Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Promises and the Big Book
What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship of individuals who identify as having a problem with misusing alcohol. As an international organization, AA offers support group meetings around the world for its members to share their experiences with others and help themselves and others live a life of sobriety from alcohol.1
The AA program is based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are outlined, along with the Promises, in the AA Big Book. This is the central text of Alcoholics Anonymous. The Steps are principles designed to create a structure for AA members to follow as they work towards living a life of wholeness without alcohol.2
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson, both of whom identified as addicts and desired to remain sober. In 1939, the men 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).3
What Are the 12 Promises of AA?
You may be wondering, ‘what are the AA Promises?’, ‘how are the AA Promises explained?’ or ‘what page are the Promises on in the Big Book?’ The AA Promises are found on pages 83-84 of Chapter 6 (Into Action) in Alcoholics Anonymous, The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism. The 12 Promises of AA are presented as part of Step 9, which involves making amends. The 9th Step Promises are presented as out-loud readings at the end of AA meetings, usually before the closing prayer.4
- 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. Addiction can lead to a constant state of inner turmoil. The AA program helps people find a calmness that is rare during the active use of alcohol and which many alcoholics have never known in their lives.
- We will know peace. The 4th Promise builds on the 3rd Promise, acknowledging that a life of peace and undisturbed tranquility will be experienced.
- No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. Many individuals with a substance use disorder don’t believe that other people understand what they’ve been through but, in Alcoholics Anonymous, they often meet people who can identify with and learn from their experiences.
- That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. Addiction can make people feel worthless and guilty about their actions. The Steps can help individuals feel 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 can lead to many self-centered behaviors. Helping other people find recovery can bring alcoholics 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 hopelessness 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 must continue to hide 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.
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Interpreting the 12 AA Promises
The 12 Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous are positive changes that generally begin to happen in the recovering alcoholic’s life while working the 9th Step promise, which states: “we made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”.1
Generally speaking, the Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous 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 Big Book mentions that the 12 Promises are “being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly”.4 Some Alcoholics Anonymous members report that they experience the AA 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”.4
Why Are the AA Promises Important?
The Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous are helpful because they provide individuals on the road to recovery and continued sobriety a promise of hope.5 Through sobriety and 12-Step recovery, individuals can free themselves from cravings and decrease related stress, while reinforcing feelings of gratitude, meaning and purpose in their lives.5
Each of the 12 AA Promises offers inspiration and something to look forward to in sobriety, especially for struggling newcomers. The Promises are included as the 9th Step, or making amends stage, of Alcoholics Anonymous. The 12 Promises of AA instill feelings of usefulness and discourage feelings of regret, encouraging members to believe that a life of peace and serenity is in their future. If you want to learn more about the Promises in AA or access a PDF version of the Promises, contact your local AA meeting representative.
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Explore the 12 Steps of AA
Other Addiction Support Groups
Other addiction support groups under the AA umbrella include:
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
- Smokers Anonymous
- Gamblers Anonymous
- Sexaholics Anonymous
- Emotions Anonymous
- Neurotics Anonymous
- Debtors Anonymous
- 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?
- Wilson, B. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous (4th ed.). New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
- Kelly, J. F., & Greene, M. C. (2013). The Twelve Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous: psychometric measure validation and mediational testing as a 12-step specific mechanism of behavior change. Drug and alcohol dependence, 133(2), 633–640.