Tradition 8 of AA (Alcoholics Anonymous)

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12-step recovery programs are celebrated for the community, support, and effectiveness provided to those healing from addiction.

The most prominent 12-step program is Alcoholics Anonymous, also known as AA. AA is a peer-run group with rotating leadership. Acts of service are an integral part of the program and are performed through taking on commitments at meetings and guiding others in their sobriety journeys.

Spirituality is another foundational aspect of this group. While AA is not affiliated with any religion, it does incorporate spirituality by inviting members to believe in a power greater than themselves. This article will explore the traditions of AA, particularly tradition 8.

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Founded in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous was created by a man named Bill Wilson. The group is based on the belief that alcoholism is a physical, mental, and emotional disease that is healed through community, acts of service, and a belief in a power greater than oneself. 

The group has twelve steps and twelve traditions that serve as guidelines for the program’s structure, leadership, and function. The twelve steps are principles designed for someone with alcohol use disorder to study under the guidance of a sponsor. A sponsor is a sober person who agrees to support someone in getting sober by making themselves available for peer support and outreach calls.

The twelve traditions provide a roadmap for the program, with each practice existing as a shared agreement amongst community members. In honoring these traditions, outside disruptions and stressors are minimized, allowing the program to function as seamlessly as possible.

What Is Tradition 8?

Tradition 8 states, “Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.”

In other words, AA is a program of service. When a newcomer to the program reaches out to someone in the program in crisis, help is extended in a free and non-professional manner.

This ties into an overarching theme in AA which is to “give your recovery away.” Sharing your wisdom and insight can help give someone hope and support on their healing journey.  

The Power of Tradition 8

Going to AA isn’t like going to a therapy group where a clinician guides every individual through their experiences.

By relying specifically on peer support, there is no one in a position of power that can overthrow the group’s goals. But, conversely, that also means there isn’t someone in a position of power that members can defy.

The Meaning of “Forever Non-Professional”

There are members of AA who identify as mental health and medical professionals. However, their profession does not apply when engaging in the AA program. Again, all support in AA is non-professional, and their professional roles do not apply when they participate in the program.

Based on the experiences of the founder and the group’s history, professionalizing Alcoholics Anonymous only harms the efficacy of its mission. Simply put, when receiving money and career advancements begin to collude with the desire to stay sober and help others get sober, the dignity of the program as a whole is at risk. 

The Preservation of Anonymity

Another concern with professionals branding their services as part of Alcoholics Anonymous is the breaking of anonymity.

Before solidifying the terms of this tradition, there were experiences where members of Alcoholics Anonymous would open a recovery or sobriety-related venture. Naturally, program members would be hired to work at the business. In turn, that broke the anonymity of those AA participants, thus violating a sacred part of the program.

What Are “Special Workers?"

Alcoholics Anonymous is a huge organization and has service centers throughout the country. These service centers take care of administrative work. For example, this is where literature is distributed, meeting schedules are made and printed, and general inquiry calls are answered. All of these tasks require more labor than what typical program volunteers provide. To keep these essential services functioning, employees may be hired. This is allowed by tradition 8.

Remember, the term “special workers” means that even when receiving money in exchange for the work provided, those providing the work are doing so to continue spreading the word of AA. This is not professionalized work, meaning it is not someone paying another to receive sponsorship or other forms of AA support.

The Importance of Tradition 8

Tradition 8 protects the group and the group members. It protects the group by minimizing opportunities for controversy.

Tradition 8 Protects Members From Controversy and Anonymity Breaches

For example, if one were to advertise 12-step services for hire and garnered a negative reputation, that negative reputation could reflect on the group as a whole. Group members are protected by knowing their anonymity isn’t at risk due to a fellow group member offering AA-related services.  

Tradition 8 also minimizes the possibility of group members choosing to rebel against someone who presents as a professional authority, like a doctor or counselor. While there are leadership positions within AA, no individual leader has complete control over the group. This is by design.

Past experiences informed the group’s decision to ensure there were no authority figures within the group. Finally, this tradition outlines clear boundaries of roles and transactions within the program.

How Tradition 8 Connects to the Other Traditions

Every tradition exists to protect the mission and work of Alcoholics Anonymous. The other traditions include prioritizing the health of the group as a whole, allowing individual groups the ability to tailor the details of their meetings, and strictly enforcing a policy of not accepting outside donations.

Tradition 8 connects to each of the other traditions by protecting the individual who is seeking sobriety. It is safe to say the power of the group would suffer significantly without tradition 8.

2 Sources
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  1. Tusa AL, Burgholzer JA. Came to believe: spirituality as a mechanism of change in alcoholics anonymous a review of the literature from 1992 to 2012. J. Addict. Nurs. 2013;24(4):237-246. doi: 10.1097/JAN.0000000000000003

  2. Alcoholics Anonymous. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

By Julia Childs Heyl
Julia Childs Heyl, MSW, is a clinical social worker and writer. As a writer, she focuses on mental health disparities and uses critical race theory as her preferred theoretical framework. In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy.