We often hear people in AA talk about the 13th step.  The 12 steps of AA are a program of recovery and a blue print for living a happy, spiritual sober life.  Practiced on a daily basis they are a wonderful way of life which restores the heart, soul and lives of many alcoholics.  So what is the 13th step?  The 13th step was originally used by AA to describe our final step to the casket having lived a life of sobriety in the practice of the 12 steps.  As the program evolved it became the phrase used to describe the practice of dating newcomers in the program or dating members with less than solid sobriety. 

Intimate relationships are not easy for anybody and can be especially troublesome for the alcoholic.  The disease of alcoholism is a life threatening one and the potential for death is almost inevitable without recovery. Getting involved with a volatile newcomer and risking the trauma that can be arise from an unsuccessful relationship is callously risking the life of another alcoholic.  The emotional trauma that can arise from these failed relationships in the newly sober vulnerable member can lead to relapse and since relapse can lead to death the practice has become known as the 13th step.  When we look at the severity of the issue its understandable why members with a lot of sobriety despise the practice and recommend to newcomers that they do not date anybody in or out of the program until they have at least a year of sobriety, the same is true of longer term members dating newcomers.  Many newcomers wont listen and many old timers are willing participants in 13 stepping the newcomers.  The results are rarely good.  I have seen many people in AA form wonderful relationships with other members which last a lifetime but rarely are they newcomers when this happens.  There is a reason AA recommends that your focus only on your sobriety for the first year as if your life depends on it it because it does.

The 13th step as it is known today is considered to be a self willful and destructive behavior and one which sober alcoholics working a strong program discourage and find reprehensible.  I always encourage women I sponsor to only attend women’s meetings while they work on their sobriety and get some time behind them.   When the time is right with solid sobriety under their belts they can have the type of relationships they have always wanted based on respect. love and the ideal they set for themselves in the 4th and 5th steps.  I  have rarely seen the early sobriety of “13th Step” relationships work out very well they almost always lead to heartbreak and, even more seriously, relapse.



AmyMay 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

I made the mistake of dating when I was only 3 months sober. For the first time in my life I felt good. I started to feel like I belonged and I was getting my life back. At three months I started dating a fellow member with 2 years. My sponsor told me not to do it my sobriety was too fragile but I would not listen and I ended up firing my sponsor. He was still very sick and although he had two years he was not working the program. I was was too new in sobriety to understand and within two months we were both drunk. I stayed in the sick relationship for another 5 months drinking and drugging and almost lost my life. By the grace of God I made it back to AA and this time I am listening to my sponsor and I now understand why we are told not to date for a year we are too fragile to deal with the trauma when it goes wrong. I need a lot more tools in my toolkit before I get into the complexities of a relationship. I would also prefer to date somebody who is not in program but I will wait to see what God has in store for me and I wont risk my sobriety again.


AmyMay 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

Thank you for this post the old timers often talk about the 13th step but rarely explain what it means. This reallymade it clear for me and I am an example of exactly why its consdiered a very bad idea.


AmyMay 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

I’ve seen this happen as well. There is an incredible draw there, because they know what you’re going through, because they’re going through it too. But yeah. Not worth it. Two unstable people at an unstable point in their life is not a good thing.


AmyMay 28, 2012 at 9:35 am

It’s really a bad idea to date anyone until about a year into sobriety, including and especially another AA person.


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