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The Big Book of AA: a lifeline to recovery

The book that introduced the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to the world has
never appeared on any best-seller list. It is not advertised or promoted. And its authors
will never appear on talk shows. Yet this book, now in its fourth edition, has sold over 23 million copies in English and is published in 48 languages.

That book is "Alcoholics Anonymous"--affectionately known to AA members as the "Big Book."

This book was conceived by a small group of recovering alcoholics, most of them in their first year or two of sobriety. Several of them had been diagnosed as hopeless cases. All of them had stopped drinking based on a new understanding of alcoholism.

Flush with success, the group wanted to codify its principles and reach more people. As the foreword to "Alcoholics Anonymous" notes, "to show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book."

Bill Wilson, AA's cofounder, drafted the first 11 chapters in 1938. Bill knew firsthand that alcoholics often excel at finding reasons to avoid telling the truth about their condition. Therefore he decided to lay out suggestions for recovery in a series of numbered steps that left no loopholes.

Step One set the tone: "We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol--that our lives had become unmanageable." The remaining steps spelled out related principles, asking that alcoholics:

Bill expanded on these ideas, weaving them into a narrative of his own recovery that has remained unchanged since the book's first edition and is still widely quoted. This material, supplemented by firsthand accounts of other alcoholics who recovered through AA principles, became the Big Book.

The book's fourth edition, published in 2001, includes 42 stories, edited to reflect the cultural diversity of current AA members. In this form, the book serves as the core text of recovery for over 100,000 AA groups in 150 countries.

Today, everyone who enters treatment at Hazelden gets a copy of the Big Book.

"The thing that's effective about the Big Book is that it focuses on the internal consequences of alcoholism," says Dave Schreck, an addiction counselor at Hazelden in Center City, Minn. "The emphasis is not on the drinker who crashes five cars, loses jobs, and loses a spouse. That's a description that many alcoholics could rationalize away by saying, 'That's not me.' Instead, the book describes the ways that addiction leads people to violate their personal values."

Schreck advises that readers study the Big Book rather than read it casually.

"Most people find that the more they read the Big Book, the more they get out of it. They find things that they didn't see a year ago that are significant to them at this point in their recovery. It's an amazing book that way. You can read it again and find something new that jumps off the page."

You can order a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous online, or call 1-800-328-9000 to speak with a customer service representative.

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