Easy Does It – AA

easy-does-it-aaThose who have heard or seen this slogan displayed on walls in Alcoholics Anonymous clubhouses often wonder what is meant by “Easy Does It.”  It is a well known slogan in AA for a reason.  It is somewhat self-explanatory, as it generally means relax, but it is important to dive deeper.  People who seek out recovery from addiction are experiencing negative feelings such as fear, regret, and are generally very tense.

Why Remind Alcoholics “Easy Does It”

People who seek out recovery from addiction are in convoluted state.  A constant state of stress and anxiety is the norm.  Typically, they have either been pressured by family or friends to seek help, been ordered by the justice system to attend meetings, or have genuinely reached their rock bottom.

Shaking the Monkey

Those that have been pressured by friends and family simply want to get the monkey off their back.  If they don’t accept the shake-the-monkeytenants of AA or sincerly accept help, they are likely to return to drinking.  This is if they aren’t continuing to drink while they attend meetings.  (This happens quite often.)  I know I’ve attended meetings in the past just for show.  It reduces the amount of times you are called out for your behavior when drinking.

AA attendees of this variety need to relax more than most.  They may think they can solve all their problems quickly.  Decades, or at least years of drinking have caused problems that cannot be fixed by a few meetings.  Once realized, the alcoholic (potential or real) can take concrete steps to improve their situation.  Easy does It is very good advice, as repairing the damage caused takes time.

Court Ordered Attendees

Courts traditionally send everybody that is charged with possession, DUI, or other crimes committed while under influence of drugs or alcohol to AA.  If the offender completes additional treatment and goes to said meetings, they can usually escape the harshest penalties.  Courts operate under the reality that these offenders would not have committed crimes if they were court-ordered-addictnot under the influence in most cases.

While under the supervision of courts, these offenders are less likely to relapse.  However, this type of attendee, especially if it is the first time being so ordered, generally dismiss all teachings.  However, easy does it begins to ring true as they see their lives improve.

Like me, they may be under the delusion that they can safely return to drinking and using after a period of sobriety.  If they are true addicts, this is simply false.  Easy does it makes sense to this group because they can choose to actually work a program and see if things improve.  Taking it one step at a time and not fretting about all the court obligations makes things easier.

Many Come Because They Hit Bottom

For those who have reached rock bottom, AA and the saying “easy does it” is often accepted more readily.  These people truly want to quit drinking, and as AA tradition three states “the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.”  Because these alcoholics accept that they have lost their power over their choice to drink, they are more willing to accept advice.  One day at a time, and following the program of action are all related to “easy does it.”

This group MUST learn to relax.  They often feel as if it is all or nothing.  With this mentality, they usually end up with nothing.  Once they understand there is always a trap door that leads to a lower bottom, they can carefully start repairing the wreckage of their past.

History of “Easy Does It” in AA

As earlier as 1948, the AA Grapevine, a periodical published with the permission of Alcoholics Anonymous, reported this saying as a very common one.  In the article, it is stated to generally mean relax.  Yesterday and tomorrow need to have much less bearing on the life of the alcoholic then it once did.  Addicts and alcoholics must concern themselves with today’s requirements.

It goes on to support the efficacy of relaxation with examples of professional athletes and intellectuals alike.  Athletes that can relax while demonstrating their craft perform the best.  An example would be excellent hitters in baseball.  Their smooth relaxed swings result in big homeruns.  Another is running backs that don’t tense up while running.  They are less prone to fumbles and other errors.

As it relates to alcoholics, we are generally a tense group of people.  We feel as if we must fix our problems now and must grasp the whole program of Alcoholics Anonymous in one meeting or after skimming the Big Book.  This is unrealistic and dangerous to the newly sober.  Those that relax find that emotional and intellectual understanding come more readily.  Admitting powerlessness over our drug of choice is enough to make an honest start.

By honestly trying the program, the alcoholic can find out for themselves whether it works.  Concrete evidence is what the alcoholic wants to see.  Let’s say our past comes back to haunt us.  We have done many things while intoxicated or at least indirectly related to the disease that causes us tension.

Avoiding the Bottle

The standard urge is to reach for the bottle.  They begin to worry about these thoughts, as they go directly against their desire to remain sober.  Instead of reaching out, they worry about it and sometimes throw their hands up and say something like “what’s the use anyhow.”

Instead, the alcoholic needs to relax his/her body, as this is most under his/her direct control.  Sitting back with a relaxed body will result in a relaxed mind.  (If you need techniques for relaxation, I recommend checking out this book.) This allows for the picturing of other people who have conquered this disease.  It allows solace in the fact that millions have recovered and lead happy, healthy lives.

Those that learn how to relax are already well on their way in their recovery.  I’ll admit that I am still tense a great deal of the time.  As a perfectionist I want everything to be just so.  As time goes by, however, I find that it becomes easier and relaxing actually helps me perform better at everything!

Easy Does It – BUT DO IT

I saw a poster with this saying in an AA clubhouse, and I will always remember it.  It reminds us addicts that we must not allow the saying “easy does it” as a permissive phrase that allows us to be idle.  There is a difference between learning to relax and dragging our feet.

For example, the 12 steps of AA were never meant to take years to complete.  Too many today are taught that they can slowly take the steps.  This often leads to relapse.  Steps one through three can be completed in as little as an hour.  It isn’t until step four that real action is required in the form of writing out a fearless and searching inventory of ourselves, or as Russel Brand puts it in his book: “Write down all the things that are f**cking you up or have ever f**cked you up and don’t lie, or leave anything out.” 

When addicts/alcoholics do not begin relatively quickly on this step, they are in danger of relapsing.  It may bring up many bad memories, but it is a necessary step if 12 step programs are to be the solution.  Faith without works is dead is another common saying in AA that applies here.  Faith is great, but if you expect to sit idly and recover from the insidious disease of addiction, it isn’t going to happen.  Trust God, clean house, and help others.

In the early days of AA, it should be noted that new members were expected to complete all 12 steps within a month.  This was met with the promise that if they did, they would soon find themselves free from addiciton.  Back to Basics outlines early AA meetings demonstrating this process very well.  Over the years, this message was abandoned in favor of doing it at your own pace.  Because alcoholics best thoughts got them in the position they now find themselves, perhaps it is time to follow other instructions.  There are many books on the subject that will help you in your journey.

I hope readers have found this post relevant and instructive.  Please leave any comments in the comments section.

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



  1. Thanks for a really insightful article about addiction and the different types of situations that can lead someone to seek out help. Your emphasis on accountability to take action vs. dragging it out over years sounds like good common sense that could help a lot of people in general as a skill that could apply to many areas. This is definitely an article that I would refer people too who are looking to better understand AA and the 12-step program. Thanks again.

    • Thank you for the comment Kel. Understanding that nothing is accomplished if we sit idle. As you said, it is important to get into action immediately when seeking recovery. Finding a balance between accepting that problems cant be fixed with a snap of your fingers is equally important. It took years to get to that point, so giving yourself time to see real changes will allow an easy does it mentality.

  2. The slogan “Easy does it” describes a process that isn’t easy at all. It seems that learning how to deal with stress and anxiety are at least half of the battle. I’m not an alcoholic (not one in denial even) but I know so many people who are alcoholics or are married to one that I felt like I knew a lot about it. After reading this and some of your other blog posts I learned some things I wasn’t aware of. I have a question for you which I hope you can answer since its something I’ve wondered about. Do you think its common for people to subconsciously choose alcoholics id one of their parents is an alcoholic? Both of my sisters married alcoholics who are now in recovery through AA and I suspect my father (now passed) was an alcoholic. It seems like a weird coincidence since neither of my sisters have issues with alcohol, although they both attend Al-Anon meetings.

    • I have to agree that “easy does it” can be difficult to accept.  As I state in the article, we must still put in the work, but we can’t let ourselves become overwhelmed to the point where a drink or drug becomes our solution.  As this is an addicts first thought, stress or anxiety may blur our judgment.  Instead, it is best to reach out and talk to someone who knows what you are going through.  

      I absolutely believe that men and woman end up choosing alcoholics if their parents were also afflicted.  Here is an example why… Let’s say the father is an alcoholic and the children cover for him, clean him up after a particularly bad night, or wake him up so that he can get to work.  As the children grow up, they may seek out someone that also suffers and try to “help” them.  While this is actually enabling the person, the children of alcoholics don’t really see the difference.

      I do not believe that it is coincidence at all.  I hope this answers your question.  Please elaborate and reply if your have other examples or experience to share.

  3. I do know a friend who is an alcoholic and even though I want to tell it to him but I suppose this is more like a self-diagnosed disease.
    I like the way Easy Does it has been used in this case and honestly, I sometimes feel it is very important to get to a stage where you realize you need AA and it is the best possible thing you can do.

    • Thanks Shrey.  I was unsure though if you meant that you would like to tell him Easy Does It or that he should maybe attend a meeting.  If he is still in denial, then you really can’t do anything for him except stop enabling him if you are doing that.

      Most alcoholics have to hit rock bottom (there are varying degrees depending on the person) to do anything about their problem.  I’ve had several bottoms, but I found there is always a trap door waiting for me.  Thank you for the comment.

  4. I have very close friends and my cousin, with addictions. It makes no difference to them, if your family, friends wife/husband or even children, beg you to stop or to seek help. The more they insist, the more they do it.
    The only way somebody with addiction seeks help is when they really hit rock bottom. But it must be their decision. I´ve also known people that seek help and sometimes fall again, this can happen. But as long as you have your mind set up to fight the addiction, you going to make it.

    • You make a good point about hitting rock bottom.  For that reason I wrote an entire article about it!

      It really can be devastating watching a loved one suffer without knowing what to do.  We set out to help, but end up enabling them instead.  This never works out, as it only makes it easier to continue using or drinking.

      When they decide for themselves that they are done, that is a great first step.  As long as they continue doing what helps keep them sober (getting their medicine), there is a good chance they can stop forever.  They must not revert back to old behaviors.  Thankfully, as there life improves – if they stay grateful – they will see how much better their lives can be!

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