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Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book: What It’s All About


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Alcoholics Anonymous and recovery go hand in hand. Since the 1930s, A.A. has been the main route to recovery for those suffering from problems with alcohol. In addition, many individuals with substance abuse issues also engage in the 12-Step A.A. program. One of the most important parts of the A.A. program is what is called the A.A. Big Book. 

The Big Book of A.A. contains each of the twelve steps in detail but also many other important tools to help someone get–and stay–sober. The A.A. Big Book has been used by thousands upon thousands of men, women, teens, the old, the young from just about every walk of life to begin their recovery journey. And, the 12-Steps found in this life-saving book, have helped so many get sober, stay sober, and find a life beyond their wildest dreams. 

So what’s so special about this Big Book and the information the pages contain? Well, a lot. It could be arguably said that the A.A. Big Book is the most utilized recovery book to date. And, there’s good reason for it.

The Big Book was first released on April 10, 1939, as a basic text to help people recover from alcoholism. This original text was a collaboration between A.A. founder William Griffin Wilson, also known as Bill Wilson or Bill W., Robert Holbrook Smith, also known as Dr. Bob, and about 100 of the original members of A.A. The Big Book is an all-time bestseller, having sold well over 30 million copies. This book, now in its fourth edition at the time of this article, is printed in more than 70 different languages and, in 2011, was named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential books written in English since 1923. What’s more, in 2012 the Library of Congress designated the Big Book as one of the 88 books that shaped America. 

As you can see, the Big Book has garnered much attention and praise–and it’s well-deserved. Let’s explore more about what is in these 400 pages that helps many in depths of despair to recover and find real peace and happiness. 

Discovering The Big Book 

Unlike most other books, it’s recommended to read the content in the Big Book from cover to cover. This includes not only each of the 11 chapters and personal stories but also the following:

  • Preface
  • Foreword to First Edition
  • Foreword to Second Edition
  • Foreword to Third Edition 
  • Foreword to Fourth Edition
  • The Doctor’s Opinion

In addition to these pages in the beginning of the book, the following seven appendices which come at the end of the book are also widely read and it’s highly suggested that those pages also be read in their entirety. These include the following appendices:

  1. The A.A. Tradition
  2. Spiritual Experience
  3. The Medical View on A.A. 
  4. The Lasker Award
  5. The Religious View on A.A.
  6. How to Get in Touch With A.A.
  7. Twelve Concepts (Short Form)


Each of these sections of the Big Book contain a wealth of information not only about how to get and stay sober, but also vital educational information on what alcoholism really is. These pages, most written in the 1930s, share all of the information the founding members of A.A. thought would be needed to help another alcoholic get sober. Additionally, each of the forewords share updated facts and information about the growing A.A. membership. All of this information is vital to help the sick and suffering alcoholic to recover. 

The 11 chapters of the Big Book are where many consider the 12-Steps to be in the book. Although some think that parts of the first step are contained in the preface, forewords, and first three chapters, the second step in chapter four and steps three through 12 in chapters five through eight. No matter what, these pages contain the exact tools anyone who wants to get sober needs to do just that. Many in the rooms of A.A. say the following, 

“A.A. isn’t for people who need to get sober, it’s for people who want to get sober.” 

As you consider beginning the Big Book or the 12-Steps or joining A.A. this is important to keep in mind. Many people really need to get sober, however, it takes more than the need to make it work. You have to really want to get sober and want to change your life. Being willing to do the work it takes to get sober, including working the 12-Steps if this is your program of choice, is irreplaceable and essential to recovery. While reading the 400+ pages of the Big Book may seem like a lot, you must be willing to go to any lengths including trying to read and understand what’s in the pages of the A.A. Big Book. 

The Big Book chapters are as follows: 

  1. Bill’s Story
  2. There Is A Solution
  3. More About Alcoholism
  4. We Agnostics
  5. How It Works
  6. Into Action
  7. Working With Others
  8. To Wives
  9. The Family Afterward
  10. To Employers
  11. A Vision For You

These chapters total about 150 pages in length and contain what A.A. and many of its faithful members consider to be the best way to get sober and maintain long-term sobriety. Following this section of the book, there are more than 380 pages of Personal Stories. These pages contain the first-hand accounts of 42 different alcoholics stories. These stories include what it was like when they were drinking, what happened to facilitate the change, and what life is like today. 

One of the most popular of these stories is from a physician who was not only an alcoholic but also addicted to prescription pills. His story accounts how his journey in and out of the rooms of A.A. went and how he finally overcame his addictions. In his story, he talks about acceptance and living life on life’s terms. This is often referred to in 12-Step programs; how acceptance and living life on life’s terms is a key to long-term sobriety–and serenity. 

Here is an excerpt;

“Until I could accept my alcoholism I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.” 

This is an important concept to not only understand but to live by in order to stay sober for the long haul. The physician’s story also includes the following: 

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation –some fact of my life–unacceptable to me, and aI can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake.” 

Many an A.A. members have highlighted these words of wisdom and read them time and again during challenges and challenging times. The other personal stories also contain bits of information that are relatable, encouraging, and help to give the reader tools to get and stay sober. 

One item to note is that because the bulk of the content of the Big Book was written in the 1930s it can be a bit challenging to read at first. The nuances in language have changed over the years and some of the wording is something many people have to get used to reading. In addition, much of the language and contents refer to the alcoholic as being male. As we know today, there are almost just as many women who are alcoholics as men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 59% of adult men report drinking alcohol while 47% of adult women report the same. These numbers have been getting closer over the last few years, and what’s important to realize is that alcohol can have a more dire effect on women. Some studies have found that women are far more impacted by alcoholism and at a faster rate than men. For example, a man may be a heavy or binge drinker for 25 years and begin to experience some moderate physical issues as a result. On the other hand, a woman who has only been drinking heavily for five years may experience the same moderate or even severe health complications as a result.

So while the Big Book refers most often to men, it is widely accepted that all of the suggestions for men in the book, also apply unconditionally to women with alcoholism or however someone identifies their sexuality. The only thing needed is the desire to stop drinking. In A.A., it doesn’t matter who you are, how you identify, or where you come from, the 12-Steps work for anyone who’s willing to do the work.

Another important point to note is that the Big Book refers often to a Higher Power or God. While the mention of God may be comforting to some, to others it may be a turnoff. In the Big Book and 12-Step programs, you are asked to believe in a God of your own understanding. A.A. is not religious or affiliated with any religion and the pages of the Big Book aren’t either. 

The Big Book of A.A. has helped so many to finally find the sobriety and peace of mind they’ve been wanting for so long. The 12-Steps and how to execute them are laid out in detail in the pages of this important book. There are many other books that have sprung from the inspiration of these pages and are valuable for recovery as well. If you’re curious about 12-Step programs, the Big Book, or treatment for alcoholism or addiction it’s important to take the first step. You can find an A.A. meeting close to you, order a Big Book, or connect with a rehab center

Most importantly remember you’re not alone. There are others who have been exactly where you are and found strength, support, and hope–and recovery! You can too. Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Contact us online or call us at 866-804-2098.


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