speedy0314


    the response is posted — the page just has a really lousy way of displaying replies.


  • AnnaZed

    I don't know Speedy, I cleared my cache and everything and when I go there I just see "Comments [1]," the comment that was already there. Hummmm, probably my browser.

    • friendthegirl

      I can't see it either. I checked a few times yesterday, too.

  • AnnaZed

    In that case speedy should check again, maybe God deleted his comment.

  • AnnaZed

    He was trying to kill alcoholics after all, so, all bets are off.

  • andymar

    That's a very good point about the emphasis being put exclusively on liabilities rather than assets. Every now and then the odd member in the rooms would try to interpret the "moral inventory" idea as including appreciation of one's positive attributes, but this is just not in line with the message of aa literature, and it always went down like a lead balloon when people suggested it. My overriding impression of the 12 step experience was one of rigid, punitive judgementalism, coupled with childish magical thinking and a fear of and contempt for rational thought. It became increasingly depressing and disempowering to be involved with it. In order to really be accepted as part of aa, intelligent people have to dumb themselves down. There is a strong pressure to conform in this way if aa has become the social focus of one's life. In the end I just had to walk away from aa because I couldn't countenance the loss of self-respect involved in staying.
    Anyway, I'd just like to say it's a great pleasure to discover this blog. Best wishes

  • Anon

    Alcohlism is a scientific deaseas as defined by the American Medical Association. It is first a disease of the mind. This leads the alcoholic to believe they can pick up the first drink. From there, what is called an allergy of the body takes over inherent only in alcoholic afflicted people. So alcoholism is a disease of the mind and body.
    While I won’t debate your definition of moral inventory as I agree with you, AA does not insist that your higher power be anything but what you believe it to be. God, Alah, the AA group conscience, something inside yourself, a chair, etc… What is only important is you believe a power greater than yourself can remove your shortcomings. It is these shortcomings which lead the alcoholic to drink. Thus the allergy kicks in and the alcoholic starts the endless cycle most times resulting in an earlier termination of their life than the non alcoholic.
    Your right and most members of AA would agree with you that everyone has these traits and faults. But they also believe most people are inherently good. It is a striving for the betterment of the individual that this “negative” inventory is taken. Few people have a hard time understanding their good qualities as opposed to bad traits.
    As to further the point of “all people have these traits” as you have stated, you are again correct. This why most people in AA believe this design of a new way of living would be good for non alcoholics to follow. Although not one would try to sell this fact to

  • I don’t feel that alcoholism is a disease and I don’t think it is treated by the faith healing techniques of AA. Here is an interesting piece from TNB.

    Alcoholism, AA and the Medical Industry: Nationwide Malpractice
    by PAUL A. TOTH
    06 February 2010
    Recently, I’ve been involved in an academic debate regarding the concept of alcoholism and addiction as diseases. During that debate, I discovered what I consider to be a major contradiction between the diagnosis of alcoholism (upon which I will focus in this post) and its “treatment.” That discovery led me to a second and even more startling revelation.

    Without doubt, the advent of alcoholism as a disease accomplished some positives. E.Morton Jellinek was the major force behind the development of the disease model. Without going into Jellinek’s ideas and the conclusions he reached from his research, some of which are unquestionably wrong, it need only be stated for now that without Jellinek, alcoholism might still be considered the result of “character defects.”

    Redefining alcoholism as a disease seemingly de-stigmatized alcoholism. However, that de-stigmatization occurred only in the definition of alcoholism, not its treatment. That contradiction is the subject of this essay.

    While nearly every therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician in the United States accepts the disease model of alcoholism and other addictions, they almost-uniformly refer every one of their patients to AA as the one and only road to recovery. Remember that these professionals have, as part of their acceptance of the disease model, obviously concluded that diseases are not caused by “character defects.”

    But at the same time, in its primary document (the Twelve Steps), AA members “must” (of course they can ignore it, but no reason to attend AA exists in that case) accept the 6th Step, i.e, being “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character” [bolding and italics mine].

    This raises two points, the first being the most important.

    (1) Because almost all therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and physicians accept the disease model of alcoholism, they also by default accept that a disease does not result from “character defects.” However, the only “treatment” they offer is referral to AA, which, while paying lip service to the disease model, clearly views alcoholism as the result of “character defects,” otherwise known as a “sinful nature.” Such “treatment” negates the very essence of the treatment community’s own diagnosis. That’s precisely parallel to a physician who knows the use of shark cartilage as a cancer treatment goes against everything he believes about the disease of cancer, but he still points every cancer patient to shark cartilage as the only treatment that “works.”
    (2) Because AA accepts the disease theory of alcoholism, at least on the surface, its own 6th Step repudiates the definition of alcoholism as a disease and AA as a coherent “philosophy.” AA inculcates the idea of alcoholism as the result of “character defects,” the very idea Jellinek, the founder of the disease model, disputed. Thus, AA is entirely based upon a “sin and redemption” approach. While it may work for some, it is, without question, a faith-based organization, as both the Twelve Steps and the fact that, at least in my experience, every AA meeting ends with the specifically-Christian Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the wisdom…”) attest.
    Point (1) is far more important than a blatant contradiction. That the sole recovery model to which patients are referred denies the very diagnosis and understanding of alcoholism that the entire treatment community accepts is an almost unbelievable fact. Of even more concern is that no one has ever noticed this unbridgeable gap between the treatment community’s diagnosis and understanding of alcoholism and the sole model of recovery it suggests.

    The point is not to engage in argument with AA or its members; rather, the point is a psychological, medical, economic, and political one: Why is AA never questioned as the sole road to recovery by those who so depend upon it when “treating” patients? Why has no one else ever noticed the black hole between diagnosis and “treatment”? How can the treatment community not notice that AA’s primary document stands in direct opposition to its own accepted definition of alcoholism?

    The American Medical Association’s own diagnosis states: “Disease means an involuntary disability. It represents the sum of the abnormal phenomena displayed by a group of individuals. These phenomena are associated with a specified common set of characteristics by which these individuals differ from the norm, and which places them at a disadvantage” [again, bolding and italics mine].

    The American Psychiatric Association never mentions AA in its Substance-Related Disorders Position Statement. Its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes only criteria; it no longer addresses etiology in regards to any disorder or, in the sole case of alcoholism/addiction, “disease.”

    Despite this avoidance of the issue at hand, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The American Medical Association, and The World Health Organization all consider alcoholism a disease. And to prove how the medical community and AA are becoming still more integrated, some medical schools are now including AA “education” as part of their academic requirements.

    What does all of this mean for the patient? Isn’t the treatment of a disease the role of the treatment community? Or is the treatment community’s addiction to AA psychological, so that it refers patients to the most available “resource” as a stress reliever? Is it economic, since AA is free, much like church? Is it political, with “disease” more likely to gain legislative support that in turn provides funding for research, grants, etc.? Is it simple ignorance? Going back to the patient, left to a cold war of the self, the answer hardly matters. However, were the treatment community to recognize or admit the discrepancy between its diagnosis and treatment of alcoholism, it would make all the difference in the world.

    In conclusion, given the treatment community’s ubiquitous acceptance of alcoholism as a disease and acceptance of AA as the sole recovery model for alcoholic patients despite AA’s insistence that alcohol is the result of “character defects,” the entire psychological, psychiatric and medical communities are not only complicit in the inevitable relapse of patients but engaging in nationwide malpractice.

    TAGS: 12 steps, 6th Step, AA, addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, alcoholism, character defects, disease model, Jellinek, Paul A. Toth, Paul Toth, Psychiatry, Psychology, Sixth Step, Twelve Steps

    PAUL A. TOTH’s Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer’s Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.
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    This entry was posted on Saturday, February 6th, 2010 at 12:44 pm and is filed under Health & Lifestyle, Nonfiction, Travel. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Ps A link to the original piece is here

    Good to see you back up and running and thanks for the link to me. Hopefully you can drop by to chat sometime.

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