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The 12 Traditions of AA: What They Mean

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The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are known around the world, but the organization also has another set of twelve guiding principles, known as the 12 Traditions of AA.  These 12 traditions outline AA’s philosophies and provide guidelines for members, groups, and the AA society as a whole.

There are two versions of the 12 Traditions of AA—the original long-form version, and the more commonly used shortened version

What are the 12 Traditions of AA?

The condensed version of the AA 12 Traditions is as follows (as taken from

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
  2. For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

While Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Traditions of AA are there to help you get sober, sometimes you need help from medical professionals. Call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers to discuss your treatment options and to get sober safely.

What’s The Difference Between Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

The AA 12 Steps have become firmly entrenched as a path toward recovery from addictions, not just to alcohol, but to drugs, and other addictions as well.  These steps, which emphasize acknowledging the problem, seeking help, and continuing to practice healthy behaviors, are a key part of recovery programs of all kinds, and a cornerstone of recovery for over a million alcoholics worldwide.

The AA 12 Traditions, on the other hand, offer a set of spiritual and practical guidelines for governing the AA organization itself. These Traditions establish the practices that allow the organization to stay focused on its one objective: to provide a free, always available, haven for anyone who wants to stop drinking and build a new, sober life.

Main Takeaways of the 12 Traditions of AA

AA 12 Traditions

The 12 traditions emphasize looking to a higher power for guidance.

The 12 Traditions of AA are in some ways an extension of the original Twelve Steps, but with a more practical focus on making groups and larger chapters work—all the way to the level of AA’s World Service, the international entity that works with AA and other recovery organizations around the world. The Twelve Traditions of AA emphasize the principles below.

Individual Welfare Creates Common Good

The 12 Traditions state that every member of AA is a part of a greater whole and the welfare of the organization depends on the contributions of everyone at every level.

AA Has a Spiritual Focus

Like the Twelve Steps, the 12 Traditions of AA state that God is the ultimate authority, or God as the group’s conscience recognizes him to be. The AA 12 Traditions also say that the organization’s longstanding insistence on anonymity has a spiritual purpose too—it helps the organization put principles before individuals and keeps everyone on the same level.

Like the AA 12 Steps, the higher power or “God” that is referred to in the AA 12 Traditions isn’t of a particular religion or belief, it’s simply a spiritual higher power.

Is the AA Autonomous?

The 12 Traditions stress that every AA group must be responsible for its own governance and a group can consist of any two or three alcoholics who want to form one. Groups should confer and cooperate for the greater good of the organization, with its welfare always the primary consideration.

On an organizational level, too, Alcoholics Anonymous must remain separate from any kind of political or institutional connections. The Twelve Traditions also state that AA groups should never go into business, and while they may work with hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, they must stay independent of them.

What’s more, AA groups must always be supported by voluntary contributions from members and never charge for their services. This keeps the group free of outside influences and preserves the anonymity of its members.

Is AA Free To Anyone?

The Twelve Traditions stipulate that anyone who expresses a desire to stop drinking is welcome at an AA meeting, regardless of where they are on their journey to recovery.  The group and the organization as a whole must stay focused on the single goal of helping alcoholics get and remain sober without judgment. For that reason, too, AA shouldn’t establish connections with any organization or institution that could impose its own rules about providing services.

AA Must Remain Anonymous

Anonymity is at the heart of AA’s commitment to helping alcoholics. It protects privacy but also keeps the organization’s focus on its philosophies, rather than its members. AA members should never express opinions on social or political issues as representatives of AA, though they can do so in their personal lives outside the group. Since anonymity lets AA put its principles before its personalities, it allows all members to remain humble and serve the organization rather than elevate their own profiles.

For nearly a century, Alcoholics Anonymous has steadily grown from small groups of people helping people to an organization with a worldwide reach. Thanks to the principles of the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions of AA, it’s done so while staying true to its original goal—to help alcoholics reclaim their lives.

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