Alcoholics Anonymous is a long-standing organization dedicated to helping people overcome alcohol addiction. Through attending meetings and practicing the 12 Steps, addicts learn to overcome their dependence on alcohol and begin long-term recovery. At the beginning of each meeting, a statement or prayer known as the preamble is spoken aloud by the leader of the meeting. But what does it mean?

What is the AA preamble?

Since its conception in the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped countless people overcome their addiction and dependence on alcohol. Part of the reason that AA is so successful is the routine, structure, and consistency it offers its members, as well as its openness and accessibility. 

Part of the structure and consistency offered stems from how meetings are organized and operate. No matter where you are, each AA meeting will begin with a moment of silence, the Serenity Prayer, and the preamble of AA. 

All are important steps that encourage reflection and dedication, but the preamble sticks out for its seemingly stark message. The 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.”

While on the surface this may appear to be an outline of what AA does and who it is for, the wording has a deeper meaning. Though those who attend meetings may not always absorb this message, reciting it is still a vital part of the AA process.

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Why is the AA preamble important?

The first thing the preamble does is set the expectation for those who attend AA meetings, what is required of them, and what going to AA meetings means for the group and for the individual. However, it is more than just an outlining of requirements and serves a larger purpose that reflects the core principles of AA.

Definition and governance of the community

One of the founding principles of AA is that those who attend help one another through shared experience rather than being lectured or instructed. The opening sentence of the preamble outlines this process;

“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.”

People who are struggling with addiction are more likely to share and reflect if they feel that they are being spoken to on a level similar to their own, from people who know their struggles first hand. This, in turn, helps to open the door to new members and offers those who are reclusive in their addiction, often through fear of persecution, a chance to share their experience without judgment.

Outlines the purpose and goals of AA

Another core principle of AA is that you’re never alone in your addiction. The preamble helps solidify this by stating;

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

Through having a support system and sponsors (a dedicated member of the community who is there to lean on in times of need) members of AA have the power of unity to help self-improvement.

No matter your background, you are welcome at AA

When the AA was first started, its iconic 12 steps were based on religious ideology and symbolism. While the meaning of the steps still remains largely the same, the religious element has been largely dropped in order to accommodate all who are struggling with alcohol addiction. 

“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”

Final thought

Putting all these components of the AA preamble together displays the importance of AA and its principles towards recovery. No matter who you are or how much you are struggling with addiction, AA is open for you to share your experience and learn from other people. 

This is why the preamble is recited at the beginning of every meeting; to remind those present of their commitment to recovery and to their obligation to help their peers.

Step 1 of AA: Admit you are powerless to addiction