The Unauthorized Principles of AA

Cartoon for BlogSo, maybe you know. Maybe you don’t. There are unofficial principles for each one of the steps. I call them unauthorized because AA has not adopted a specific set of principles as part of the “Practicing these principles in all our affairs.” AA has left it ambiguous. I am not a big fan of ambiguity, though. I don’t think many writers or thinkers or alcoholics are.

Here are the principles:

  1. Honesty
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Brotherly Love
  9. Discipline
  10. Perseverance
  11. God Consciousness
  12. Service

I first time I encountered these principles was at a women’s retreat. I remember walking in and somebody saying, “We are focusing on the principles this year. Every meeting will be about three of the principles. The principles for steps 1-3, 4-6, etc.” Sometimes, I wish I could see my face because I am told it is very expressive. While some days I think I am pretty good at hiding my feelings, I’m frequently told I’m not. So, while I’d like to think my face said, “Oh excellent, the principles. I meditate on them quite frequently,” I am sure my face read, “What the hell is she talking about? Damn these woods and their no internet!”

Once the meetings started, though, I became transfixed. The first steps seemed obvious: honesty, hope, faith. But by the time we reached integrity, I was sold. I had never thought of integrity as a principle. In fact, I’m not sure I had thought much about integrity at all. The same with brotherly love. While I knew patience and tolerance had to be my code, seeing it as a principle of my life, one of the twelve dominating themes of my existence, put love for humankind on a much more significant playing field. What was equally startling to me was there was not a single principle that I thought needed editing or revision. Oh, humility is not that important; let’s cross that out and put financial gain.

Since that retreat, the principles have become an integral part of my sobriety. Whenever I am acting out, I think of the corollary principle and know immediately what step I should be working on. When I am being dishonest, then I know I have a Step One issue. If I am in fear, I need to look at my Fourth Step. When I returned to college, perseverance and discipline became my constant companions. Don’t give up. Do what you are supposed to do. Don’t give up. Do what you are supposed to do.

I think this way of looking for answers through the principles may be a bit unorthodox. I am not sure AA traditionalists would approve. But the unofficial principles have revolutionize my recovery. In a world where my brain makes everything so confusing and arduous, the principles have had a way of keeping me focus with just a single word or two.


I would love to hear your comments regarding the principles. Are they a part of your program? If so, how do you use them?


4 thoughts on “The Unauthorized Principles of AA

  1. KB, Kevin, Anne: Thank you for posting your comments. I believe one of the most fascinating aspects of AA is that it attracts a wide range of individuals, all with differing philosophies and ideas. Originally, I had planned to respond to each individually, but after some thought, I think I will just let your comments speak for themselves. I’ve decided I would like my blog to be a space where people are as free to voice their thoughts and beliefs as if they were in a meeting.

    I do wish to say though, that if I gave the impression that the principles were somehow a requirement, I apologize. In a twelve step program in which the steps themselves are mere suggestions, I certainly did not mean to imply that this one particular set of principles was somehow mandatory or necessary.

    As always, I appreciate the thoughtful engagement in my blog. Thank you.


  2. Ann, I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to it. Aligning principals to steps is logical but also a stretch to make it fit and it may limit the full scope that the process brings. So, “unofficial” is ok. I’ve used a lot of unofficial tools in sobriety and I think the spirit of AA encourages it. I’m glad the basics of AA are so simple we can easily be exposed to them in a short time. I want it to stay as simple as possible. Not that you’re suggesting that we put another banner next to the Steps and Traditions or anything like that. My way is to do mini 4th steps, pray, meditate, talk to people, read AA literature, go to meetings …that’s what I learned from them. They said this is what we do. I knew what they meant. It’s bigger than anything I can say. Gratitude is a principal but I don’t know which step it is.


  3. I have a real dislike for the principles. I don’t like putting 1 principle with 1 step…it’s ridiculous. Tell me humility, courage, integrity or honesty aren’t in all 12 steps. To pigeonhole one step to one idea is just silly to me. On one end you are going to say that I can have my higher power be anything I want, but on the other hand the principle behind the step is “hope”. What about the courage it takes to seek out a God of your understanding, or the honesty it takes to say “I don’t identify with the God I was brought up with”. My sobriety is vast and never ending, just like the program, if I continue to seek I will continue to find more knowledge about myself. So please don’t tell me that this is what I get out of working this step, let me see what I get out of it and will continue to learn from it. The most important principle you will find is to freely pass on what you have learned. Just my 2 cents, thanks Ann for making me think this morning.

    Also, and this is what I have heard, the principle were on a coffee mug from a rehab facility in California back in the 50’s. Google says there is no knowledge of their origins. Barefoots world says the same, but he listed 2 other sets of principles he found. His website is as extensive as you can find on the history of AA.


  4. I like what you are saying about when struggling thinking about which principle(s) are applicable and focusing on the corresponding step(s). I think I have to have a working knowledge of the principles in order to try to practice them in all of my affairs. In order to gain that knowledge I need to have some definitions of what they are. I think narrowing them down to one per step in order to ease ambiguity is important to have a starting point, and a base camp moving forward. However, as we know the steps are very dynamic and rich and I must be willing to see what they hold for me and not get too bogged down or focused on any one meaning or definition. If any “traditionalists” have a problem with it then I just hope they have a nice day! I love you Ann, you have a beautiful voice, keep it up!


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