12 Promises of AA: What Are They and How Do They Help?

It’s not easy to admit you have a drinking problem and seeking out help for one can be even harder. But once you start down the road to recovery with Alcoholics Anonymous, there are several mile markers to help you stick to the path—12 to be precise.

The 12 Promises of AA are one of the pillars of the organization, helping countless people over the years recognize, accept, and recover from alcohol addiction, one day at a time.

What Are the 12 Promises of AA?

You may have heard of the 12 Steps of AA: the methods promoted to get and stay sober. The 12 Promises of AA are actually part of those steps.

Sometimes called the AA 9th Step Promises, the affirmations are technically part of Step 9, which deals with making amends. (For those with the AA “Big Book”—the official Alcoholic Anonymous guide—the promises can be found in Chapter 6: Into Action.)

The 12 AA Promises offer a list of lights at the end of the tunnel, giving you things to look forward to as you continue on your path to recovery. They read as follows:

  • Promise One: We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  • Promise Two: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
  • Promise Three: We will comprehend the word serenity.
  • Promise Four: We will know peace.
  • Promise Five: No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  • Promise Six: That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
  • Promise Seven: We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  • Promise Eight: Self-seeking will slip away.
  • Promise Nine: Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
  • Promise Ten: Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  • Promise Eleven: We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
  • Promise Twelve: We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

While some of the affirmations may seem more straightforward than others, they all paint a picture of a future peace of mind that can be achieved through sobriety. But there’s still a lot to unpack in those promises.

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What Do the 12 Promises Mean?

In general, the promises work as a group to say things will get better. Just keep going. But each promise works as its own small reminder of what recovery has to offer.

Looking at them one at a time can help you embrace the promises, making them more effective for your recovery.

Promise One: We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

It’s Promise Number One for a reason. This affirmation essentially assures followers of the AA 12 Steps that the process will lead to a life free from the burdens of alcohol and addiction, and you will end up with all the happiness that flows from that relief.

Promise Two: We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

Just because your past may have been difficult, it doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. We can learn from every experience we’ve had, good, bad, or otherwise. Indeed, those are the things that have lead us to this moment and made us who we are, and that’s something that should be honored.

Promises Three & Four: We will comprehend the word serenity. We will know peace.

Technically two AA Promises, these affirmations tackle two sides of the same coin. Contemplation is step one: It’s a promise that, when our heads are clear, we will be able to actually think—clearly—about what serenity means, not just in general but to us in particular. Step two is the assurance that flows from that knowledge: Once we’ve been afforded the time and space to understand inner peace, we will be able to find it.

Promise Five: No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

This promise uses a bit of AA lingo—“down the scale”—but it’s simply meant as a reminder that no matter how low you might feel, you are still useful and you are still worthy. Even the direst of situations can offer lessons in perseverance, which can benefit others when those stories and insights are shared.

Promise Six: That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.

A natural extension of promise five. Once you begin seeing the worth in your life and experiences, and how they may benefit others, that feeling of uselessness will disappear. As self-pity is a big driver of drinking to begin with, this change only strengthens the resolve to stay sober.

Promise Seven: We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

Addiction is inherently selfish. We feel the pain so intensely, we’ll do anything to avoid it, including pushing away friends, family, and loved ones to focus on our escape. Once we’re sober, and that escape is removed, it forces our perspective to shift: We can focus on the bigger picture, not just our personal struggles, and see that there are others out there who are also struggling and could use our help.

Promise Eight: Self-seeking will slip away.

Again, this is a natural extension of the promise before it. As we begin to realize our place in the grander scheme of things, we start to make room for others and let go of our selfish habits.

Promise Nine: Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.

This promise describes the natural outcome of this process. As we dedicate ourselves to making one change (i.e., staying sober) it will impact every other part of our lives. The clarity found in sobriety often leads to happier and healthier outlooks and attitudes.

Promise Ten: Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.

When we’re sober, we’re much more capable of dealing with our responsibilities. We won’t have to worry about hiding our actions from others, and being held accountable to ourselves makes us more reliable in general, including when it comes to holding jobs or managing finances.

Promise Eleven: We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

This promise gets at what all this clarity ultimately brings: A return to self. As we stop confusing our minds and bodies with the artificial demands of alcohol, we can once again start to hear our true voices and trust our instincts to point us in the right direction.

Promise Twelve: We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

When those in AA mention “God,” they don’t necessarily mean the Judeo-Christian version. “God,” in Alcoholics Anonymous, can refer to any higher power, be it a deity described in a holy book, the divine nature of the universe, or simply the power of the program itself. What this promise really means is that going through the process will help us concede some control and allow something that’s bigger than ourselves to help guide us.

Why Are the 12 Promises of AA So Important?

Sobriety is often an imperfect ride, with its fair share of highs, lows, and setbacks. What the 12 AA Promises offer is help to get through those tougher times and hope for what’s to come.

They realign our perspectives when we get bent out of shape, offer a steady structure to hold onto when things start to fall apart, and they represent a form of goal-setting—something to look forward to, a broader idea to work toward that brings purpose and direction to our daily lives.

But perhaps most importantly, the 12 AA Promises give us permission to truly forgive and love ourselves. They remind us that it’s okay to take time for self-care, because that’s the true first step toward a better future, for everyone.

This is why the concept is introduced during the “making amends” stage of recovery. Because in order to treat others better we must first learn how to offer ourselves that same kindness.

If you think you may be ready to make these promises to yourself, or if you want to learn more about the 9th Step Promises or Alcoholics Anonymous, find an AA meeting near you.

If you are just starting your journey to recovery from alcoholism, call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to treatment specialist who can place you in a rehab facility that’s right for you.

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