12 Steps and 12 Traditions: The Pillars of AA

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book" by AAWS. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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What are the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA? How do the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions serve as the foundation of the AA Program?

The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions are for individuals going through the program and for the functioning of the program, respectively. A recovering alcoholic needs the 12 steps, and AA groups need the 12 traditions to help the,.

Read more about the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA.

AA’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions

Alcoholics Anonymous is likely the most well-known program for sobriety. It has nearly two million members worldwide, and it’s the default treatment for alcoholism in US healthcare. The Big Book is Alcoholics Anonymous’s primary text. It originated the “twelve-step program” now used widely to treat addictions outside alcohol. There are two sets of pillars: 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.

The Twelve Steps

The first part of the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions is the famous 12-step program that Alcoholics Anonymous originated. It is now broadly used in addiction recovery outside of alcohol.

We’ll cover the original phrasing of the 12 Steps and the 12 Traditions are discussed below.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable. 
  2. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 
  4. We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 
  5. We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 
  6. We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 
  7. We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 
  8. We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  9. We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
  10. We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 
  11. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Traditions

Individuals perform the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions for groups are discussed below. The Big Book discusses these for Alcoholics Anonymous as an organization and as separate groups.

How can AA best function? How can AA survive? 12 Steps and 12 Tradition can explain:

  1. “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.”
    • “AA must continue to live or most of us will surely die. Hence our common welfare comes first.”
  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.”
    • Refuse none who wish to recover. Never charge money or require conformity.
  4. “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.”
    • If an action may affect AA as a whole, confer with the trustees of the General Service Board.
  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.”
    • An AA group should never go into business.
    • An AA group should never bind itself to an organization—it should be able to freely discard other groups like clubs or hospitals.
  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.”
    • AA Twelve-Step work should never be paid for.
  9. “AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”
    • Each AA group needs the least organization possible. Having rotating leadership is best.
  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.”
12 Steps and 12 Traditions: The Pillars of AA

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  • How alcoholism is a nearly insurmountable disease that non-alcoholics can't understand
  • The key 12 steps of the program, and why they work
  • Why Alcoholics Anonymous isn't a cult and why it works

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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