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The 12 Traditions of AA: The Heart Of Personal Recovery

12 Traditions of AA

The 12 Traditions of AA…the 12 Steps of the Group

Most individuals know about the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s common household knowledge. 

Eat your veggies, brush your teeth, sleep 8 hours, and go to AA if you’re an alcoholic 🙂

They teach this stuff in kindergarten!

Maybe I’m exaggerating, but the point is that the 12 Steps are famous for helping people get sober and stay sober. 

However…

The organization has another set of principles that are equally important but haven’t received the same attention. 

They are known as the 12 Traditions of AA and it’s time they enter into the limelight.

Enter Stage Left: The 12 Traditions of AA


The 12 Steps focus on personal development but the 12 Traditions emphasize relationships – living effectively as a group and with others. 


The 12 Traditions are the group’s heartbeat – they outline AA’s philosophy and guidelines for members, groups, and the society of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole.

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There are actually two versions of the Traditions – the historical long-form and the commonly used short-form.

The following is the short-form as found in the book, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. 

However, at the end of the post I will also provide the long-form for those who want a deeper dive.

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
  2. For our group purpose, there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as he may express Himself in our group conscience. 
  3. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  4. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  5. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
  6. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  7. 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.
  8. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  9. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  10. AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  11. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy. 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 Traditions of AA (short form)

What’s The Difference Between Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

The various anonymous programs all utilizing the 12 Steps are far reaching. 

They cover everything from alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, to grief and loss. 

If you can name the problem they likely got a 12 Step program to solve it.

Components that originated with the 12 Steps have laid the foundation for a variety of diverse addiction recovery programs around the world.

Elements such as admission of a problem, seeking help beyond oneself, and practicing new behaviors in a specific recovery environment is the backbone to the majority of recovering addicts and alcoholics all over the globe. 

If the 12 Steps already functioned effectively, why add to it? 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

The dilemma was this: If the 12 Steps were that which maintained the sanctity of the individual, then principles were needed to maintain the sanctity of the group

This gave birth to the 12 Traditions.

Bill W noted in AA Comes of Age that the “Traditions are a guide to better ways of working and living, and they are also an antidote for our various maladies. The Twelve Traditions are to group survival and harmony what AA’s Twelve Steps are to each member’s sobriety and peace of mind . . . But the Twelve Traditions also point straight at many of our individual defects. By implication, they ask each of us to lay aside pride and resentment. They ask for personal as well as group sacrifice . . . The Traditions guarantee the equality of all members . . . They show how we may best relate ourselves to each other and to the world outside.”

Therefore, the steps govern individual spiritual growth and the traditions govern collective spiritual growth. 

Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

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Main Takeaways of the 12 Traditions of AA

The 12 Traditions also seek to emphasize the collective group conscience. 

The main thrust of this particular concept is that the group can be and should be informed by a Higher Power. 

To put it another way, the group seeks to be led by the God of their understanding.

This parallels the individual’s journey in Step 11. 

If you’re unfamiliar, step 11 enables a person to establish conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation. The point is to discover knowledge of God’s will and the power to apply that knowledge in their life.

Thus, the group makes precisely the same journey with the goal to increase understanding and rigorous application.

Not to belabor the point, but the 12 Traditions should be understood as the group augmentation of the individually-oriented 12 Steps.

The Traditions also provide a practical focus on making groups and larger chapters function efficiently and effectively. 

In reality, the 12 Traditions maintain the group’s survival. 

These principles even govern the organization’s international body – AA’s World Service.

No part of AA goes untouched.

The following principles are the bedrock upon which the 12 Traditions were constructed. I hope they help increase your understanding and thereby application in your life.

Individual Welfare Is Essential

AA is holistic, that is the body is only as healthy as the sum of its parts. 

In other words, the organization as a whole depends on the recovery of its individuals and their contributions on every level of service. 

Survival of the group presupposes survival of the individual and survival of the individual presupposes the survival of the group. 

Recovery depends upon the survival of both!

AA Has a Spiritual Focus

If the 12 Traditions claim to be informed by God, then they must recognize God as the ultimate authority. 

It’s not as mystical as it sounds. It’s really the agreement of the group’s conscience. 

AA Group Conscience

When the group agrees upon a course of action, within the parameters of the spiritual principles intrinsic to the 12 Traditions, they count this group decision as from a Higher Power. 

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The cornerstone of the group’s conscience is the insistence on anonymity. 

Anonymity is merely the quality or state of being anonymous. Hence the name of the organization. 

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The group has a name, but the individuals are essentially nameless. 

This levels the playing field significantly, rendering equality across the board.

No matter how strong the personality it may never supersede the principles

Like the Steps, the higher power or “God” that is referred to in the Traditions isn’t of a particular religion or belief, it’s simply a spiritual higher power.

It’s the raw power of the spiritual principle of humility.

sex addiction quotes 3 12 Traditions of AA

Is Each AA Group Really Autonomous?

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The 12 Traditions draw attention to the fact that every A.A. group ought to be accountable for its own governance. 

Where two or more are gathered you’ve got yourself a meeting!

Here’s the deal: each group needs administrative teamwork

There needs to be organization within the group. A hierarchy in terms of function is inevitable, but it’s a nameless hierarchy. See the power in that? 

Moreover, not to beat a dead horse but the greater good of the group must always be the goal.

Desert Safari Facebook Cover 12 Traditions of AA

If this is the primary aim then separation from all political or institutional entities is absolutely essential. 

The 12 Traditions safeguard this aim but barring AA groups from involvement with any types of business.

Sure, the group invariably ends up working with hospitals, rehabs, clinics, etc., but must always remain 100% independent of them.

This was discovered through painful experience!

Read about Rule #62 to catch a glimpse on precisely how wonky the early times in AA were without the Traditions. 

What’s more, is that all AA groups must be supported by their own contributions. Voluntary donations must always be in lieu of charging their members. 

This guarantees the group can remain completely detached from outside influences and preserves the integrity of the principle of anonymity.

Is AA Free To Anyone?

At one point in the early days of AA some groups required specific hoops that needed to be jumped through prior to any membership. 

Some even provided membership badges to prove that these necessary preliminary steps were taken.

The 12 Traditions squashed that. 

There is only one condition upon membership and that is the desire to stop drinking. 

TRADITION FOUR 12 Traditions of AA

No one can measure desire objectively. 

Therefore, each individual determines precisely what that looks like. 

So, it’s free and you determine your own membership

No gimmicks. 

No catches. 

No pressure. 

No problems, only solutions. 

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