Traditions of AA

AA’s Twelve Traditions are models for practically all Twelve Steps to keep their groups healthy.

The Twelve Traditions developed in AA after more than a decade of experience with this new kind of organization and recovery process. Their purpose is to help insure that the recovery community stays healthy, while the Steps are to enable you to stay healthy.

Short Form

In both the Big Book (in the appendices) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (in the contents and in the very back of the book) there is both a short form and a long form of the Traditions. The short form is the one most commonly heard at meetings. In the paragraphs that follow, quotations are from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditiens (1952) unless otherwise identified.

Tradition One

Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.

The First Tradition tells members that they must work together if any are to survive. But that working together must be voluntary and not any abridgement of the individual’s right to think, talk, and act as he or she wishes. No AA member “can compel another to do anything; nobody can be punished or expelled” (p. 129).

Tradition Two

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.

Tradition Two underscores the idea that no member holds anything like a position of authority. Any service positions that are elected should be expected to perform service conforming to the group conscience rather than their own opinions and beliefs.

Tradition Three

The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

If you are in a Twelve-Step group other than AA, you simply replace “drinking” with using, gambling, eating compulsively, or whatever fits for your addiction.

Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says that you are an AA member “if you say you are. You can declare yourself in; nobody can keep you out” (p. 139).

Tradition Four

Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.

An AA group can do things just about any way they want to, provided that they don’t do anything that would greatly injure AA as a whole, and they don’t affiliate with anything or anybody else.

Tradition Five

Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

An addict can do one thing better than anyone else: carry the hope and message of recovery to someone still sick with the disease. Everything else in the Program is secondary to that. Also, to insure continued recovery, the addict must have someone on which to practice her or his Twelfth Step. You will hear often at meetings something to the effect that you can’t keep it unless you give it away.

Tradition Six

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.

Watch how quickly energy gets diverted from the primary purpose of carrying the message when a Twelve-Step group gets involved in some “project.” Even such things as conventions and retreats often consume far more time and energy in their social and organizational requirements than they deserve. Imagine what would happen to the singleness of purpose if Twelve-Step groups got involved in the operation of treatment centers, clubs, publishing enterprises, and other outside efforts.

Tradition Seven

Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is credited with keeping AA independent of outside contributions. He realized that the self-help movement was too important to risk its coming under the influence of any benefactor, no matter how supportive that might seem.

Self-support also helps members maintain some balance in responsibility, and keeps the organization out of the distractions and moral pitfalls of accepting donations.

Tradition Eight

Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

Tradition Eight means that AA can hire people to perform necessary services, like secretarial and accounting work, but Twelfth-Step work should never be paid for.

A distinction can be made between paid Twelfth-Step work and working as a professional in the field of addiction. People who are recovering addicts and also counselors or other professionals are sometimes called two-hatters. When they are wearing the hat of a counselor, they should be professionals who are being paid to do a service almost unrelated to any Twelve-Step group. When they take off their professional hat and put on their anonymous group member hat, they are not paid for it, and they carry the message to help themselves stay sober or abstinent.

Tradition Nine

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 first written, it said that ‘Alcoholics Anonymous needs the least possible organization.’ In the years since then, we have changed our minds about that. Today, we are able to say with assurance that Alcoholics Anonymous — AA as a whole — should never be organized at all” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, 1952, p. 172). This means that traditional hierarchical organization is totally absent in the structure of Twelve-Step groups. No one in AA, from the newcomer to the General Service Board Trustee, can tell any AA member she or he has to do anything! There is no authority anywhere. Service boards are responsible to those they serve, not the other way around.

Tradition Ten

Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Alcoholics Anonymous developed in the days when everyone still remembered Prohibition, and it soon became obvious that if it affiliated with any outside cause, it would become bound to the fate of that cause, and would divert needed attention away from the primary job of one addict carrying the message to another.

Tradition Eleven

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.

One key to understanding the difference between attraction and promotion is the focus on the principles and the work of AA, rather than on its individual members. Attraction is the opposite of promotional advertising, in which a celebrity might be enlisted to endorse a soft drink. It is better for the friends of AA to sing its praises.

Tradition Twelve

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Making Twelve-Step programs work will take a little bit of sacrifice from all its members. By setting aside the ego, strong opinions, power trips, guru identifications, personal ambitions, and other disruptive influences, the members will make the groups thrive. The miracle of the Program works, especially when members understand that all members have equal status, and each person’s Higher Power works through the Steps and the Shared Story.

Long Form

The long form was the original form, first published in 1946. It is more explicit and gives a better idea of what the purpose of the traditions are. Also, the section on the Traditions in Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions is not too long; we recommend highly that you read it along with the chapters on the Steps.


Traditions of AA, see also: Alcoholics Anonymous, Anonymity, Community, Control, History of Twelve-Step groups, Humility, Meetings, Other support groups, Responsibility, Service & giving, Spirituality, Sponsorship, Step Twelve, Unity.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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