The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous

Big Book Cover
4th Edition of the Big Book. Alcoholics Anonymous

The book "Alcoholics Anonymous," affectionately known by members as "The Big Book," is the textbook for the original 12-step recovery program now known by the same name.

Authored by Bill W., founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, and many of the first 100 members of the group, it was actually written by committee, with drafts of the book sent back and forth between Bill W's group in New York and Dr. Bob, the other founder of A.A., in Akron, OH.

Many long-time members of the Alcoholics Anonymous program regard The Big Book with the same esteem that others do the Holy Bible, considering it to be divinely inspired.

That might stand to reason because the founders of the 12-step program began their spiritual journey of recovery in the Christian-based Oxford Group and borrowed many of that group's and other Christian organization's principles in forming the 12 steps. Consequently, it follows that some would regard The Big Book with a measure of reverence.

The Purpose of The Big Book

As it says in the forward of the book, "We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book."

To accomplish that purpose, the Big Book is divided into two main parts. The first part, known as the first 164 pages or the "original manuscript" explains the 12 step program and how it can be used to overcome the effects of alcoholism.

The first part includes Chapter 5, titled "How it Works," which contains the 12 steps and is usually read at the opening of every A.A. meeting worldwide.

Read Aloud at Most A.A. Meetings

The second part of the book contains stories written by some of the original members of A.A. relating their personal experiences with alcoholism and how they found a path to recovery.

In the four editions of the book, some of these stories have been deleted and others added, but the message is the same — the only way to fully recover from the effects of alcoholism is to practice the principles found in the 12 steps, which can lead to a "spiritual awakening" for the alcoholic.

For those whose lives have been changed by it, the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" has become more than a mere book — it has become a life-long companion.

Probably the most well-known part of the original manuscript, which does not have copyright protection, is in Chapter 5 known as "How It Works," a section that is read aloud by members at many A.A. meetings.

How It Works

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our directions. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.

There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a way of life which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average.

There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.

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 follow directions.

At some of these, you may balk. You may think you can find an easier, softer way. We doubt if you can. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.

Remember that you are dealing with alcohol — cunning, baffling, powerful! Without help, it is too much for you. But there is One who has all power — That One is God. You must find Him now!

Half measures will avail you nothing. You stand at the turning point. Throw yourself under His protection and care with complete abandon.

Now we think you can take it! Here are the steps we took, which are suggested as your Program of Recovery:

1. Admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely willing that God removes all these defects of character.

7. Humbly, on our knees, asked Him to remove our shortcomings — holding nothing back.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make complete amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual experience as the result of this course of action, we tried to carry this message to others, especially alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

You may exclaim, "What an order! I can't go through with it." Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles. We are not saints. The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress. We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

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3 Sources
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  1. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Historical Data: The Birth of A.A. and Its Growth in the U.S./Canada.

  2. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Big Book - Foreword to First Edition - (pp. xiii-xiv).

  3. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Chapter 5 - How It Works - (pp. 58-71).