What is the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous?
Originally titled Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism, the first large work released by AA was referred to as “the Big Book of AA” due to the thickness of the pages used in the first edition.
The most notable contribution of the “Big Book of AA” is the methodical presentation of the vaunted “12-Steps of AA”, the cornerstone of the recovery of millions of addicts. The “How it Works” chapter, which contains these steps, has since appeared with minor adjustments in the literature of all other related fellowships such as Narcotics Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous.
The entire Alcoholics Anonymous program stands and falls on the success of the 12-step concept of recovery presented in that chapter. It is hard to conduct scientific studies of the effectiveness of 12-step programs, due to the anonymity factor. However, those studies that have been conducted have conclusively pointed to its usefulness in fostering recovery.
Why does it work?
The 12-step program is based on a belief that addiction is physical, mental, and spiritual. Therefore, all dimensions must be addressed, in order to aid recovery. To achieve this, the 12-step program combines mutually reinforcing mechanisms into one, taking into account the common human need for meaning and social acceptance.
Perhaps the most important factor in the 12-step approach to maintaining long-term recovery is the social support provided through fellowship. Acceptance by other members in the group alleviates the sense of isolation experienced by addicts in a society which judges and stigmatizes them. This is crucial since isolation, shame and desperation are highly associated with relapse.
In addition, the group holds addicts responsible. Perhaps the primary actor in this regard is the sponsor, to whom one can turn for guidance when weakness and temptation prove overwhelming. Finally, the example set by veteran members can be crucial to transforming the desperation of addicts in the early stages of recovery, into hope. Observing first-hand lives put together from the shambles of addiction, with happiness and meaning regained, shows the suffering addict that the 12-steps are not just a dour list on a page, but rather are an attainable roadmap to recovery.
How it Works
“The Big Book of AA” reinforces this process by presenting detailed stories of those who have struggled with addiction. This starts with the first chapter entitled “Bill’s Story,” the story of one of the founders of the organization and his road to recovery. The book includes four further chapters of personal stories.
12-step programs approach the spiritual aspect of addiction by encouraging surrender to a higher power. This takes the need for greater meaning human societies have evinced throughout recorded history. Step 3 involves members making “a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Indeed, the role of a Higher Power in this process is so central, that God is mentioned in 6 out of the 12 steps. By turning spiritual awakening into a process, the program is designed to facilitate a steady and gradual progression. This approach is more likely to bring about long-term and lasting relief than a sudden epiphany,
Though not present in the original version of the book, the 12 traditions of AA, are now reprinted in the appendix of every copy. These are mostly organizational precepts, designed at a time when loosely organized AA groups fell prey to disputes over finances, attitudes towards religion and the issue of publicity. The traditions resolved these issues successfully by stressing that “each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.” Therefore, groups should avoid publicity, avoid taking political stands, be open to varying conceptions of a higher power and remain strictly self-financing – thus avoiding the pitfalls of distraction due to involvement in issues unrelated to recovery. These traditions have protected the immense potential of the 12-step program, from falling prey to organizational dysfunction.
Aside from its function in directly aiding recovery, the book also sought to lessen the stigma surrounding addiction. It contains chapters addressing the most important individuals in the lives of addicts, to assist them in managing fallout related to the malady. Chapters designed to be read by wives, family members and employers identify with the challenges they face and are written from their vantage point. The message the book delivered to non-addicts is one of patience and understanding. Each of these units counters the idea that alcoholism reflects the moral failing of the sufferer, replacing it with the message that addiction is a disease. It encourages the attitude that addicts should be met with an empathetic rather than judgmental attitude.
This effort to reach out to wider society facilitated significant social change in attitudes towards alcoholism and other forms of addiction. 30 Million copies of the book were sold in the decades since the book’s release, consequentially influencing the discourse. In part as a result of the influence of the book and program, the harmful stigma surrounding alcoholism and other forms of addiction significantly diminished. The positive and decisive influence of the “the Big Book of AA” is so widely recognized that the Library of Congress named it one of the 88 “Books that shaped America.” President Richard Nixon, proudly accepted the millionth copy of the “Big Book of AA” in 1973.
Considering its ambitious scope and the manner in which it meets those lofty goals, the contribution of the “Big Book of AA” to improving the lives of addicts and their loved ones, cannot be overestimated. By combining hope and inspiration with structure and support from society and a higher power, the book allows readers to envision, and then attain a future of stability and recovery. Due to its proven utility, the book remains the primary written guide for recovering addicts worldwide more than eighty years after its initial publication.
Where to Purchase the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
The Big Book of AA can typically be purchased at local meetings but it is also available online. Here are a few websites that offer the Big Book for sale: