The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Table of Contents

The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are guidelines that help AA groups function effectively and harmoniously. They also protect the AA program from external influences and internal conflicts.

These twelve traditions are based on the experience of the early AA members who learned from their mistakes and successes. They are considered the spiritual foundation supporting the twelve steps of AA.

These traditions aren’t rules or laws but suggestions for practicing AA’s primary purpose and principles in all aspects of life.

What Are the 12 Traditions of AA and Why Are They Important?

According to Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., the twelve traditions are:

1. “Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.”

This tradition emphasizes the importance of putting the group’s interests above personal or individual interests.

It reminds the AA members that they are part of a larger fellowship that shares a common goal: stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. By maintaining unity, AA groups can provide a safe and supportive environment for personal recovery.

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.”

This tradition recognizes that any AA group is guided by a higher power, which different members can understand differently. The group conscience is the collective wisdom of the group, which is expressed through:

  • Open and honest discussion among all members

  • Respect and consideration for all opinions and viewpoints

  • Willingness to listen and learn from each other

  • Seeking guidance from a higher power, as each member understands it

  • Voting by majority or unanimity, depending on the issue

  • Accepting and abiding by the outcome, even if it is not one’s preferences

This is not a dictatorship or a majority rule but a spiritual process that seeks the best solution for the group. The leaders of an AA group are not bosses or rulers but trusted servants who carry out the group’s decisions and serve its needs.

3. “The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

This tradition ensures that AA is open and inclusive to anyone who wants to stop drinking, regardless of their background, beliefs, or affiliations. It also respects the individual’s freedom to choose whether or not to join any AA group and whether or not to follow the twelve steps.

The only requirement for members is a sincere desire to recover from alcoholism.

4. “Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.”

The traditions grant each group the right to manage its affairs as long as it does not harm other groups or the AA program in general.

Each group can decide its AA meeting format, literature, rules, and policies if consistent with the twelve traditions and steps.

The groups can also cooperate with other groups and AA service centers through voluntary contributions, participation in service committees, etc., but without giving up their autonomy or identity.

5. “Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”

The twelve traditions define the main objective of each AA group this way: to share the experience, strength, and hope of recovery with other alcoholics who are still struggling with their addiction.

This also implies that each group should avoid getting involved in other issues or causes unrelated to its primary purpose, such as politics, religion, or social or alcohol reform.

6. “An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”

This tradition protects the Alcoholics Anonymous program from being associated with or influenced by any external organization or institution that may have ulterior motives or agendas.

It also prevents the groups from being distracted or corrupted by financial or material interests or personal ambitions. The groups should focus on their primary purpose and maintain independence and integrity.

To this end, no AA group should lend their name or endorsement to any related facilities, such as treatment centers, hospitals, clubs, etc., even if they serve alcoholics.

7. “Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”

The twelve traditions ensure that each AA group is financially responsible for its expenses and activities, such as rent, literature, coffee, etc. Groups are meant to pay rent, utilities, literature, etc., through voluntary contributions.

This practice of self-support extends to members’ personal lives as well.

It also warns us not to accept outside contributions or donations that could influence our decisions or actions. This way, the Alcoholics Anonymous groups can avoid any obligation or dependency that may compromise their autonomy or principles.

8. “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.”

This tradition states that Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary fellowship of recovering alcoholics who help each other for free, not a professional organization. They do not charge fees or accept payment for such special services.

AA does not employ professionals or experts to run our groups or programs. Instead, they share recovery as equals, based on personal experience and mutual support.

However, they may employ special workers to perform tasks requiring specific skills or qualifications, such as accounting, legal advice, etc.

These workers are not considered professionals in AA but servants of the fellowship.

9. “A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”

This tradition clarifies that AA is not a formal or rigid organization with a hierarchy or bureaucracy but rather a loose and flexible network of cooperative groups and individuals.

However, while there’s no formal structure or hierarchy, groups may create service boards or committees to perform certain functions that benefit the groups or AA.

These boards or committees are accountable to the groups and members they serve, and they do not have any authority or power over them.

10. “Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”

The twelve traditions prevent the AA program from being involved in or influenced by any outside enterprise unrelated to its purpose, such as politics, religion, or social issues.

This particular tradition also protects the Alcoholics Anonymous name from being misused or exploited by any person or group that may have a different agenda or interest.

Members do not express any opinions or take any positions on any matters that are not related to recovery from alcoholism. While Alcoholics Anonymous respects the right of each member to have their own opinions and beliefs, it’s kept separate from AA.

The AA program is neutral and impartial on public controversy and does not endorse or oppose any cause or movement.

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.”

The twelve traditions also guide the AA program on how to communicate overall public relations like the public or the media.

It states that AA does not advertise or solicit for members but relies on its members and groups’ positive example and reputation to attract those needing help.

AA members do not seek any publicity or recognition for themselves or AA but cooperate with the media when they request information or assistance. They always maintain personal anonymity at the public level to protect themselves and AA from misuse or exploitation.

12. “Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”

This tradition sums up the essence and purpose of all the other traditions. Anonymity is the spiritual principle that helps us practice humility, honesty, and service.

It’s also a practical measure to safeguard privacy and security. At the same time, personal anonymity reminds us to put the welfare of the group and AA above our ego and interests.

This helps remind us to place principles before personalities and focus on what we have in common rather than what sets us apart.

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Main Takeaways of the 12 Traditions of AA

Here are some of the main takeaways of the 12 Traditions:

  • The only requirement for AA members is a desire to stop drinking. AA is open to anyone who wants to recover from alcoholism, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or any other distinction.

  • AA groups are fully autonomous, except in matters that affect other groups or AA as a whole.

  • Groups have one primary spiritual purpose: to carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers. Everything else is secondary.

  • AA is entirely self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

  • AA is a spiritual program, not a religious one. The only authority in AA is a loving God, as each member understands Him.

  • Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all AA traditions.

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Frequently Asked Questions About 12 Traditions of AA

The primary purpose of the 12 Traditions of AA is to guide the functioning of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, ensuring their unity, common welfare, and adherence to spiritual principles.

While the 12 Steps focus on individual recovery, the 12 Traditions address the functioning and unity of Alcoholics Anonymous groups, emphasizing principles like anonymity and non-professionalism.

The 12 Traditions were developed to maintain unity, uphold anonymity, and promote the common welfare of AA groups while emphasizing spiritual principles.

The 12 Traditions emphasize principles like group autonomy, avoiding outside affiliations, and placing principles before personalities to foster unity.

The twelve traditions guide the decision-making process by encouraging group conscience, which is the collective sense of what is best for the group and AA, ensuring that group decisions align with AA's primary spiritual aim.

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services is a support and resource entity for AA groups worldwide. It helps disseminate information, literature, and guidelines to maintain group unity and adherence to the Twelve Traditions.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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