What Are AA’s 12 Promises?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

Think you have a drinking problem?

If you suspect you might have a drinking problem, don't wait to seek help. Call our hotline now for confidential advice, support, and the first step towards understanding your relationship with alcohol and beginning your journey to recovery.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a prominent organization meant to help people achieve sobriety and recover from alcoholism. AA originally started in 1935 in Akron, Ohio by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. They both wanted to provide alcoholics with an infrastructure for improving their lives. Members of AA go through a 12-step program during recovery, determining their own version of each step and achieving the 12 at their own pace. The members of AA regularly attend meetings where they’re able to discuss their experiences with alcohol addiction and discuss what they’re going through. By talking about the struggle of alcoholism with other people who truly understand, AA members are able to support each other in numerous ways.

The general guidelines and rules of Alcoholics Anonymous are laid out thoroughly in a book called “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.” The text is often referred to as the “Big Book” by members of the group. This well-known book features instructions and explanations for the process of AA as well as success stories from current and former members. There’s also one section of the Big Book known as the AA Promises. These 12 promises are meant to display the many positive things that can derive from actively participating in AA and working your way through the 12-step program. Here, we’ll take a look at these 12 promises and examine the significance of each one.

The 12 Promises

The following 12 promises can all be found in chapter six of Alcohol Anonymous’s Big Book. AA asserts that if anyone struggling with alcoholism recovery completes the 12 steps and remains sober, these promises will come true in their lives.

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness

The first promise is certainly number one for a reason. This extremely important promise signifies the freedom that comes from being free of alcoholism. When you have an addiction, it can feel like every aspect of your life is being held back. It’s almost like you’re constantly walking around with a heavy burden at all times. However, once you’re able to work through the 12 steps and recover from alcoholism, you gain a freedom and happiness that you likely haven’t felt in a long time. For some AA members, the freedom they feel after completing the steps is unlike anything they’ve felt before in life.

When you’re able to get past any serious addiction, it can truly begin to feel like the world is your oyster. Things that you never thought would be possible in your life can suddenly feel attainable. It may be a cliche to claim that you’ll feel like a new person, but it’s undeniably true.

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it

It’s a very common trend for people dealing with addictions to have tumultuous pasts. In many cases, events that have transpired in someone’s earlier life are a large part of why that person leans on alcohol or other substances. However, what this promise signifies is that to recover from alcoholism, you shouldn’t dwell on your past in a negative way. Ultimately, you can never change something that has already happened. And if you spend too much time regretting past mistakes, you’re likely to miss wonderful opportunities in the present. However, this promise doesn’t mean that AA members should forget about their pasts, either.

If you have the right perspective, you can use negative events in your past to the benefit of your recovery and your future. Rather than beating yourself up for things you’ve said or done, take the opportunity to learn from those mistakes. In truth, making mistakes and dealing with the consequences is one of the main ways that personal growth is achieved.

We will comprehend the word serenity

This promise is fairly straightforward and also very important. For many people dealing with alcoholism, finding any sort of calm, meditative state can be extremely challenging. If you’re battling an addiction, you may often find your thoughts racing or you may find yourself pacing around your home. However, as AA members progress through the 12 steps, serenity gradually becomes more attainable. By the time you or a loved one has finished the program, there will be a much greater understanding of what it means to have a calm mind.

We will know peace

The fourth promise in the Big Book is tied in closely with the third. While the third promise is focused on understanding what serenity means, the fourth promise is about actually finding that inner peace. Once the 12 steps are complete, you can regularly find a harmony within yourself that allows you to take life in stride. It’s most certainly a long process to fulfill this promise, but once you’ve succeeded, it can make a huge impact on your life.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others

This promise is especially important for alcoholics who are deeply struggling. The idea is that no matter how dire and miserable your situation may feel to you, you are still useful and capable of making a difference. One thing that’s very important to remember when dealing with an addiction is that you can always use your difficult experiences to help other people. AA encourages finding ways to make the best of your situation and, whenever possible, use it to benefit others who are struggling. In addition to helping others, the challenges you have to overcome can benefit you as well.

The feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear

This promise certainly doesn’t directly follow number five by random chance. While the fifth promise assures AA members that they can use their negative feelings positively, the sixth promise assures them that those negative feelings won’t last forever. It’s very common to feel useless and sorry for yourself when you’re struggling with alcoholism. However, as you complete the 12 steps, those negative feelings will gradually fade. As you make progress in your life and work to put your addiction behind you, you’ll inevitably start to feel much better about yourself and your situation.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows

The seventh promise of the Big Book promises ties in with the community aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous. While addiction is inherently selfish, AA encourages its members to help and support one another rather than focus on themselves. This promise is not just about supporting other AA members; it’s about becoming more selfless in general. One of the 12 steps in AA is about making amends with people you’ve hurt, and this promise goes hand-in-hand with that step. When you have an addiction, you usually hurt the people who care about you in one way or another. But, as you work toward recovery, you will start putting the people you love ahead of yourself and strengthening those connections once again.

Self-seeking will slip away

This simple promise is closely related to promise number seven. As you work through the 12 steps of AA and begin to focus more on other people than yourself, you will naturally become less selfish as a person. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you’re naturally putting the needs of others above your own. That’s the type of person who affects the world positively.

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change

For many alcoholics who are early in the process of recovery, this process can seem too good to be true. When you’re struggling with addiction, the idea of your attitude and outlook drastically changing for the better can feel like an impossibility. However, this promise comes true for those who achieve sobriety and complete the AA steps.

When you have a serious addiction, your whole life tends to revolve around it. So, when you replace that addiction with recovery, it inevitably changes every aspect of your life. Suddenly, your main focus is on bettering yourself, improving your situation, and helping others. As a result, the change eventually carries over to your general attitude and outlook on life.

Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us

For someone who has never gone through addiction, this promise may be difficult to understand. But when you’re in the midst of a serious addiction, two things almost always start to happen at some point. One is that you begin having to lie to people in your life and regularly hide things from them. The second thing is that your financial situation declines. For these reasons, many alcoholics frequently worry about economic problems as well as people finding out about their deceptions or secrets. But when you complete the 12 steps, these burdens tend to melt away. When you’re sober and living a positive life, there’s generally no need to hide things from people. And in most cases, your financial situation gradually (or rapidly) improves as well.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us

When you’re dealing with alcoholism, you can start to feel disconnected from your true self. Addiction can take over every aspect of your life, constantly shaping your thoughts, actions, and desires. As a result, the thoughts, actions, and desires that would be more representative of who you really are become overshadowed. This can lead to confusion, discomfort, and mistakes. Once you’ve progressed through AA, though, the person you really are gets the chance to shine through again. Suddenly, many things in life can start to make sense again, and you can see life with new clarity.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves

When the 12th promise in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions “God,” it’s not necessarily referring to the god of any one specific set of religious beliefs. Instead, it’s referring to whichever higher power you believe in, whether that be a deity described in a holy book or simply the mysterious power of the universe. As for the promise, it simply means that as AA members complete the steps, they’ll begin to accept that they don’t have control over everything that happens. In that realization, they’re giving in to the idea of being guided by something bigger than themselves.

Why Are the Promises Important?

In short, the 12 promises of AA’s Big Book are important because of how challenging it can be to achieve sobriety. Successfully completing the 12 steps can be a bumpy ride. At times, members of the program may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or even hopeless. What these promises do is help remind them of what they’re working toward. By offering these 12 tenants of a more fulfilling life, the promises are ensuring anyone with alcoholism that the difficulties are always worth pushing through.

Remember That There’s Always Hope

If you or someone you care about is suffering from alcoholism, never forget that there is help available. Joining Alcoholics Anonymous is one of several great options for moving past alcoholism and achieving sobriety. Being entirely sober is not a requirement for becoming an AA member. As long as you have the desire to stop drinking, the program will be happy to assist you in your journey toward recovery. No matter how dark things may seem for you or your loved one, there is always hope for a brighter future. You just have to be willing to commit yourself to improving your life; once you’ve done that, the sky’s the limit.

Concerned About Your Drinking?

We Can Help!

Understanding your relationship with alcohol is the first step towards making informed decisions about your health and well-being. Whether you’re questioning your drinking habits or seeking support, we’re here to help.