A.A. Tradition Three

The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. ("Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions", Tradition Three)

Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation. (long form)


As you can see above, Tradition Three reminds us to never exclude from A.A. any fellow alcoholic who would like to recover from chronic alcoholism.  So if you have a desire to stop drinking, and especially if you are one of us who could not, you are most-welcomed to join any of our many autonomous A.A. fellowships...or to even begin one of your own...

"(God) will show you how to create the fellowship you crave."
("Alcoholics Anonymous", page 164)

And whether you join an existing A.A. group or you and one-or-more others might begin one of your own, always remember:  "No one is too discredited or has sunk too low to be welcomed cordially - if s/he means business.  Social distinctions, petty rivalries and jealousies - these are laughed out of countenance.  Being wrecked in the same vessel, being restored and united under one God, with hearts and minds attuned to the welfare of others, the things which matter so much to some people no longer signify much to (us).  How could they?"  ("A.A.", page 161)

Here is another interesting part of Tradition Three:  "Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group (or fellowship), provided that, as a group (or fellowship), they have no other affiliation."

Two thoughts come to mind there:

1) Nobody ever has to apply for an A.A. charter!  Whenever any two-or-more alcoholics wish to "call themselves an A.A. group" or fellowship, they may  do so with nothing but encouragement -- no challenges to navigate -- from the rest!

2) Be cautious of mere meetings mistakenly being called "A.A. groups".  Our "sufficient substitute for alcohol" can be found within a fellowship in Alcoholics Anonymous (page 152), and even whether or not those folks "go to meetings", as such.  See, some folks view A.A. as a place or organization for "support" while-or-where everyone present tries to not drink, and many so-called "A.A. meetings" get started upon that mistaken premise.  But for those of us wishing to actually recover and to remain that way, we find it much more beneficial to gather together and call ourselves an A.A. group (then conducting our A.A. group's A.A. meetings) than to be "members-at-large", so to speak, attending various meetings mistakenly being called "A.A. groups".  In other words:  True A.A. groups are autonomous spiritual entities or "organisms" consisting of people, not mere meetings scheduled under the auspices (endorsement) of some kind of organization.

... more to be added ...


Category: The Traditions We Practice


10 thoughts on “A.A. Tradition Three

  1. JoeO

    Q. What is the origin of introducing oneself with “I am an alcoholic” at A.A. meetings?
    A. According to an early friend of A.A., the late Henrietta Seiberling, the expression dates back to meetings of A.A.’s forerunner, the Oxford Groups Movement, which had its heyday in the early 1930s. At small meetings, the members knew one another and didn’t need to identify themselves. But in the larger, public meetings where there was ‘witnessing’ along the lines of what we know as an ‘A.A. talk’ today, personal identification became necessary. Chances are that someone at some time said, ‘I am an alcoholic,’ but Mrs. Seiberling wasn’t sure. Nor did she remember the phrase being in use at meetings in Akron before publication of the Big Book. “In fact,” she said, “the word ‘alcoholic’ was rarely uttered, at least in Akron. People referred to themselves as ‘drunks’ or ‘rum hounds’ or ‘boozers’ or other choice epithets reminiscent of the Temperance Movement that had gained adherents during Prohibition.”

    An early New York A.A. first heard the expression as “I am an alcoholic and my name is…” According to his recollection, that was after World War II, in 1945 or 1946. And it is a matter of record that, in 1947, a documentary film entitled, “I Am an Alcoholic” was produced by RKO Pathé. So overall, and as Bill often used to say, the custom just grew.

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  2. JoeO

    Q. What if I am and addict and not actually an alcoholic?
    A. A former therapist who was a “two-hatter” (an A.A. member also working in the overall field of “addictions treatment”) is the one who first told me the reason I could not “Don’t drink” is because I was “alcoholic”. Then next, of course, there is the matter of the alcoholic’s “physical allergy” making controlled drinking impossible: “All [alcoholics] have one symptom in common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving.” (Dr. Silkworth)

    A.A. is about people who cannot control their drinking once they begin (physical allergy) and who cannot remain abstinent after they stop (mental obsession or “alcoholic mind” displaying no defense against the first drink) helping others just like themselves who cannot control their drinking once they begin and who cannot remain abstinent after they stop. Addicts have at least that first part of our deal, however, so our Twelve-Step program for permanent recovery can work just as well for them as it ever has for any of us.

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  3. JoeO

    Q. What if I am “cross-addicted”?
    A. Many of us used to be regular ol’ “garden-variety drunks” who drank, chewed, sniffed, shot and/or snorted just like our addicted-to-whatever friends…and when we each boil it all down, we all end up, at Step One, acknowledging and admitting our personal powerlessness to finally just leave it all alone.

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  4. JoeO

    Q. What about those of us who have grave emotional or mental disorders along with our alcoholism?
    A. You have just encountered a group of permanently-recovered alcoholics where many of us have that very same deal and are yet “…people who (both can and do) completely give themselves to this simple program…(capable) of being honest with themselves…grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.” (page 58)

    note: If you can ask whether you might be “constitutionally incapable”, you are likely not and you can therefore also become one of A.A.’s many “…miracles of mental health.” (page 133)

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  5. SarahJo

    Q. There have been some discussions on-line about “singleness of purpose.” Why is there such a wide variety of opinions as to what level of Alcoholics Anonymous should deal with the issue of people in A.A. meetings calling themselves “cross addicted”?

    A. The A.A. program of recovery has always begun with one alcoholic sharing with another alcoholic what he/she used to be like, what happened and what he/she is like after having embarked upon the process which begins with the understanding of utter powerlessness to do anything about one’s drinking (actually, living) problem.

    As we grab a hold of principles (that is, live by Step Twelve) our understanding of how to live and how to treat others becomes part of our being. That is how the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions were “hammered out on the anvil of experience”.

    As more of us practice spiritual principles, we develop into the/an organism of recovered and becoming-recovered alcoholics known as a fellowship (of anonymous alcoholics who practice renunciation of personal prestige as a way of life) within The Fellowship and we learn within the
    atmosphere of our autonomous A.A. group(s) to live by those principles.

    When we keep things cleaned up, always with Step One as the foundation of our experience while we live out Steps Ten through Twelve, the issue(s) of singleness of purpose take care of themselves.

    Within the autonomous A.A. group dynamic, we need not ask somebody to leave a meeting who says he/she is “cross-addicted” in whatever way, because generally I have found that someone who is desperate for the kind of help that was offered 70 years ago (which was extended to me in the early ’90s), will shed the extra label as he/she becomes recovered from the personality/ies that drive us to drink.

    It all boils down to personal recovery (Recovery) which creates a sound base at the autonomous group level (Unity). We as an autonomous group decide how to deal with the “alcoholic and…” label because we know what the needs of our particular group are (I am sure it varies based on meeting size, location, number of recovered versus non-recovered alcoholics, etc.) Then we know how to help/what to do with those who come into our meetings who are confused about who they are and what they need. (Service)

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  6. Richie

    The true glue that holds the fabric of AA together is singleness of purpose (the common solution). The third tradition states, “two or more alcoholics” gathered together. Alcoholic means, “Concerning Body-allergy to alcohol” & “Mind-no mental defense against the first drink”.. So, if you’re a hard drinker and have a desire to stop drinking, that does not mean you are alcoholic. Which means by definition, you cant call yourself a group because the tradition says “two or more alcoholics”. not hard drinkers or moderate drinkers… The statements, “I’m an alcoholic and addict” are said from ignorance, self-centeredness and/or wanting to be special. Not to mention the obs-tenancy that can be found in human nature regardless of being alcoholic or not. In all fairness, I don’t believe that all people who introduce themselves as alcoholic/addict, cross addicted, etc, etc, are bad intentioned. This has been something that has been made “okay” to do over the years and therefore an acceptable social institution in Alcoholics Anonymous. If anyone is at fault for this, it would be AA as a whole for allowing this to happen. So why the big deal over introducing ourselves as things other than an alcoholic? Well. according to our literature, our common welfare is tied directly into our common solution. The common solution being the precise set of instructions found in the AA basic text. The idea behind the 12 steps is to have a spiritual awakening as the result of following the clear-cut directions (completely giving ourselves to the plan of things to do, AKA the program). This process cultivates and develops a relationship with a power greater than ourselves which will solve our problem (the problem of the body and mind of an alcoholic). So if the premise is having a spiritual awakening or experience that will enable us to recovery both bodily and mentally, how can we have a spiritual awakening based on a lie? This program demands rigorous honesty. If I’m calling myself an alcoholic and I’m a hard drinker, how can this come about? Some people come into AA that are addicts and only hard drinkers. The reasoning is that they don’t like to attend NA for various reasons. That’s fine, but what about rigorous honesty? This is where the rationalizations step in to justify. Well, a drug is a drug is a drug. Or, spiritual principles will work for everything. Etc, etc, etc..
    These justifications are baited with self-indulgences and the insistence on having things conform to our liking regardless of truth or the welfare of others. For example: in the justification of a drug is a drug is a drug? How about the next time you have malaria, take a polio drug and see how well it works for you? Even the drug addicts separate their drugs. Look at all the different 12 step drug meetings; (Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Methamphetamine Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Etc, Etc..). Hey, if there isn’t a difference in all this stuff, why have special meetings? What’s the point?
    The first step question in the Big Book states; “We learned that we had to fully concede to our inner most self that we were alcoholic, this is the first step in recovery”.. The summary conclusion statement in our first step is” “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable”. So what do the writers of the Big Book mean when they say powerless over alcohol? It’s simply this: concerning alcohol we are bodily and mentally different than non-alcoholics. our bodies reaction to alcohol is such that once we take the first drink we experience the phenomenon of craving, and the second is not having a mental defense against the first drink. which basically means we say we will never do it again and then we do it anyway. People who are non-alcoholic do not have these symptoms no matter how unmanageable their lives are. Just because your life is unmanageable, does not mean you are alcoholic, As alcoholics, our lives are unmanageable because of our powerlessness bodily and mentally concerning alcohol. I think people are just afraid to exclude people. The reasons are many. But in light of rigorous honesty people tend towards this business of “my truth” as a rationalization, feeling justified and comforted with a moral posture that looks good on the outside but inwardly is amiss. I can go on about this but I made my point.. The truth is that AA still stands. This tells me that God is doing fine without my help. I know there is no such thing as “the AA police”. But there is such a thing as being a responsible AA member. The General Service Office in New York is not going to attend AA meetings throughout the country to educate and reform. Why? because AA is a bottom-up altruistic movement. That means we as recovered individuals have the responsibility and privilege to uphold and defend all 36 legacies of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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  7. JoeO

    Re: “…self-indulgences and the insistence on having things conform to our liking… How about the next time you have malaria, take a polio drug and see how well it works for you? …if there isn’t a difference in all this stuff, why have special meetings? What’s the point?”

    The necessary difference between A.A. and N.A., for example, is found within the essence of this:
    “…the ex-problem drinker who has found this solution, who is properly armed with facts about himself, can generally win the entire confidence of another alcoholic in a few hours. Until such an understanding is reached, little or nothing can be accomplished.” (page 18)

    Those relevant “facts about himself” have to do with the alcoholic’s phenomenon of physical craving *after* having taken one or more drinks where any physical craving experienced by the addict would be while a given drug other than alcohol is *not* in the bloodstream and the physical body thus begins to crave it. And so, we have this sole difference between A.A. and N.A. because of that:
    “[Dr. Bob] had repeatedly tried spiritual means to resolve his alcoholic dilemma but had failed. But when [Bill W.] gave him Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism and its hopelessness, [Dr. Bob] began to pursue the [very same] spiritual remedy for his malady [that he had already tried more than once and that had since worked for Bill W.] with a willingness he had never before been able to muster… This seemed to prove that one alcoholic could affect another as no nonalcoholic could.” (Foreword to Second Edition)

    As far as the actual solution is concerned, however, there is only one for any human being…and here is how we A.A.s have experienced it is relation to our alcoholism:

    “…we have been not only mentally and physically ill (alcoholic), we have been spiritually sick [and when] the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally (no longer mentally ‘alcoholic’) and physically (ending the on-going physical destruction caused by alcohol even though we do still have the physical allergy that would again begin dragging us right back toward the grave after ever again spiritually-insanely taking just one or two drinks).” (page 64)

    “We, who have recovered from serious drinking, are miracles of mental health (as brought about by spiritual transformation).” (page 133)

    Addicts who have recovered from the insanity of ever again turning to any drug at all for the very same reasons any of us ever took the first drink are identical “miracles of mental health” resulting from the very same solution.

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  8. Richie

    I’m not saying that the addicts solution isn’t any different. I’m just saying that you’re an alcoholic or you’re not. The Doctors Opinion is clear about this in his classification of alcoholics. Regardless of whatever other human aliments we have or don’t have (ie; manic depression, various types of psycho-pathology’s, drug addition, or normal in every respect except in their reaction to alcohol. All these and many others have ONE symptom-phenomenon of craving. That’s what classifies someone as alcoholic. The way Silkworth coaches it is like this; “this sets them apart as a distinct entity from other people”. So basically, you can have 300 other addictions or problems, but if it doesn’t include the phenomenon of craving concerning alcohol, you’re a non-alcoholic. Now yes, some addicts do experience the phenomenon of craving concerning alcohol once they start to drink. That means they are alcoholics and belong in AA. Also, this does mean they can talk about their other problems besides alcohol/alcoholism. It’s like having schizophrenia and going to AA to talk about it on a group level. Sure, we all mention are experiences with various concerns of life when we tell our stories. But these things are mentioned in passing as oppose to my recovery from alcohol through the 12 steps. But many drug addicts that attend AA do not have the physical allergy to alcohol. So alcohol is their drug of choice while their drugs are their drug of no-choice. Perhaps for some addicts, alcohol “triggers” them into their drug of no choice. In that case they would be wise to “not drink”.. But again, it’s them having a choice over alcohol where an alcoholic has no choice whether he will drink or not.
    If we look historically at the Washingtonians Temperance Movement and the Oxford Groups, the reason for their declines were their divergences into multiple agendas above and beyond alcohol reform. Bill and Bob and other early members seeing this, came up with our “primary purpose”. This was a wise move obviously. After almost 8 decades, AA remains.
    When we start welcoming everyone and saying we are all one big happy family, alcoholics and drug addicts alike, we endanger AA’s common welfare.

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  9. Richie

    The first statement in the Big Book that is made just before diving into the second step chapter (We Agnostics) is: “In the preceding chapters you have learned something of Alcoholism. We hope we have made clear the distinction between the alcoholic and the non-alcoholic. Bill wrote a pamphlet in the late ’50s called, “Problems Other Than Alcohol”. It explains this in detail and how it relates not only to our personal recovery, but to the 12 Traditions and Concepts.
    Here’s the link: http://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/P-35_ProOtherThanAlcohol.pdf

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  10. JoeO

    Re: “If we look historically at the Washingtonians Temperance Movement and the Oxford Groups, the reason for their declines were their divergences into multiple agendas… Bill and Bob and other early members seeing this, came up with our ‘primary purpose.’”

    We agree, completely.

    note for clarity for others: A.A. has never been, is not and never will be about alcohol reform. Rather…

    “We are careful never to show intolerance or hatred of drinking as an institution. Experience shows that such an attitude is not helpful to anyone. Every new alcoholic looks for this spirit among us and is immensely relieved when he finds we are not witch-burners. A spirit of intolerance might repel alcoholics whose lives could have been saved, had it not been for such stupidity. We would not even do the cause of temperate drinking any good (if that was even any part of what we do, which it is not), for not one drinker in a thousand likes to be told anything about alcohol by one who hates it.” (page 103)

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