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Updated on September 18, 2023
7 min read

The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an organization that provides peer support to people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or those who struggle with alcohol abuse. This can include people with drinking problems or their friends and loved ones.

It follows a 12-step recovery program to help you achieve and maintain sobriety. Members practice these 12 steps and traditions daily to avoid relapsing. As its name implies, you can keep your anonymity when joining sessions.

Meetings can happen throughout the United States. You can join a meeting in public places such as schools, churches, and other community facilities. In some cases, AA meetings can be held online.


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Who Wrote the Twelve Traditions of AA?

Bill Wilson, a co-founder of AA, wrote the Twelve Traditions. Bill believed it was important for the organization to preserve unity and singleness of purpose.

The Twelve Traditions we read now are in their "short form" rather than their original long form. Each AA tradition was published one at a time in the AA Grapevine in the late 1940s.

The 12 Steps

The 12 steps provide a framework for recovery. It gives people who want to live a sober life a path to follow. AA members believe that working the 12-step program will keep them on track and provide the structure needed to remain sober.

The 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. Admit powerlessness over alcohol and that your life is unmanageable and you have a drinking problem.
  2. Believe in a higher power that can restore you and give you the ability to return to a healthy life. Members of AA acknowledge God or a higher power.
  3. Turn your life over to your higher power.
  4. Conduct a fearless moral inventory of your past and present faults. Members must work to get their affairs in order.
  5. Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. You must admit your mistakes to another person, in addition to acknowledging them internally and admitting them to your higher power.
  6. Allow your higher power to remove all of your defects of character. Let go and accept that it’s time to change.
  7. Ask your higher power to remove your shortcomings and focus on healing, prayer, meditation, faith, and hope.
  8. Make a list of all persons you’ve harmed and be willing to make amends. This step involves planning and admitting your wrongs.
  9. Make direct amends to people you’ve harmed unless doing so causes more harm to either party. This step puts step eight into action.
  10. Continue taking personal inventory and promptly admit if and when wrongs occur.
  11. Seek to improve our conscious contact with our higher power, reflect on each day, consider what went wrong, and how you can continue to improve.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of the 12 steps, carry the message to alcoholics and continue to put them into practice.

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The 12 Traditions

The Twelve Steps are for the individual member, while the 12 Traditions are for the 12-step organization.

The Twelve Traditions provide practical and spiritual guidelines for governing the organization. AA uses the traditions and ensures that the resource is free, available, and a haven for those who need it.

The 12 AA Traditions are as follows:

  1. The common welfare of the AA group comes first, and the group’s unity supports personal recovery.
  2. God is the ultimate authority for the group, and leaders of AA serve but don’t govern.
  3. The only requirement for being a member of AA is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Groups are autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or the entirety of AA.
  5. Each group has a singular purpose: to carry its message to active alcoholics.
  6. Groups must never endorse, finance, or allow the use of the AA name outside of the group.
  7. Each group must be fully self-supporting and decline outside contributions and should avoid all problems of money.
  8. The organization must remain non-professional. Service centers can employ special workers.
  9. Service boards and committees are allowed to form but are directly responsible to those they serve, and there should never be a centralized organization.
  10. AA has no opinion on outside issues and can never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Outreach is about attraction, not promotion. There is no organized public relations policy.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of the traditions. Principles are always above personalities.

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Do the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions Always Work?

Experts have varying opinions regarding whether the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are effective. Some believe that the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are helpful, while others think they aren’t effective at all.

Remember that the effectiveness of the 12-Step Program lies in you. Your willingness to follow the program will determine your success. If you’re ready to change, there’s a higher chance you’ll succeed.

Benefits of the Twelve Traditions of AA

AA has helped many people with AUD and other addictions stay sober. The twelve steps and twelve traditions offer an easy way to get through each day when sobriety is challenging.

The benefits of the 12 traditions include the following:

Simplicity and Present Focus

The AA method emphasizes the present day. They don’t promise to stop drinking forever. Attendees must commit to getting through the day without alcohol. 

Support and Community

AA gathers people with similar challenges and goals. You can discuss your situation and reinforce your desire to abstain from alcohol. AA brings people together who share the same struggles and understand how you feel.


AA doesn't offer a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, it offers a customized framework for a person’s individual goals, challenges, and coping strategies. 

Judgment-Free Environment

People with AUD deal with judgment from friends, family, and society. AA offers a judgment-free environment where you can speak honestly about your feelings and experiences.

Guidance and Support

Recovery is difficult and requires a lot of support. For many alcoholics, this support is difficult to come by. AA offers access to guidance and support to those struggling with alcoholism when they need it most.

Economic Accessibility

Financial constraints shouldn't impede one's path to recovery. AA meetings are free to attend. Those who can't afford other recovery programs still have access to a sober and supportive environment.

Aids in Court Cases

As a reputable organization, AA is a resource the courts use to prevent overburdening of the docket. This gives judges a reasonable next step to give those charged with crimes related to alcohol.

Focuses of AA

Here are some key focuses of AA's principles:

AA and Spirituality

Like the twelve steps, the 12 traditions of AA announce that God is the ultimate authority. The 12 traditions also state that the organization’s longstanding focus on anonymity has a spiritual purpose.

Like the 12 steps, the higher power (or God) mentioned in the 12 traditions is not of a specific religion or belief. It's simply a spiritual higher power.

AA and Autonomy

The 12 traditions stress that every AA group must be responsible for its governance.

Groups should coordinate for the organization's greater good, and its welfare should always be the primary consideration.

Likewise, AA must stay separate from any political or institutional connections. While they can work with hospitals, clinics, and other facilities, they should remain independent.

AA groups must also always be supported by voluntary contributions from members and never charge for their services. This keeps the AA group free from outside influences and protects the anonymity of its members.

AA is Free

AA services are free to anyone who desires to stop drinking. It doesn't matter where they are on their recovery journey.

AA must remain focused on the single goal of helping alcoholics without judgment. Because of this, AA shouldn’t establish connections or partnerships with organizations or institutions that could impose rules about providing services.

AA and Anonymity

Anonymity is essential to AA’s commitment to helping those struggling with an addiction. 

AA members should never give opinions on social or political issues. However, they can do so outside the group in their personal lives.

As anonymity allows AA to put principles before personalities, it enables all members to remain humble and serve the organization. For almost a century, AA has grown from small groups of people helping others to a global organization.


  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a peer support group dedicated to helping those struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD). 
  • AA groups are free; anyone can join regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, etc.
  • AA follows 12 traditions used as a framework for preserving the group’s message and purpose. 
  • These traditions have various benefits that can help you maintain sobriety even after treatment.
Updated on September 18, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on September 18, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. “The 12 Traditions of AA: What They Mean |” Alcoholics Anonymous, 2020.
  2. “AA 12 Traditions and History of 12 Traditions.”
  3. Willson, B. “Twelve Promises.” Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland, 2020.
  4. Wilson, B. A.A. Tradition-How It Developed, 2019.
  5. Tonigan et al. Participation and involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  6. Kaskutas, L.A. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 2009.
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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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