advice, noun: Opinion what could or should be done about a situation or problem; counsel.

Advice Rarely Works

Few of us can resist the temptation to give advice, whether it is asked for or not. But if you look back on your actual experience, how often does it actually “take?”

Advice in addiction is especially ineffective. Remember that the addiction process is actively fighting to stay in control, so all the problems with advice-giving are multiplied in addiction.

And of course, even if you think your advice is right for another person, there is a good chance it is the wrong goal, or the wrong way to achieve that goal, for the other individual.

So how can we share the Program effectively?

Experience, Strength, and Hope

The first part of the Preamble that is read at many AA meetings reads, “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” This comes from their periodic publication, The AA Grapevine.

This suggests a way to share that does not necessarily involve giving advice.

What it was like, what happened, what it’s like now

Chapter Five of the Big Book gets a little more specific:

“Our stories disclose in a general way what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now. If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it — then you are ready to take certain steps.”

By staying as much as possible to this format, you can avoid direct advice-giving while still getting the message of recovery across. In fact, since you’re talking about yourself instead of the other person, it opens the door for them to lower their defenses a little, and the awareness can peek up above the defensiveness (see the awareness ratio).


A custom that has developed in many Twelve Step groups is to avoid crosstalk. This ususally refers to people speaking out of turn in meetings, interrupting someone who is talking, or giving direct advice.

Flip Framing

There is also a technique, sometimes seen in oldtimers, that we might call flipping the framing. When a newcomer is defensive and says something like, “Well I never hid my drinking (or whatever),” implying that maybe they are not an addict. Instead of trying to convince them, once in a while someone will say something like, “Well, it isn’t my job to convince you. Maybe you aren’t an alcoholic (or addict). I know I am, because I used to do these things (listing them).” Subtly, the oldtimer has changed the dynamic from “prove to me that I am an addict” to something more like “prove to us that you are.” Sometimes it can be effective. But it has to be done in a non-argumentative way, coupled with genuine love.

Advice, see also: Awareness ratio, Contacts, Honesty, Intervention, Love & caring, Meetings, Service, Sponsorship, Step Twelve.

Updated 8 Oct 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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