12 Step Spiritual Principles List – Integrity – Step Five


In step five, we must practice the previous four principles of honesty, hope, faith, and courage. This allows us to express integrity in “admitting to God, to ourselves, and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” in Step Five. While many alcoholics are willing to admit their faults to themselves and God, it becomes troublesome for most when they have to tell another person. They are worried about exposure, or what the other person might think. Fear not, we often find that we have worked ourselves up over nothing.

In this article, we will explore the importance of integrity, why step five is a strictly necessary step (but never as godawful as we make it out to be), and the role it plays in our recovery.

Integrity Has Its Place – Everywhere

Integrity seems to be greatly misunderstood. It stems from the Latin word integer, which, if you remember middle school math, represents a whole number. Because there are so many definitions, I personally define it as consistency in authentic thought, behavior, and action. The reason why I do not mention morals is simple: My morals are not going to be identical to anyone else. People can share a similar set of morals, but they will never align perfectly.


We are all guilty of being inauthentic every day. If you disagree, reflect on only yesterday’s happenings. At some point, you acted in a way that was not authentic. If you held your tongue when your moral fiber would have had you speak out, you were inauthentic. Perhaps you heard a joke that you found offensive, but because every one else was laughing you let it go.

To be honest, being perfectly authentic at all times could easily be social suicide. If we accept this as the case, we still are capable of authenticity. In every aspect of your life, if you generally maintain clear thoughts, behavior, actions, and speech in all areas of your life, you are living authentically.

Let’s present an example. If someone knew you from church, but saw how you acted at work, would they be able to identify you as the same person? I call this the litmus test. If, depending on what role you are playing, your actions and words are radically different depending on who you are interacting or what role you a playing, authenticity is a problem for you.

100% Integrity is Impossible

To be a man of integrity does not mean that you are capable of acting this way at all times. Frankly, emotions will often cause you to veer from authentic thought and action. A boss may tell us to leave our problems at the door, for example. While a wonderful notion of which I’d love to be capable of adhering, this is not reality. We may act inappropriately or make mistakes that do not represent the spirit of integrity.

When this happens, the REAL man of integrity will admit fault promptly. It is when we try to pass the buck or hide our mistakes that causes a bigger problem: DISHONOR. Remember the Japanese saying during these internal struggles: “Death Before Dishonor.” Integrity also involves learning from these mistakes and ensuring they do not happen again. Work toward being a better version of yourself each day, and failure will never be your story.

Step 5 – Admission

Personally, I am not one to admit my mistakes. I preferred to sweep them under the rug and then just keep making them. Of course, I am talking about my “mistakes” as they relate to alcoholism. Anything that got in the way of drinking was soon brushed aside. I would make adjustments to my life in order to maintain my addiction. The embarrassing things that we did are pretty much known, so admitting these instances is not our goal.

The real goal is admitting those things that really eat at us. These are things that bring us shame, such as personality defects that are deeply ingrained. The thoughts and really humiliating motivations that brought us so much trouble must be disclosed; not to the world, but one trustworthy person.

Disclosure is an Ancient Pastime

It should be noted that a version of admitting faults has been practiced in all of recorded history. Every civilization found value in speaking to representatives of the God of their choosing about actions that they regret or flaws they try to hide. Psychiatrists and psychologists today readily agree that a thorough discussion of our personalities will reveal flaws. Only after admitting these faults can we take steps to change them.

This Too Shall Pass

There is a reason that performing step five is typically done with a sponsor, which is a person who guides a new member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc. Since an addict or alcoholic can generally gain the confidence of another in a matter of hours, this makes perfect sense.  Talking to a “normal” person makes us anxious.  In most cases, the sponsor and alcoholic will share similar stories.

If you are an addict, you may fear this step. This should not be the case. You have already leveled your pride and wrote down your moral inventory in step four. All you are doing in step five is reading this inventory to an understanding individual who suffers from the same affliction.

Once step five is complete, it is usually followed by laughter. I know this doesn’t make sense, but a sponsor will often ask “is that it?” Most find that nothing they said was that far removed from the sponsor’s experiences. This is to say that you are NOT unique in the types of seemingly terrible thoughts and actions that you’ve tried to hide for so long. You will also benefit from another person’s experiences and hard

Benefits of Completing Step Five

I was one of these people who asked why I couldn’t just admit my faults to myself and God. The main reason is we are incapable of explaining these faults adequately to ourselves. If it were that easy, we would have corrected them long ago. It isn’t until we humble ourselves and explain our deficiencies to another person that we uncover our true motivations and delusions.

We Gain Humility

For those in recovery, humility amounts to a clear recognition to who and what we really are, followed by a sincere attempt at what we could be. Essentially, we strive to become our best self; the self God envisioned for us. As we now have our moral document in front of us, we now have a good look at ourselves.

However, this is only a look and we cannot fix ourselves by ourselves. As Einstein said, “we can’t solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.” The addict/alcoholic’s best thinking brought them to the brink of total collapse. How, then, could simply writing down his defects solve all his problems? It can’t.

Humility is gained in this step because we are admitting all this to a life and blood person.

Perspective is Gained

A problem shared is a problem halved. Too many times in my life, I only needed to say things out loud to another person to gain a true understanding of my thoughts and motivations. Sometimes I would be able to solve a pressing problem simply by having the other person act as a sounding board. Other times, my ideas that sounded genius in my head became ludicrous when I made them audible. Such is the perspective gained.

As addicts work through step five, they will begin to understand themselves as they talk about each entry of their moral inventory. Through careful guidance from someone who has been there before, you will at least get honest feedback of which you evaluate its efficacy. In most cases, the addict finds that they have been delusionally rationalizing thoughts and behaviors that only hurt the self.

You Get to Let Go

Most addicts go through a phase where they wallow in self-pity and wonder why they have to go through all these stupid steps in order to achieve sobriety. Those who achieve long-term sobriety, however, often realize that they are lucky that they get to level their pride, let go of their insecurities, etc. This is typically never done by so called “normal” people. There are plenty of social drinkers, for example, that suffer from serious mental deficiencies that go unresolved for a lifetime!

As addicts dive into this step and begin revealing things they have never told anyone, they often experience relief. This will mount as you continue to reveal more. Assuming you hold nothing back, this relief will build to the point that you become truly relaxed. As soon as these things are revealed, they vanish and lose their hold on the addict. All the guilt and shame melts away; the addict is truly ready to begin again.

Integrity After Step Five

Upon completion of step five, it becomes easier to employ the principle of integrity in your daily life. No longer is the addict controlled by fear, apprehension, and shame. They can move forward with their head held high after completing this difficult step.

We have now laid ourselves open. No longer can we hide behind these identified defects of character. We begin to work toward correcting them so that we can become our best selves. Of course, this involves recognizing when these defects begin creeping back in. This is the time to talk to another trusted person for guidance.

As the addict matures in sobriety, he will make fewer mistakes and have less to admit promptly.

If, after reading this article, you desire a greater understanding of the steps, this book is the most detailed.

Please leave any comments as to your definition of integrity, how you apply it in your life, and any advice you have for the addict who still suffers. I typically respond to all comments within 24 hours.

Please share this post if it has helped or will help others.




  1. Thanks for sharing these steps and also your life. I don’t struggle with addictions, so I don’t fully understand them. Intellectually, I get it, but I’ve never had to deal with it first hand or even second hand. Perhaps I can use this knowledge to help others in my community and church.

    I am especially interested in the connection between shame and addiction. You say that shame makes it hard to become free from addiction, but I wonder if it works in the other direction also. Does shame lead to addictive behaviors? Please let me know if you have insight into this question.

    • Shame could certainly lead to addictive behaviors, but I would say it is much more prominent once the addiction process has begun.  Alcoholics and addicts usually describe a feeling of not fitting in, even when it appears to everyone else that they do.  When they take their first drink, these anxious feelings seem to disappear.  For this reason, they end up falling in love with it.  They no longer look at is a problem, but their solution to feeling lonely.

      So then, I guess shame does play a part.  They may feel shame that they don’t fit in anywhere.  This feeling is very well hidden.  However, once the addiction takes hold, they do outrageous things that only lead to more shame.  the best way to forget, they think, is to take more drugs or drink more.  This has been my experience.  However, we come out of the high with more problems.  The only real solution is abstinence if you are truly addicted.  Thank you for your question.  

      I think reading Stress and Addiction, which is an article on this site, would provide further insight.

  2. Hi Ernest,
    What a great article on step 5, Integrity. Although I’ve not struggled with addiction I had a moment of clarity about 5 years back. I was in a dark place (very unusual for me) and I decided I was tired of hiding things from people. So I stopped. I became transparent and although it wasn’t easy, it was incredibly freeing.
    I have a brother who has struggled with addiction to alcohol and pills for years. He completed a 3 month treatment plan and has been back in society for about 6 months now. He seems to be doing very well. One of the biggest changes I see in him is his level of humility. He is who he is now and doesn’t try to hide anything. We’ve talked at length how shame and hiding behaviors usually means you are ashamed of something.
    thanks again,
    Mat A.

    • Great comment Mat.  Alcoholics and addicts are masters at hiding everything from everybody.  We will lie and tell people that we are doing one thing, when we are really out there using.  We may have liquor stored all over our house.  It becomes harder and harder to keep those lies straight.  This weighs on our soul to the point where we don’t want to see anybody.  We are essentially hiding from every aspect of life blaming others for judging how we carry ourselves.  The truth is, they have the right to judge, because it isn’t a pretty picture.

      Transparency fixes this, as you said.  When people know where you stand, you are living your truth.  No longer do you have to do things you really don’t want to do.  We can live our lives as ourselves, and enjoy it!

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