Breaking Down the AA Preamble

by | Last updated May 3, 2021 | Published on Mar 15, 2016 | 12 Step Programs | 2 comments

Breaking Down the AA Preamble

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Much like one particularly famous preamble, the AA Preamble is essentially a mission statement. (David Smart/Shutterstock)

Much like one particularly famous preamble, the AA Preamble is essentially a mission statement. (David Smart/Shutterstock)

Every meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous begins with a moment of silence followed by the Serenity Prayer. After this is concluded, most meetings will begin a series of readings, the first of which is the AA Preamble. To newcomers who are not familiar with it, the Preamble is as follows:

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

This all sounds relatively straightforward, providing newcomers with a basic description of AA while also reminding long-time members why they are there. The Preamble is essentially a mission statement, something that helps members stay on track on their journey to sobriety.  This is considered an essential piece of Alcoholics Anonymous literature, as it helps reassert the purpose (and importance) of AA meetings as well as the principles of which we alcoholics are supposed to follow.

History of the AA Preamble: Why Is It So Popular?

The Preamble was not part of the original Alcoholics Anonymous literature created by AA founder, Bill Wilson in 1934. It was actually created in June 1947 by the AA Grapevine, a magazine publication founded by six AA members with Bill Wilson’s permission. Back then, this magazine was starting to circulate among non-alcoholics. The Preamble was created to serve as public information to describe what AA was and what it wasn’t. The magazine, and thus, the AA Preamble, quickly proliferated into the various chapters of the organization and was even adopted as AA conference-approved literature. Since this short text has become a cornerstone of Alcoholics Anonymous and is printed in every issue of the AA Grapevine Magazine and used to open AA meetings.

However, the Preamble that most of us know today is not the original text. There have been several noted changes to wording in order to clarify and emphasize certain points. The AA Preamble has evolved alongside the organization to better reflect the needs of modern alcoholics and is the Preamble we all know and refer to today.

The Alcoholics Anonymous Preamble: Explained

The text makes sense at face value, however, by breaking down the Preamble even further, we unlock additional insights that strengthen the message and overall purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous. For the most part, the following breakdown is meant to be for the benefit of the newcomers. Even so, many old-timers may gain something out of it as well. When we have been to enough meetings, it can be easy to sit there and zone out while the Preamble is being read. Hopefully, a more thorough examination of its text will inspire some to listen more fully and take every word to heart.

Part One of the AA Preamble

In AA, many members inspire others through their willingness to talk about their own experiences with alcoholism and addiction. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

In AA, many members inspire others through their willingness to talk about their own experiences with alcoholism and addiction. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

The first part of the AA Preamble upon which we would like to cast our focus is the top paragraph:

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

While this passage mentions helping others, note that it says we should do so by telling our own experiences. The story of how we found strength and hope in recovery is the single greatest tool we have for helping others who have struggled with alcoholism and addiction. Such people may be in denial or may have many reservations about getting sober. As such, they will not be inclined to listen to lectures from strangers, no matter how heartfelt these lectures may be. But by sharing only our own stories, we may help to open their eyes to a life made possible by recovery. It is not simply enough to tell people that this life is possible—we must become living demonstrations of the principles we espouse.

Newcomers should listen to these stories and pay them the full attention they deserve. Depending upon the sobriety date of the individual who is sharing at the time, you may learn one of two things. If they have been sober for years or even decades, newcomers will learn that there is a solution that can work long-term. If the person sharing has entered recovery only recently, newcomers will learn just how much they can get out of the program if they are willing to work at it. And when fellows of either camp share their experiences, newcomers will learn that they are not alone. They are not the first to take Step One, nor will they be the last. Many will hear parallels to their own lives in these stories, and as such, will learn to hold up a mirror and see just how powerless drugs and alcohol have made them. Hopefully, this will serve to inspire a change.

Part Two of the AA Preamble

AA tries to stand apart from the crowd, not allying itself with any other institution. (megaflopp/Shutterstock)

AA tries to stand apart from the crowd, not allying itself with any other institution. (megaflopp/Shutterstock)

The second passage of the AA Preamble we wish to examine takes up most of the second paragraph:

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes.

This passage of the AA Preamble encompasses three of the Twelve Traditions: Tradition Three, Tradition Seven, and Tradition Ten. The Third Tradition states open membership to anyone who wishes for sobriety. The Seventh Tradition states that AA cannot accept outside contributions. The Tenth Tradition states that AA maintains no opinion on outside issues, thus allies itself with no outside institutions.

There is little to take away from this passage of the AA Preamble other than these three key points. Anyone who may be nervous about joining AA because they feel they will be persecuted or that they are required to pay can lay these worries to rest. Anyone who has truly embraced the Twelve Traditions, especially those in the AA Preamble, should be understanding of each individual member’s unique predicament. We may be anonymous, but AA is not a place where we should ever have to hide who we are.

Part Three of the AA Preamble

AA is massive organization of people reaching out their hands to help others. (Arthimedes/Shutterstock)

AA is a massive organization of people reaching out their hands to help others. (Arthimedes/Shutterstock)

The last part of the AA Preamble we wish to examine is but a single sentence:

Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.

Not only does the last line of the AA Preamble mirror the last line of the first paragraph, but it also recalls yet another one of the Twelve Traditions. It is stated in Tradition Five that the primary purpose of every AA group is to carry their message to those who are still suffering. This message of relational empowerment can also be seen in Step Twelve.

Newcomers need not worry about carrying the message just yet, but they should still take these words to heart. Any AA member they encounter who does not seem to have the best interest of others in mind is probably worth avoiding. We try not to act out of selfishness in AA, but you will inevitably encounter at least a few who still give into greed and pride. Such members rarely take the consequences of their words or actions into account, and this gives them the potential to act as bad influences to any newcomers who put too much stock in their words.

Either way, AA is a place where we learn to cast aside our old way of life in order to become more generous and caring through the performance of service work. Perhaps newcomers aren’t ready to sponsor another alcoholic, but they can still tap into their more charitable side by performing smaller duties such as brewing coffee before the meeting. If you are serious about what this program has to offer, ask your sponsor to help you find a regular service commitment. And you may place emphasis on the word “commitment,” for generosity is about more than the occasional good deed. It is a way of life, and it is one that every addict or alcoholic who truly wishes to recover should begin embracing immediately.

Summarizing What We’ve Learned

Assemble each piece of the AA Preamble above, and what you’ll find is a mission statement of recovery. (Gajus/Shutterstock)

Assemble each piece of the AA Preamble above, and what you’ll find is a mission statement of recovery. (Gajus/Shutterstock)

When you put each part of the AA Preamble together, what you have is a group that stands for recovery above all else. We should not struggle with social acceptance, provided the person is willing to become sober. And we should never deny a caring hand to those in need, especially not on the basis of outside institutions. Whether or not we harbor feelings about their chosen religion is irrelevant. They have a right to life, and the AA Preamble makes it clear that we have a right to help them continue living in whatever way we can. When we turn our backs on a fellow addict or alcoholic, there is no telling how long it may be before they wind up slowly killing themselves through substance abuse.

On the flip side, we must also be open to the help that we are being offered. We have the freedom to interpret others’ stories however we wish, but we should not feel anger or annoyance at another person’s willingness to help. There are many good-hearted people in AA, people who listen intently to the Preamble at every meeting and do their best to follow its many principles. Even if you decide that AA is not for you, do your best to recognize that its members have offered their help in earnest when they easily could have kept to themselves.

The AA Preamble may seem like a simple text, but every sentence is loaded with meaning. The above should help illuminate some of a 12 step recovery program’s lessons for yourself, but you never know—stick around long enough, and you just may begin to develop your own, more personalized interpretations. This is the point at which you will know that the AA Preamble has done its job when it has inspired you to truly think about the program and everything it represents.

Written by: Justin Kunst

Written by: Justin Kunst

As a member of the Amethyst Recovery Center marketing team, Justin Kunst dedicated his time to curating powerful content that would reach and impact individuals and families who are struggling with substance abuse.

2 Comments

  1. Justin Kunst

    Great post, really love the AA preamble and there’s a lot of wisdom there about AA.

    Reply
  2. chenoah hunt

    As an active member of AA. I am confused about how the author of this interpretation of the AA preamble has taken the word Alcoholics out of the fifth tradition

    1. Changed the wording of Tradition 5 by eliminating the word Alcoholic. Thus, completing changing the intended message. The primary purpose of AA is to help “Alcoholics who still suffer” Not “those who still suffer” the reason it is called a “Primary Purpose” is that AA can Only Help other Alcoholics, period. AAs purpose is not to help able to help “anyone who suffers “ from anything, that is what recovery centers do. Not Alcoholics Anonymous.
    Maybe the Author was excluding the language in order to attract addicts of other substances in order to promote this For Profit recovery program?

    Reply

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