What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
Alcoholics Anonymous is considered a fellowship of people that identify with having a problem misusing alcohol. As an international organization, AA offers support group meetings around the world for its members to share their experience with others and help themselves and others live a life of sobriety from alcohol.2
The AA program is based on the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. These steps are principles designed to create a structure for AA members to follow and as they work towards living a life of wholeness without alcohol.3
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, who both identified as addicts and desired to remain sober. In 1939, the men first published the 12 steps in Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism. Since AA began, many other 12-step groups have formed to address compulsive substance use and/or behaviors, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and Codependents Anonymous (CoDA).4
What Are the 12 Promises of AA?
- If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through. This promise states that people who complete the AA program and make a sincere effort will begin to see changes in their lives even before they are halfway done.
- We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. People who finish the steps will experience relief from the suffering of addiction and feel free to pursue a new life without alcohol.
- We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. Those who work the program will gain a sense of acceptance that allows them to process their experiences, learn from them, and move on without guilt.
- We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace. Addiction can lead to a constant state of inner turmoil. The AA program helps people find a calmness that is rare during active using, and that many addicts have never known in their lives.
- No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. Many addicts don’t believe that other people understand what they’ve been through. But in AA, they often meet people who can identify with and learn from their experiences.
- That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. Addiction makes users feel worthless and guilty about their actions. The steps can give people a sense that their lives have a meaning and a purpose, particularly through helping others.
- We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Addiction leads to many self-centered behaviors. Helping other people find recovery can bring addicts outside of themselves and help them develop a genuine interest in other people.
- Self-seeking will slip away. The tunnel vision of focusing only on oneself and drinking usually begins to fade as people work the steps.
- Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. AA can shift one’s perspective from hopeless to hope. People can begin to imagine a life where they are happy.
- Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. Alcoholics who recover through AA don’t feel like they have to hide anymore or worry about how to support their addiction and maintain financial security.
- We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. As the AA member gets deeper into the recovery process, they begin to see situations more clearly and can tap into their inner resources.
- We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. The concept of a higher power is central to AA. This higher power, be it God or something else, becomes a guiding force in the person’s life.
The Rewards of Recovery
The AA Promises are found on pages 83-84 of Chapter 6, “Into Action” in Alcoholics Anonymous, (also known as the “Big Book”) written by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob. The 12 Promises of AA are presented as part of working Step 9, which involves making amends.
The 9th step promises are read out loud at the end of AA meetings, usually before the closing prayer.1
Interpreting the 12 Promises of AA
The AA Promises provide inspiration and something to look forward to in sobriety, especially for struggling newcomers.
The 12 Promises of AA are positive changes that generally begin to happen in the recovering alcoholic’s life while working the 9th step promise, which states: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”2
Generally speaking, the AA promises refer to shifts in attitude and perception such as:
- Feelings of freedom and happiness.
- Gaining a deeper perspective.
- Renewed purpose or direction in life.
- Acceptance of self and others.
- Hope and faith.
- Less fear and/or financial worry.
- Redemption from past actions.
The AA Promises provide inspiration and something to look forward to in sobriety, especially for struggling newcomers. Part of the AA program involves getting a sponsor or another mature member to guide you through the 12 steps.
The Big Book mentions that the 12 Promises are “Being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.”1 Some AA members report that they experience the promises early on, while others experience them gradually. Because everyone’s experience is unique, the 9th step promises can occur in different ways and at different times.
According to the AA Promises Big Book, the 12 Promises of AA “Materialize if we work for them.”1 Through earnest effort, the promises can hold true.
. Wilson, B. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous (4th ed.). New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
. AA.org. (2018). Information on Alcoholics Anonymous.
. AA.org. What is A.A.?
. AMA Journal of Ethics. (2016). Addiction, 12-Step Programs, and Evidentiary Standards for Ethically and Clinically Sound Treatment Recommendations: What Should Clinicians Do?
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