The 12 Traditions of the AA Study Guide

Principles That Define the Internal Operations of the 12-Step Program

people in support group circle

 Romilly Lockyer/Getty Images

The 12 traditions are the principles that keep 12-step support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous and the Al-Anon Family Support Group, focused on their primary purpose of fellowship. The 12 traditions serve as a guideline or manual that defines the internal operations of the 12-step programs. 

History of the 12 Traditions in AA

The 12 traditions got its start in 1939 in the foreword of the first editions of the "Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous." Due to the quick growth of the group, many questions surrounding publicity, religion, and finances came up.

In 1946, co-founder Bill Wilson published the "Twelve Points to Assure Our Future" in the AA Grapevine newspaper. In 1953, he published the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon

Tradition Description
1. Unity Common welfare comes first. Without unity within the group, members of 12 step support groups will find it difficult to make progress.
2. Leadership There is an ultimate authority, God or a higher power. In 12-step groups, there is no such thing as individual authority or governance, but there are group leaders.
3. Eligibility The only requirement in AA is a desire to stop drinking. The emphasis on this tradition is to keep the primary focus of the fellowship from becoming diluted.
4. Autonomy The freedom individual groups have in this tradition carries with it the admonition to protect the fellowship as a whole.
5. Carrying the message The primary purpose of any 12-step group is to carry its message and give comfort to others who are still suffering.
6. Outside enterprises In order to preserve the integrity of the program, groups do not endorse any outside organizations and causes.
7. Self-supporting By declining outside contributions, the group protects its basic structure and is self-supporting.
8. Giving it away The 12-step program is free. There is a saying in the rooms, "In order to keep it, you must give it away, with the keyword "give."
9. Organization By not being highly organized, support groups keep the emphasis on true fellowship and their primary purpose. There may be committees or a secretary to help with handling contributions.
10. Outside Opinions By avoiding opinions on outside issues such as politics, alcohol reform or religion, AA and Al-Anon avoid controversy.
11. Public Relations Anonymity in the media protects not only the individual member but the fellowship as a whole. It is AA's public relations policy to attract rather than promote.
12. Anonymity A hallmark of 12-step recovery programs is the offer of anonymity to participants.
Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.