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The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA

The 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions are the basis of 12-step support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Family support groups (Al-Anon and Alateen) and drug addiction (Narcotics Anonymous) use similar steps. 

Support group sitting in a circle

AA co-founder Bill Wilson published Twelve Points to Assure Our Future in the AA Grapevine newspaper in 1946. Seven years later he published his book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. This book is different from the Big Book, which includes the stories of people who used AA to recover from alcoholism. These books are still available and published by AA World Services and serve as a resource for alcoholics and anyone who wants to learn more about the organization. 

Integrating the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions into your recovery offers a variety of benefits, including:

  • Helps you learn new strategies for overcoming addiction — 12-step meetings provide an opportunity for everyone to share their experiences and recovery journeys. This allows attendees to hear about the experiences of others and use what they can from those stories.
  • Finding peers who share your challenges and experiences — It’s difficult for people who do not have alcohol use disorder (AUD) to understand the challenges brought on by the disorder. AA brings people together who share the same struggles and understand how you feel.
  • Spend time in a judgment-free environment — People with AUD deal with judgment by friends, family, and society. AA offers a judgment-free environment where you can speak openly and honestly about your feelings and experiences without concern.
  • Access to support — Recovery is difficult and requires a lot of support. For many alcoholics, this support is difficult to come by. AA offers a resource for those struggling with alcoholism and gives them access to an organization that provides guidance and support when they need it most.
  • Affordable — It’s free to attend AA meetings, so even those who lack the financial means to enter other recovery programs have access to a sober and supportive environment.

The 12 Steps

The 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. Admit powerlessness over alcohol and that your life is unmanageable and you have a drinking problem. This is where the term, “admitting there’s a problem is the first step,” comes from. The first of the 12 steps is admitting you have a problem with alcohol.
  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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What The 12 Steps Mean

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 if they work the 12-step program, it will keep them on track and provide them with the structure needed to remain sober. The 12 steps also acknowledge the lack of power an individual has over his or her addiction and encourage the reliance on a higher power for help with recovery. 

The 12 steps encourage people to have faith (loving God), surrender, do soul-searching, accept that it’s time to recover, gain humility, and be willing and forgiving. As they move into the later steps, they are encouraged to maintain sobriety and make contact with and carry their message of recovery to other struggling alcoholics. 

The 12 Traditions

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.

What The 12 Traditions Mean

The 12 Steps are a cornerstone for recovery. The primary purpose is to give a person a roadmap to recovery. They emphasize how important it is to acknowledge the problem, seek help, and practice healthy behaviors by following the 12 step work.

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

The 12 Traditions, on the other hand, provide practical and spiritual guidelines for governing the organization. The traditions are used by AA and ensure that the resource is free, available, and a haven to those who need it.

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Resources

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“The 12 Traditions of AA: What They Mean | AlcoholicsAnonymous.com.” Alcoholics Anonymous, 24 Nov. 2020, alcoholicsanonymous.com/what-are-aas-twelve-traditions/.

“AA 12 Traditions and History of 12 Traditions.” Step12.com, step12.com/12-traditions.html.

W., Bill. “Twelve Promises.” Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland, 24 July 2020, www.aacle.org/what-is-aa/twelve-promises/.

Wilson, Bill. A.A. Tradition-How It Developed. 2019, www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-17_AATraditions.pdf.

Emrick, C. D., Tonigan, J. S., Montgomery, H., & Little, L. (1993). Alcoholics Anonymous: What is currently known? In B. S. McCrady & W. R. Miller (Eds.), Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and alternatives (p. 41–76). Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1993-98424-003

Tonigan, J. S., Connors, G. J., & Miller, W. R. (2003). Participation and involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous. In T. F. Babor & F. K. Del Boca (Eds.), International research monographs in the addictions. Treatment matching in alcoholism (p. 184–204). Cambridge University Press. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-02394-011

Kaskutas, Lee Ann. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science.” Taylor & Francis, Journal of Addictive Diseases, 1 Apr. 2009, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10550880902772464.

Tonigan, J S, et al. “Meta-Analysis of the Literature on Alcoholics Anonymous: Sample and Study Characteristics Moderate Findings.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 1996, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8747503/.

Montgomery, Henry A., et al. “Does Alcoholics Anonymous Involvement Predict Treatment Outcome?” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Pergamon, 18 Nov. 1999, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/074054729500018Z.

Cain, Carole. “Personal Stories: Identity Acquisition and Self‐Understanding in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Wiley Online Library, Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, June 1991, www.jstor.org/stable/640431. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1525/eth.1991.19.2.02a00040
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