Do the Twelve Traditions prohibit advertising A.A. meetings?

When the Big Book was published in April of 1939, the world was at war, telephone numbers had words in them, very few people had televisions, less than forty percent of US households had telephones, and most rural homes were without electricity.

At that time, alcoholism was viewed as a moral deficiency, not a disease. Drunks were people who drank themselves to death on skid row, or locked away in asylums, and it was their own fault.

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) changed the way that alcohol addiction was viewed throughout the United States, and later the world.

Today, A.A. is known as a member-operated, mutual support group and recovery program for people addicted to alcohol.

I have heard objections to advertising the dates and place of A.A. meetings, citing the organization's policies against advertising.

The last two of the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous speak of the importance of anonymity, and Tradition Eleven specifically calls attention to the desirability of attraction rather than promotion, and the need to maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. We'll get back to that later.

A.A.'s original objection to advertising was due to the fact that they were yet too small to handle too large of a crowd.

Interestingly, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous didn't intend for A.A. to be a non-profit. When Bill W., Dr. Bob, and others first decided to launch the program, they hoped for it to become a for-profit institution, with a large team of paid missionaries and a national chain of alcohol treatment centers for alcoholics.

As the Rockefeller family was known, at that time, for philanthropy, having funded schools, libraries, and medical research, the A.A. team approached the Rockefellers for start-up funding, and were able to arrange a meeting with Nelson Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller's son.

The meeting took place on December 13, 1937.

Representing the A.A. group w
ere Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob Smith, Hank Parkhurst, Fitz Mayo, Paul Stanley, Bill Ruddell, Joe Taylor, and Ned Pointer, a group who had been sober anywhere from just under three years to just a few weeks. They were also accompanied by a couple of doctors who were familiar with their work.

Originally, they had considered asking for from $75,000 to $100,000 to pay for the costs of the organization's first hospital, as well as an annual stipend for expenses. Before the request was formally made, they had pared it down to $50,000.

During the meeting, Nelson Rockefeller expressed his concern that money would get in the way of the good work the group was doing. His stated opinion was that A.A.'s message would be the strongest when passed directly from one alcoholic to another, out of goodwill rather than financial gain.

Following the meeting, after several correspondences, the Rockefellers agreed only to a one-time contribution of $5,000, and even that was to be funneled through a church and not made out directly to the organization.

Rather than giving in to defeat, the group (or some of them, at least) went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous, pretty much as we know it today, although changes have been made from time to time.

Two of the Twelve Traditions of A.A. address anonymity. The Eleventh Tradition states that its public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion, and the Twelfth Tradition holds that anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all of its Traditions.

Does this mean that A.A. meeting locations and times should not be published in the newspaper or on signs outside of the building in which the meeting is to be held?

The published A.A. Guidelines speak of the importance of distributing A.A. literature and giving talks to clergy, health care providers, lawyers, and teachers, and provides guidance in how these meetings should be carried out, including the need for personal anonymity at the public level.

The Guidelines also address informational meetings open to the public, staffing A.A. booths at health fairs and other events. The organization publishes literature to be distributed to the public and made available in libraries.

The official A.A. Guidelines on Public Information recommend taking advantage of opportunities for public service announcements on local radio and television stations.

It is particularly noteworthy that the official guidelines of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests placing cards or signs in offices, police stations, sheriff's offices, hospitals, county infirmaries, and hotels that include the times and places of nearby meetings.

Although the Yellow Pages are pretty much nonexistent today, the Guidelines suggest listings in the Yellow Pages offering information on local meeting dates and places, and among the goals of a district public information committee are:

6. List open A.A. meetings in newspapers and community websites in the district.
7. Place a small (paid if necessary) announcement in every district newspaper around the holidays.
8. Work with the newspapers -- generating interest in our Fellowship.
9. Respond to speaking requests at non-A.A. meetings in the district.
10. Place Public Service Announcements with radio and television stations.
11. Put meeting schedules behind the front desks at every hotel, motel, and bed and breakfast.

The Alcoholics Resource Center, a service of Alcoholics Anonymous lists meetings by city. The listings for Maine can be found here.

How can that be if two of the Twelve Traditions prohibit advertising?

The answer to that question, of course, is that the Twelve Traditions do not prohibit listing meeting locations and times in the newspaper or on a sign outside of the building.

The Long Form of Tradition Eleven and Tradition Twelve read as follows:

Eleven--Our relations with the general public should be characterized by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.

Twelve--And finally, we of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the principle of anonymity has an immense spiritual significance. It reminds us that we are to place principles before personalities; that we are actually to practice a genuine humility. This to the end that our great blessings may never spoil us; that we shall forever live in thankful contemplation of Him who presides over us all.

There it is. The Twelve Traditions speak to the importance of personal anonymity, and of avoiding sensational advertising. They say nothing of keeping the locations and times of A.A. meetings a secret, available only to those who already know about them.

That said, Pir2Peer Recovery Community Center does not operate these meetings. We simply provide space for them to be held. In the normal course of what we do, we would post meeting times and dates on our website, on a sign outside of the building, on our Facebook page, and in the local newspaper, so that those who are in need of a meeting will be able to find one.

But it's your show, not ours. If there are objections to advertising the dates and times of a meeting, we would certainly honor them.

Since its founding more than eighty years ago, Alcoholics Anonymous has been one of the best-known recovery programs for people addicted to alcohol, and its 12-step program has served as the model for many other mutual-support programs.

A.A. offers a support system for overcoming addiction to alcohol. Its model focuses on encouraging members to realize how their drinking hurts themselves and the people around them. A.A. meetings offer the opportunity for those in recovery to discuss sobriety issues in a confidential setting that promotes personal responsibility and improved coping skills.

Contributing Texts:
  • Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A brief History of A.A., published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.
  • Writing the Big Book: The Creation of A.A., by William H. Schaberg, and published by Central Recovery Press