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Updated on February 4, 2023
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The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA

The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA

The 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions are the basis of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA is an international fellowship of men and women who want to stop drinking. It was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. Today, there are more than 2 million AA members around the world. 


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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 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 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.

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. The traditions are used by AA and ensure 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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How the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions Work

The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions serve as a guide for recovering addicts. They're frameworks that help people find hope and strength during their recovery.

With the 12 Steps and Traditions, people acknowledge their problems, seek help, and practice healthier behaviors.

AA newcomers are suggested to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. They’ll have a sponsor who will help them and encourage them to attend these meetings. This timeline isn’t the same for everyone. Others will take longer to get sober. 

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.


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Benefits of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions

Integrating the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions into your recovery offers a variety of benefits.

These include:

Helping you learn new strategies for overcoming addiction

12-step meetings allow people to share their experiences and recovery journeys. Attendees learn about others’ experiences and use what they can from those stories.

Finding peers who share your challenges and experiences

It’s difficult for people who don't have alcohol use disorder (AUD) to understand the challenges it brings. AA brings people together who share the same struggles and understand how you feel.

Spending time in a 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.

Access to 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.


AA meetings are free to attend. Those who can't afford other recovery programs still have access to a sober and supportive environment.

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.

An AA group can consist of two or three alcoholics wanting to create one. 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. The 12 traditions also note that AA groups should never go into business. 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. It protects the privacy of members and keeps the focus on the twelve steps and traditions.

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.

AA can stay true to its original goal thanks to the principles of the twelve steps and twelve traditions.


AUD is a disease that affects millions of Americans every year. AA's 12 Step Program and 12 Traditions help individuals overcome AUD and live happy, healthy lives. They're a great source of support when dealing with this disease.

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Updated on February 4, 2023
10 sources cited
Updated on February 4, 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.
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  2. “AA 12 Traditions and History of 12 Traditions.” 
  3. W., Bill. “Twelve Promises.” Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland, 2020.
  4. Wilson, Bill. A.A. Tradition-How It Developed. 2019.
  5. Emrick, C. D., Tonigan, J. S., Montgomery, H., & Little, L. “Alcoholics Anonymous: What is currently known?Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, 1993.
  6. Tonigan, J. S., Connors, G. J., & Miller, W. R. . Participation and involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  7. Kaskutas, Lee Ann. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 2009.
  8. 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, 1996.
  9. Montgomery, Henry A., et al. “Does Alcoholics Anonymous Involvement Predict Treatment Outcome?” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 1999.
  10. Cain, Carole. “Personal Stories: Identity Acquisition and Self Understanding in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Wiley Online Library, Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology,  1991.
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