Alcoholics Anonymous has had a large presence in recovery communities since it was founded in 1935. One of the main reasons is that group meetings are standardized and consistent. No matter where you go, every meeting is run using the same guidelines, and every meeting starts the same way: a moment of silence, the Serenity Prayer and the preamble of AA.
Most people in group meetings don’t necessarily take the time to internalize every word of the AA preamble every time they hear it or recite it. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an impact.
In this piece, we’ll break down the preamble and talk about how it shapes the foundation of AA meetings — and meetings of other 12-step groups — and unites people in recovery.
The AA preamble reads 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.”
The preamble ensures that everyone who attends AA meetings can understand the expectations of their attendance. But this two-paragraph creed plays a larger role than purely a description of AA.
Here’s a section-by-section breakdown of the preamble that illustrates its higher purpose and impact on those in recovery:
It Defines and Governs the Community of Members
The preamble of Alcoholics Anonymous starts, “Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other…”
This tells us who the group is for but also provides one of the core ways meetings are conducted. (This is different than the many in-group sayings and points of etiquette one is likely to hear during meetings.) It focuses on reminding members that AA meetings revolve around sharing your experiences.
This is important for a few reasons. First, because AA encourages people to have an open mind and communicate via sharing experiences rather than giving lectures. People struggling with addiction are more likely to take what another person says to heart if it’s part of a shared experience.
This denial of outside help is one of the main barriers people (especially men) face when the prospect of getting help is brought up, and AA meetings aim to make sure members are in a place where they’re accepting of help and advice.
It also sets an expectation that if you attend a meeting, you should share — or that you’ll get the most benefit out of sharing your own story. Sharing is a way to release a lot of pent-up emotions, stress and frustration, but you should share for more than just your own benefit. When you tell your story in an AA group, you never know who’s going to be helped by hearing it.
It Defines the Purpose and Goals of AA
The preamble serves as a mission statement for every meeting and the identity of the group as a whole. It continues, “…share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.”
This clearly states the mission of every meeting: to serve a collective goal of helping members recover from their struggles with alcoholism.
This hints at one of the core values of AA: You’re never alone. As many veterans of AA will tell you, “working the 12 Steps” isn’t something easily accomplished without the help of a sponsor and a support system. As such, the preamble provides the basis for a group that leans heavily on fellowship as a driver for self-improvement.
It Welcomes New Members, Regardless of Background
The second paragraph of the preamble is a statement about the openness of the organization. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and a core value of AA is that it doesn’t either.
It starts, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” This means that the thing you need to take value away from the 12 steps of AA is the willingness to take the first one.
The preamble goes on to say, “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 part is a testament to the openness of the group. It communicates that membership in AA doesn’t discriminate on the grounds of race, class, religion, politics, gender or any other demographic factor. This kind of openness helps new members feel welcome, whether they’re new to a specific group in a certain location or new to Alcoholics Anonymous in general.
What Should We Take Away from the AA Preamble?
Understanding the AA preamble means putting it all together. When we look at it as a whole, the importance of AA to people in recovery becomes clearer. It’s a group, open to everyone, that focuses on fellowship and shared experiences to serve the common and collective goal of recovery from addiction.
Because it’s recited at the beginning of every meeting, the preamble of AA serves as a reminder to members — whether it’s acknowledged every time or not — of their commitment to their own journey and to their peers.
12-Step Integration at FHE Health
We offer 12-step programs as part of our recovery curriculum, because we’ve seen the value that groups like AA can offer to people in recovery.
It provides structure that people need in their life when they have a history of abusing drugs and alcohol. It ensures rehab alumni that no matter where their life takes them, they’re never far away from a familiar type of meeting — a place that feels like home, regardless of their history or situation.