What Are AA’s Twelve Traditions?

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are known around the world, but the organization also has another set of twelve guiding principles.  The Twelve Traditions lay out AA’s philosophies and provide a framework for moving forward, from the smallest local group to the highest levels of an organization that spans the globe.

Here’s a look at how the Twelve Traditions support AA’s goals of helping alcoholics recover and stay sober.

The “Twelve and Twelve”

The Twelve Steps have become firmly entrenched as a path toward recovery from addictions, not just to alcohol, but to drugs and other things as well.  These steps, which emphasize acknowledging the problem, seeking help and continuing to practice healthy behaviors, are a key part of recovery programs of all kinds, and a cornerstone of recovery for over a million alcoholics worldwide.

The Twelve Steps are a roadmap for personal recovery.  But the Twelve Traditions lay out a set of spiritual and practical guidelines for governing AA itself. These Traditions establish the practices that allow the organization to stay focused on its one objective: to provide a free, always available, haven for anyone who wants to stop drinking and build a new, sober life.

From the Local to the Global

Twelve Traditions

The 12 traditions emphasize looking to a higher power for guidance.

The Twelve Traditions of AA are in some ways an extension of the original Twelve Steps, but with a more practical focus on making groups and larger chapters work – all the way to the level of AA’s World Service, the international entity that works with AA and other recovery organizations around the world. The Twelve Traditions emphasize:

Individual Welfare Creates Common Good

The Traditions state that every member of AA is a part of a greater whole and the welfare of the organization depends on the contributions of everyone at every level.

AA Has a Spiritual Focus

Like the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions state that God is the ultimate authority, or God as the group’s conscience recognizes him to be.  The Twelve Traditions also say that AA’s longstanding insistence on anonymity has a spiritual purpose too – it helps the organization put principles before individuals and keeps everyone on the same level.

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AA is Autonomous

The Traditions stress that every AA group must be responsible for its own governance – and a group can consist of any two or three alcoholics who want to form one.  Groups should confer and cooperate for the greater good of the organization, with its welfare always the primary consideration.

On an organizational level, too, AA must remain apart from any kind of political and institutional connections.  The Twelve Traditions state that AA groups should never go into business – and while they may work with hospitals, clinics and other facilities, they must stay independent of them.

What’s more, AA groups must always be supported by voluntary contributions from members and never charge for its services.  This keeps the group free of outside influences and preserves the anonymity of its members.

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AA is Free To Anyone

The Twelve Traditions stipulate that anyone who expresses a desire to stop drinking is welcome at an AA meeting.  The group and the organization as a whole must stay focused on the single goal of helping alcoholics get and remain sober.  For that reason, too, AA shouldn’t establish connections with any organization or institution that could impose its own rules about providing services.

AA Must Remain Anonymous

Anonymity is at the heart of AA’s commitment to helping alcoholics.  That protects privacy but also keeps the organization’s focus on its philosophies, rather than its members.  AA members should never express opinions on social or political issues as representatives of AA, though they can do so in their personal lives outside the group.  Because anonymity lets AA put its principles before its personalities, it allows all members to remain humble and serve the organization rather than elevate their own profiles.

For nearly a century, AA has steadily grown from small groups of people helping people to an organization with a worldwide reach.  And thanks to the principles of the  “Twelve and Twelve,” it’s done so while staying true to its original goal – to help alcoholics reclaim their lives.

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