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What They Say vs. What the Big Book Really Says

Alcoholics Anonymous, and the myriad of other 12-step programs, can be invaluable to the recovering alcoholic or addict. However, they can also be confusing to the person who is relatively new, and that confusion often stems from contradictory information provided by other members of the fellowship. This article will illuminate some of the issues and hopefully – and humorously – clear up that confusion.

Because newcomers receive so much advice “in the rooms,” both solicited and unsolicited, one of the most important things a newcomer can learn to say is, ”thank you for telling me that; what page is it on?” At least that way, they’ll discover whether what someone is telling them came out of the Big Book or is just someone’s experience or opinion. Newcomers may be given very valuable information that is based on experience or opinion, but I believe it useful for them to know when it comes out of the Big Book and when it does not, especially if the advice contradicts what the Big Book says. Here are some examples:

    • They say, “Treatment centers are a rip-off – you don’t need to go to one cause all they do is give you a $30,000 (or $60,000) Big Book.” But, the Big Book says, “… we favor hospitalization for the alcoholic who is very jittery or befogged. More often than not, it is imperative that a man’s brain be cleared before he is approached, as he has then a better chance of understanding and accepting what we have to offer.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, pp. xxvi-xxvii] And, “Of course an alcoholic ought to be freed from his physical craving for liquor, and this often requires a definite hospital procedure …” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, pp. xxvii-xxviii]


  • They say, “This is AA, and you can’t talk about drugs here.” But the Big Book says, “Next day found me drinking both gin and sedative. The combination soon landed me on the rocks.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 7] And, “So I immediately started taking and shooting pep pills. … For the leveling-off process, I just loved intravenous Demerol …” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 410]




  • They say, “The road gets narrow.” But the Big Book says, “… if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 55] And, “We feel we are on the Broad Highway, walking hand in hand with the Spirit of the Universe.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 75] I understand that when they say “the road gets narrow,” they mean there are fewer of the old self-sabotaging and “harmful to others” behaviors (lying, stealing, etc.) in which we can engage and remain sober and happy. It is still important to know the difference between what they say and what the Book says.




  • They say, “This is a selfish program.” But the Big Book says, “Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 62] This example is similar to the flight attendant on an airplane saying, “Put your oxygen mask on first, and then help your child with their mask.” In placing your oxygen mask on first, you are not being selfish. Rather, you are demonstrating to others that the mask is safe and provides a benefit. The same is true with our program; in prioritizing your sobriety, others can see the benefits of staying sober and working a program.



We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct… We subjected each relation to this test – was it selfish or not?-The Big Book


  • They say, “You can’t date in your first year.” But the Big Book says, “We do not want to be the arbiter of anyone’s sex conduct … we tried to shape a sane and sound ideal for our future sex life. We subjected each relation to this test – was it selfish or not?” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 69] Again, what “they say” probably has the best of intentions, but it remains so important to point out to the newcomer exactly what the Big Book says. Having done that, a sponsor can always add, “You know, while this isn’t in the Big Book, it’s my experience that when people start dating early in sobriety, the other person sometimes becomes their Higher Power, distracts them from meetings and step work, and that may result in relapse. Also, I’ll just say that often the people you find attractive in early sobriety will not be so by the time you’re halfway through your ninth step, and those who find you attractive right now, probably won’t like who you become by the time you’re halfway through your ninth step.” Then the newcomer has solid information on which to base their dating decisions.




  • They say, “You’re not sober if you’re taking pain meds or psych meds. But the Big Book says, “We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative. … But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures. … though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward.” [Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition, p. 133] As a health care clinician, I am always a bit worried when a non-physician alcoholic tells newcomers what prescribed medications they should or should not take. My favorite Chinese restaurant has a sign that says, “Our bank doesn’t serve egg rolls and we don’t cash checks.” Perhaps there should be a sign in the AA meeting rooms saying, “Your doctor won’t tell you how to work the 12 steps, and we won’t tell you what medications to take.” Just a thought.



Some may agree with me and some may not, but I believe that seven of the most important words in the Big Book are the last two words at the bottom of page 133 and the first five words at the top of page 134, where the Big Book says “… all alcoholics should constantly have chocolate available.” To me, this is proof that the Big Book is divinely inspired [smiley face]. And, for those of you who are reading this and saying to yourselves, “the Big Book doesn’t say that,” go and look – right now – bottom of 133 and top of 134 – you’ve got to love it. I hope you enjoyed this humorous look at the differences between what “they say” and what the “Big Book says,” and that you also found it useful.

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