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Twelve Traditions

Bill W.  Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

Bill W.
Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Traditions of twelve-step programs provide guidelines for relationships between the twelve-step groups, members, other groups, the global fellowship, and society at large. Questions of finance, public relations, donations, and purpose are addressed in the Traditions. They were originally written by Bill Wilson after the founding of the first twelve-step group, Alcoholics Anonymous.
Several of the tenets of what was to become AA’s Twelve Traditions were first expressed in the Foreword to the First Edition of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. By 1944 the number of AA groups had grown along with the number of letters being sent to the AA headquarters in New York asking how to handle disputes caused by issues like publicity, religion, and finances. By 1946 AA cofounder Bill Wilson had more clearly formulated the basic ideas for the Twelve Traditions directly from such correspondence with groups (via the group conscience method), setting guidelines on how groups and members should interact with each other, the public, and AA as a whole. The Traditions were first published in the April 1946 AA Grapevine under the title Twelve Points to Assure Our Future and were formally adopted at AA’s First International Convention in 1950. Wilson’s book on the subject, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, was published in April, 1953.
AA’s Singleness of Purpose is a principle derived from the Fifth Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, “Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” Other groups replace the word alcoholic with the identifying characteristic of their fellowship, or otherwise rephrase it to have a similar meaning. For instance, in Marijuana Anonymous that member would be a marijuana addict, while in Narcotics Anonymous that member would be an addict. The principle is based on the philosophy that those that share common physical cravings and mental obsessions can best understand and help those that are struggling with their specific addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson wrote in the February 1958 AA Grapevine that
“We cannot give AA membership to non-alcoholic narcotics-addicts. But like anyone else, they should be able to attend certain open AA meetings, provided, of course, that the groups themselves are willing.
AA members who are so inclined should be encouraged to band together in groups to deal with sedative and drug problems. But they ought to refrain from calling themselves AA groups. There seems to be no reason why several AAs cannot join, if they wish, with a group of straight addicts to solve the alcohol and the drug problem together. But, obviously, such a “dual purpose” group should not insist that it be called an AA group nor should it use the AA name in its title. Neither should its “straight addict” contingent be led to believe that they have become AA members by reason of such an association. Certainly there is every good reason for interested AAs to join with “outside” groups, working on the narcotic problem, provided the Traditions of anonymity and of “no endorsements” are respected.

—Bill W., AA Grapevine

(Taken from the Grapevine, Reprinted with permission of the A.A. Grapevine, Inc.)

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