The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, also referred to as Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, is a collection of texts used by members of the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship.
The book has undergone four revisions since William Wilson, also known as Bill W., originally wrote it with Dr. Bob Smith, more commonly known as Dr. Bob, in 1939. The fourth and most recent edition of The Big Book was published in 2001.
It features stories about how alcohol ruined peoples’ lives and how those people recovered from alcoholism. It also includes information about the disease of alcohol addiction, how it’s stigmatized and how individuals can overcome that stigma through fellowship.
The Big Book is most widely known for the 12 Steps listed in chapter four. The book’s authors describe the steps as a suggested program of recovery. The steps are the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Throughout the years, the steps have been adapted to aid individuals in other support groups.
The book is often read at AA meetings and referenced by members of AA.
Popular quotes from The Big Book include:
You can buy The Big Book from several national retailers or directly from the AA General Service Office. A free version of The Big Book is available online at the Alcoholics Anonymous website.
Bill W. and Dr. Bob began discussing the concept of The Big Book after they achieved sobriety. They had developed a program that helped 40 men stay sober, and they believed their system could help others.
In 1938, Bill W. began writing the book. It was published by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1939. The original version of The Big Book included Bill’s story, a description of alcoholism, the 12 Steps, a letter to agnostics and an outline for recovery. The fourth edition includes most of the original content.
Alcoholics Anonymous revised the book several times to ensure that it accurately represents people with alcohol use disorders across the world. Stories are included in the book to help individuals identify with others who have the disease of alcoholism and to encourage them to try the AA program.
Nearly 20 million copies of the third edition entered circulation during the next three decades.
By the time the second edition was published in 1955, about 300,000 copies of the first edition had been sold or distributed. The second edition added appendices, including the 12 traditions of AA and directions for contacting AA. Numerous stories were also added to the second edition, which reached more than 1.1 million people.
The third edition, which added new stories and removed others, was published in 1976. Nearly 20 million copies of that edition entered circulation during the next three decades.
The most recent version of The Big Book was published in 2001. Additions include the 12 concepts of world service, new stories and revisions to old stories. A few stories were also removed.
The fourth edition of The Big Book includes four major sections: a preface and foreword, 11 main chapters, personal stories and appendices.
The preface and foreword describe the history of The Big Book and its role in the Alcoholics Anonymous program. After the foreword is a section called The Doctor’s Opinion, which details the observations and beliefs of Dr. William D. Silkworth.
Silkworth was an alcoholism researcher and treatment provider at the Towns Hospital in New York City. He treated Bill W. and contributed to the foundation upon which Alcoholics Anonymous was built. His letter was added to the first edition of The Big Book to add credibility.
The chapters of The Big Book include:
Three sections of personal stories, beginning with Dr. Bob’s story, follow the 11 chapters.
The three story sections are titled:
The book concludes with seven appendices.
The Big Book’s appendices are titled:
Chapter five may be the most popular section of the book because it includes a list of the 12 Steps. A personal story on page 407 called Acceptance Was The Answer is also well-known among AA membership. Some members of AA never read from The Big Book. Others read it from cover to cover.
The 12 promises of AA begin on page 83 of the fourth edition of The Big Book. The promises are an aspect of step nine, which involves making amends. They detail the impact that making amends will have on the person in recovery from alcoholism.
The 12 promises of AA are:
The promises are usually read at the end of each AA meeting. Many people experience the feelings described in the promises as they work step nine. Others experience the feelings, such as freedom, happiness and loss of fear, while they work other steps in the program.
The AA Tradition is found in the first appendix of The Big Book. A short form of the 12 traditions is listed on page 562, and a long form of the traditions is on pages 563-566.
The 12 Traditions of AA are:
The traditions serve as guidelines for how the organization should function. They are designed to ensure that individuals in recovery from alcoholism can find support from AA.
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Alcoholics Anonymous has published hundreds of pieces of literature, including books, pamphlets, workbooks, guidelines and newsletters. Individual AA groups, intergroups and central offices often publish local newsletters and pamphlets with meeting times and local updates.
Popular AA books include:
Two highly popular publications among AA members include “Back to Basics” and “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” Both resources are widely used to help individuals understand AA and benefit from the 12 Steps.
Bill W. wrote “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” It was published in 1953, about two years before the second edition of The Big Book. The book includes chapters dedicated to each step and tradition. In each chapter, Bill W. describes how a step or tradition applies to recovery. He also discusses how each step and tradition affects the fellowship of AA.
Unlike other popular publications about AA, “Back to Basics” was not published, written or endorsed by AA’s General Service Office. An anonymous author who goes by Wally P. wrote “Back to Basics” to inspire others to follow the steps taken by AA’s founders. The book describes the origins of AA, how the program has changed over time and how AA members can simplify the 12-step program to ensure recovery.
The Big Book is a key resource for individuals in Alcoholics Anonymous. It was written for individuals with alcoholism and people who know alcoholics, such as friends, family members and co-workers. The book teaches people about alcoholism and how AA can help people recover from it.