Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 when Bill W., a once successful stockbroker whose career and life were devastated by alcoholism, was searching for a way to maintain his own sobriety. After six months without a drink, Bill W. reached out to still-suffering alcoholic Dr. Bob S. The date of Dr. Bob’s last drink, June 10, 1935, marks the founding date of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A.A. is a fellowship of men and women who have drinking problems. It exists in over 180 countries worldwide, and has an estimated over two million active members. Since 1935, millions have recovered from alcoholism through the practice of A.A. principles.


The book Alcoholics Anonymous — commonly known as the Big Book — is A.A.’s main text. First published in April 1939, the Big Book presents the A.A. program of individual recovery as well as personal stories of struggle and recovery by A.A. members spanning the Fellowship’s history



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If you do not have a copy of the Big Book, we encourage you to pick one up. There are several ways to get a copy:

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. We 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 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 ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make 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 conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (Short Form)

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

The Twelve Concepts of Alcoholics Anonymous (Short Form)

The Twelve Concepts for World Service were written by A.A.’s co-founder Bill W., and were adopted by the General Service Conference of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1962. The Concepts are an interpretation of A.A.’s world service structure as it emerged through A.A.’s early history and experience. The short form of the Concepts reads:

  1. Final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.
  2. The General Service Conference of A.A. has become, for nearly every practical purpose, the active voice and the effective conscience of our whole society in its world affairs.
  3. To ensure effective leadership, we should endow each element of A.A. — the Conference, the General Service Board and its service corporations, staffs, committees, and executives — with a traditional “Right of Decision.”
  4. At all responsible levels, we ought to maintain a traditional “Right of Participation,” allowing a voting representation in reasonable proportion to the responsibility that each must discharge.
  5. Throughout our structure, a traditional “Right of Appeal” ought to prevail, so that minority opinion will be heard and personal grievances receive careful consideration.
  6. The Conference recognizes that the chief initiative and active responsibility in most world service matters should be exercised by the trustee members of the Conference acting as the General Service Board.
  7. The Charter and Bylaws of the General Service Board are legal instruments, empowering the trustees to manage and conduct world service affairs. The Conference Charter is not a legal document; it relies upon tradition and the A.A. purse for final effectiveness.
  8. The trustees are the principal planners and administrators of over-all policy and finance. They have custodial oversight of the separately incorporated and constantly active services, exercising this through their ability to elect all the directors of these entities.
  9. Good service leadership at all levels is indispensable for our future functioning and safety. Primary world service leadership, once exercised by the founders, must necessarily be assumed by the trustees.
  10. Every service responsibility should be matched by an equal service authority, with the scope of such authority well defined.
  11. The trustees should always have the best possible committees, corporate service directors, executives, staffs, and consultants. Composition, qualifications, induction procedures, and rights and duties will always be matters of serious concern.
  12. The Conference shall observe the spirit of A.A. tradition, taking care that it never becomes the seat of perilous wealth or power; that sufficient operating funds and reserve be its prudent financial principle; that it place none of its members in a position of unqualified authority over others; that it reach all important decisions by discussion, vote, and whenever possible, substantial unanimity; that its actions never be personally punitive nor an incitement to public controversy; that it never perform acts of government; that, like the Society it serves, it will always remain democratic in thought and action.

Copyright © A.A. World Services, Inc.

The text of the complete Concepts is printed in The A.A. Service Manual/Twelve Concepts for World Service (BM-31). A.A. literature is available at many A.A. meetings and the Central Office.

A.A.’s Three Legacies


A.A. Chip

First presented in 1939 with the publishing of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, A.A.’s widely recognized Twelve Steps reflect the principles by which the co-founders and early members recovered from alcoholism. The Steps remain the foundation recovery principles of the Fellowship to this day. In addition to many chapters in the first part of the book Alcoholics Anonymous on the Steps, Bill W. wrote a series of essays on the Steps which appear in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Known informally as the “Twelve and Twelve,” the forward to the book reads, “A.A.’s Twelve Steps are a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the suffered to become happily and usefully whole.” *


A.A.’s Twelve Traditions present the principles which support the unity of the A.A. Fellowship at its group level. The Traditions were first presented in a series of articles by co-founder Bill W. in the late 1940’s, which appeared in The A.A. Grapevine, A.A.’s periodical newsletter. The essays are collected in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. From the Forward to the book: “A.A.’s Twelve Traditions apply to the life of the Fellowship itself. They outline the means by which A.A. maintains its unity and relates to the world about it, the way it lives and grows.” *


Concerning service, A.A. co-founder Bill W. wrote in 1951:

Our Twelfth Step — carrying the message — is the basic service that the A.A. Fellowship gives; this is our principal aim and the main reason for our existence. Therefore, A.A. is more than a set of principles; it is a society of alcoholics in action. We must carry the message, else we ourselves can wither, and those who haven’t been given the truth may die.

From “A.A.’s Legacy of Service,” The A.A. Service Manual, page S1. *

The Twelve Concepts for World Service were offered by Bill W. in 1962 as “an interpretation of A.A.’s world service structure.” They are the guiding principles by which A.A. world service activities are conducted. The Concepts are presented in detail in a series of essays by Bill W. in The A.A. Service Manual combined with Twelve Concepts for World Service.

Taken together, the Steps, Traditions and Concepts embody what are known as the Three Legacies of A.A.: Recovery, Unity and Service.

* From literature copyright © A.A. World Services, Inc. Used with permission.

The Structure of A.A. – U.S./Canada Conference

The Twelve Traditions make clear the principle that A.A., as such, should never be organized, that there are no bosses and no government in A.A. Yet at the same time, the Traditions recognize the need for some kind of organization to carry the message in ways that are impossible for the local groups — such as publication of a uniform literature and public information resources, helping new groups get started, publishing an international magazine, and carrying the message in other languages into other countries.

The U.S./Canada Conference* structure is the framework in which these “general services” are carried out.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been called an upside-down organization because, as the below chart shows, the groups are on top and the trustees at the bottom.

The Structure of AA

Communication Through the Structure

Keeping a balance between ultimate authority and responsibility and the active, day-to-day functioning of world services means there must be constant communications among all elements of the structure.


The communication process starts with the group, which lets its group conscience — for or against change, approval or disapproval of a proposed action — be known to its elected general service representative (G.S.R.). The G.S.R. makes sure the group’s wishes are heard and fully considered at the district and area levels, and that they are part of the delegate’s thinking at the Conference. After each annual Conference, the G.S.R. is responsible for making sure the group members are informed about what went on at the Conference and made aware of the full range of Advisory Actions.


Groups are organized into districts, collections of groups located near one another. The G.S.R.s of these groups select district committee members (D.C.M.s), who become part of the area committee.


The U.S./Canada Conference is divided into 93 areas, made up of a state or province, part of a state or province, or in some cases parts of more than one state or province. At the area assembly, a delegate is elected to represent the area at the annual Conference meeting.


At the annual Conference meeting, matters of importance to the Fellowship as a whole are first considered and discussed by one of the standing Conference committees, then brought to the full Conference in the form of committee recommendations. All Conference members then have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the recommendations before they are voted on. Committee recommendations that are approved become Conference Advisory Actions.

After the Conference, the delegate reports back to the area, working through D.C.M.s and group G.S.R.s. At the same time, any Conference Advisory Actions that were referred to the trustees are sent to either the appropriate trustees’ committee, G.S.O., or the A.A. Grapevine for implementation.

Membership in the Conference consists of area delegates, trustees, directors of A.A. World Services and the Grapevine, and A.A. staff members of the General Service Office and the Grapevine. Traditionally, area delegates make up at least two-thirds of the Conference body.


The General Service Board is made up of 21 trustees. It meets quarterly, and its actions are reported to the Fellowship through quarterly reports and also in the Final Conference Report. The board’s two operating corporations, A.A. World Services, Inc. and The Grapevine, Inc., report in the same way. A.A.W.S. is the corporation that employs G.S.O. personnel, directs G.S.O. services, and is responsible for book and pamphlet publishing. The Grapevine corporate board employs the magazine’s editorial and business staffs and publishes A.A.’s monthly magazine and related materials.

* Bill’s early vision was of a worldwide structure. However, the conference structures in countries outside of U.S./Canada evolved as autonomous entities.

The content presented here is from The A.A. Service Manual, S15–S17. Copyright © A.A. World Services, Inc.