What are the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous?
The Twelve Traditions are a part of the spiritual foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). They are not rules, but instead describe the purpose of the recovery group. They outline the means by which AA maintains its unity and relates itself to the work about it, the way it lives and grows.
“Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.”
The unity of AA as an organization is essential to make the group work. Just as in the military, a university, or any type of organization, the common welfare of the group must come first. Each person considers the needs of others, but it’s necessary to agree on common principles of welfare for all. This way all people are treated fairly and with common interests in mind.
“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.”
Where does AA get its direction? What is the leadership like? AA is ruled by a loving God as this Higher Power is expressed through the group conscience. Leaders in AA do not govern; they serve the group by making sure that they always serve their Higher Power in all that their works.
“The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.”
This tradition is very important to AA members. It means that any alcoholic is a member of AA when he or she says so. Members can declare themselves in or out at any time. No matter how bad off you are or what faults or wrongs you have committed, you are always welcome the minute you declare your intention to be a member.
“Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.”
This means simply that every AA group manages its affairs as it pleases, except when AA as a whole organization is affected. These individual groups must not affiliate themselves with any other groups, such as political or religious organizations. Each group, and each individual, must conform to principles that guarantee the survival of AA as an organization.
“Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.”
It’s better to do one thing very well than to be mediocre at many. The life of the fellowship depends on this principle—to carry the AA message to those who don’t know a way out.
“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.”
Experience proved that AA could not endorse any related enterprise, no matter how good that enterprise seemed. The organization of AA could not be all things to all people without diluting the original purpose—to help alcoholics recover.
“Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.”
This tradition was brought about by the necessity of separating the spiritual focus from the monetary and material. The organization of AA decided to subsist only on AA voluntary contributions, which places the financial responsibility for bare operating expenses plus a prudent reserve directly upon members.
“Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.”
This Tradition is based on the decision that those who give back in service to the organization do it only out of the desire to help and be helped. You can’t mix the Twelfth Step and money. But the organization of AA, as any organization, does require workers to carry out administrative functions, and these workers are paid for their time.
“AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.”
When Tradition Nine was originally written, it was decided that AA needed the least organization possible. But since then it’s been decided that the organization as a whole should not be organized at all. This helps preserve the organization as a true fellowship built on the spirit of service. Even though AA utilizes special service boards and committees, they cannot give directives that affect individual AA members. For example, they cannot expel members for backsliding.
“Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.”
The organization of AA has a policy not to take sides in any public controversy. There has never been a major controversial issue that has divided AA. Once again, this Tradition serves the organization’s original purpose—to help alcoholics recover.
“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.”
This Tradition represents, at the most basic level, a public relations policy that seeks publicity for AA principles, but not for AA members. AA requires personal anonymity at the public level for all members. The press has cooperated with this request. Personal ambition has no place in AA. Instead, each member becomes an active guardian of the fellowship.
“Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.”
AA requires 100 percent anonymity at the public level. This desire for complete anonymity is a spiritual quality that shows real humility. Members must be willing to give up their natural desire for personal distinction as an AA member, both among fellow alcoholics and before the general public.