A Study of Tradition 3

The 12 Traditions of A.A. and Al-Anon

Chairs in a circle
Members Decide If They Are Qualified. © Getty Images

Although the qualifications for membership in twelve-step support groups is specifically defined, generally it is the individual members themselves that decide if they "belong" to the group or not.

Alcoholic Anonymous
  • The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.

  • The only requirement for membership is that there be a problem of alcoholism in a relative or friend.

Tradition 3

Both Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon open their doors and offer fellowship to anyone who fits the eligibility outlined in Tradition 3 and generally leave that determination up to the individual. Basically, those who attend these 12 step meetings either feel a sense of "belonging" or they do not and move on.

The reason that Tradition 3 was emphasized by the founders of the twelve-step programs was to protect the fellowship from outside influences; to ensure that the meetings would maintain their primary focus and not be diluted by the influx of others issues or influences.

Some old timers today believe that the fellowship has in fact been diluted by the inclusion into its meetings those who are primarily dealing with issues other than problems with alcohol, such as drug abuse. They feel that the program has gotten away from its spiritual foundations and primary purpose and may become diluted to the point of ineffectiveness.

But there is always two sides to every issue. Here are some observations on this topic from visitors to an online discussion board.

Freedom to Choose

I believe this tradition is just what it says: "The only requirement is to have a desire to stop drinking." Some may not know or believe they have an alcohol use disorder but still wish to live a life free of alcohol. I have no quarrel with this. For those of us who have an alcohol use disorder and do not wish to share a meeting with those who are not, closed meetings are available.

I would certainly hope that anyone who wishes to stop drinking will have the freedom to choose Alcoholics Anonymous as their means of support. Perhaps the word "membership" is the catch. One does not "have" to become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. We still have freedom of choice. We must honor the "closed meetings" format to protect the spiritual foundation of anonymity.

I would like to close with this. The founding fathers of AA learned through trial and error. I am a traditionalist at heart. I want AA to be here whenever someone reaches out for help. Just as it was for me. This is why the traditions were founded. I will protect them to the best of my ability.


Alcohol Is a Drug

I feel that the principles are the same whether the abuser is abusing alcohol or drugs. Having had both types of abusers in my life, the program has not changed. Technically, alcohol is a drug. I have yet to meet an alcoholic who can play with drugs or vice versa. Not that I have been around all that long. The feelings are the same and so are the recovery techniques whether you call it Alanon or NarAnon.


No Other Affiliation

I'm a grateful Al-Anon member. I believe this tradition is clear... it's for anyone who has a friend or family member who has the problem of alcoholism. I never heard the suggestion that a substance abuser not be admitted. I would disagree.

Perhaps the person is an abuser because they can't cope with a traumatic childhood due to alcoholism. Perhaps the person is an abuser to deaden the pain from an abusive alcoholic spouse. I think ALL should be welcome. Several people in face-to-face meetings I've attended are "double winners" and that makes me proud.

In the other section of this tradition... "provided that they have no other affiliation"... to me means keep it simple. I think it means meetings such as "women in recovery" or "Christians in recovery"... are going against this tradition because they have to first be affiliated with another group. That's just MY interpretation of this tradition.


Let God Do the Judging

My first time in A.A. I was only an alcoholic, I hadn't fooled with drugs (yet). But there were a lot of people coming in A.A. at the time who did have a drug problem, and I use to hear a lot of different talk about it. I also heard that it came down from the front office that we can and should help them also.

My second time in A.A., thank God they didn't tell me that I wasn't welcome because now I was not only an alcoholic but messed up on drugs just as bad has booze. If we all work the 12 steps, in the same manner, it will work for the drugger just as well and like it was said before, "alcohol is a drug."

I have never met a drugger who didn't have a drinking problem also. I myself would never turn away a so-called drugger; they are one and the same. If a person doesn't belong in A.A. they weed themselves out. Would you belong to an overeaters program if you were skinny?

A.A. has given me the tools to help people in life, not just if they are an alcoholic or a drugger, but people in all walks of life. I am no judge to turn anybody away at any time. This is why we have closed meetings. Let's let God do the judging.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.