Alcoholics Anonymous Singleness of Purpose

Submitted by on Friday, November 7, 20142 Comments

What is the Singleness of Purpose in A.A. ?

Alcoholics Anonymous Singlenss of Purpose - SamsaraIt’s pretty straightforward as to what the Singleness of Purpose is, as it pertains to Alcoholics Anonymous but alcoholics and addicts can sometimes confuse things or remain confused based on what they see or hear in meetings. So let’s go to the A.A. Traditions and see what’s what.

Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Traditions

Singleness of Purpose Clues

1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Dualness of Purpose Confusion

But believe it or not, the Singleness of Purpose within Alcoholics Anonymous has still caused quite the internal confusion. I’ve heard people say – before or after attendance of an A.A. meeting in which they introduced themselves as ‘an alcoholic’ say, “I have no problem with alcohol. I’m here for drugs.”

I’ve had addicts ask me to sponsor them telling me that yes they were alcoholic as well. This may be true but they’re either not physically sober in the first place since they’re using pills (and lying about it) OR they’re going to say they’re alcoholic when their issue is drugs and they’ve heard terms like “alcohol in solid form.”

I found this that could explain why:

Speaking on “A.A.’s Singleness of Purpose in a Multifaceted Environment,” trustee chair Elaine McDowell said that “it is commonly believed by many professionals that ‘a drug is a drug’ and, therefore, regardless of the substance used, clients will benefit from attending A.A. meetings. This thinking is often carried over into practice by referrals to A.A. of individuals who suffer from problems other than alcoholism.” But then she goes on to say that co-founder Bill Wilson spelled it out the necessity of the Singleness of Purpose in the 1958 Grapevine. ~ About AA – A Newsletter for Professionals (Singleness of Purpose), Fall/Winter 2002

Drug Addict Bleed-Through

I, myself, have seen it in movies and television series, that when someone is an Addict getting help, there will inevitably be a scene with the AA symbol and the Steps on the wall as they’re holding hands and performing the Serenity Prayer. I will hear them speak of their ‘using’ and their dark tales of what it took for them to get fixed. Sometimes the show will even go so far as to mention specifically, “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

I am not saying this is right or wrong and for all I know the fictitious group is called “All 12 Steps in the World Anonymous.” I am saying I think this is how the confusion is reinforced. But to be fair, I have to say I am grateful for these same shows de-stigmatizing A.A and showing sometimes what it is like. I do enjoy that part.

Meantime, it’s been made clear that Alcoholics Anonymous is not for EVERY addiction. As I have addressed in prior articles, the Doctor’s Opinion cannot apply to non-Alcoholics. And in this case, the phenomenon of craving for when a person picks up the drink is not activated. This means Alcoholics Anonymous Pamphlet - Problems other than Alcoholthey have no problem with Alcohol. This means they are not a member. And not because I say so, but the 3rd Tradition: “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.”

So that for the person who is an Addict and comes to A.A., this person is not a member of A.A. despite their attendance at Closed Meetings and despite their calling themselves Alcoholic.

As some A.A. humorists have said, “Alcoholics can turn simple into complicated,” and as I have said, “An Addict who wants her way, will find more loopholes than a tax attorney.” So let me make a simple list as to who should not be led to believe they are A.A. Members:

Samsara’s Deductive Reasoning List of People Who Are Not A.A. Members:

  1. Anyone who has no desire to stop drinking.
  2. Anyone who has no problem with alcohol.
  3. Anyone who thinks they have no problem with alcohol.
  4. Anyone who does not claim membership to A.A.
  5. Anyone who desires to stay altered, not sober.

Specific Explanations of the List

Skip this if the above list is clear to you. Keep reading if confused, hopefully to ameliorate any confusion.

1.) Anyone who has no desire to stop drinking. Via Tradition #3, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking alcohol. This is a requirement for membership, this desire. If you lack this desire – for whatever reason – you are not a member. I remember during my still-a-newcomer relapse as I sat at the Sports Bar telling people I was a member of A.A. while getting my buzz on. I was, however, to be specific, not a member at that point. My desire to be sober was usurped by my desire to have a buzz on. When I went back to A.A., sober, my desire was back and I was again a ‘member.’  If you have a desire to stop using drugs, this does not make you a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

2.) Anyone who has no problem with alcohol. I know several people who can have a beer, wine cooler, glass of wine, or drink of liquor and stop. I know several Addicts who will take alcohol (if offered) and then stop. I have never seen an Addict seek out alcohol. I have heard self-proclaimed ‘Dual Addict/Alcoholics’ say that alcohol is the means to their end, but for Alcoholics it’s the end.

Also, a person who has never had a drink of alcohol fits this exclusionary criterion. Please forgive my saying that since this does seem to be common sense. But I have to say it because unless you’ve dealt with certain Minds, you’ve no idea… When I was cult-napped due to my own drinking and my parents didn’t know what else to do with me, this place had the parents and certain other kids who’d never had a drink (or a drug for that matter) convinced they were drug-addicts and/or alcoholics in the making. This is why the term “dry drunk” throws me over, as well as “alcoholic personality.”

3.) Anyone who thinks they have no problem with alcohol. My Mom had a problem with my Dad’s drinking. (I suggested Al-Anon but she didn’t think she needed to take time out of her life for his behaviors.) My Dad had no problem with his drinking. So as my Mom raged, Dad kept drinking (and probably whistling a tune as he did it). Had, by some miracle of fate, my Dad actually came inside to one of my A.A. meetings, as opposed to just dropping me off or picking me up, he still wouldn’t have been a member of A.A. He fits into my List in a multitude of ways; By virtue of #1, #3, #4, and #5.

Later, he would confide to me he did have a problem with alcohol and knew it. So he was included into membership by an exclusion of #3, but still excluded due to #1 – had no desire to stop drinking, #4 – did not claim membership to A.A., and # 5 – desired to stay altered (by virtue of the fact he kept drinking).

4.) Anyone who does not claim membership to A.A. Since the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking, if I stop drinking, this does not automagically turn me into an A.A. Member even though I meet the requirement. (I know. Please bear with me if you knew my List was self-explanatory but kept reading anyway. Truly, the confusion is rampant when you take into account the alcoholic or the drug-addled brain.) Back when I got sober without A.A., I wasn’t a member of A.A. because I didn’t go to meetings. If I don’t go to meetings or know anything about the 12 Steps – despite sobriety – how can I be a member?

On the other hand, if I go to A.A. and am sober also and meet all other List Criterion EXCEPT for #4, I am STILL not a member. Yes, I can go to A.A. every single day and still claim “I am not an Alcoholics Anonymous member,” to whoever I want to claim it to. Why? Because A.A. can also stand for A.wesome A.narchy. We have no rosters to fill out, no government reporting agency, nothing at all. If we meet the requirement, we’re a member when we say we are; to ourselves, to our family, to whomever.

5.) Anyone who desires to stay altered, not sober. This is a rephrasing of #1, yes. Like #1’s explanation of when I was getting my buzz on at the Sports Bar, I lost the desire to not drink because here I was, drinking. It sounds self-evident in this context, lest we A.A. Members begin serving alcohol instead of coffee at our meetings. But #5, goes further in case people associate ‘sober’ with alcohol-free while looking for the loophole in thinking “I’m alcohol-free so I am sober.” If there is no physical sobriety, there is no sobriety.

Please also notice that this particular criterion does not say, “Anyone who is on a mind-altering substance.”

Example 1: A friend of mine did not lose her status as an “A.A. Member” and also did not dilute the Singleness of Purpose during her attendance at meetings when she was prescribed narcotics. She had no desire to stay altered; Her desire was still for sobriety as evinced by her using them for their intent and then stopping. May be another difference between alcoholics and addicts; Ease in which alcoholics can stop the drugs when it’s time.

Example 2: When I had surgery and welcomed the sweet relief of the Percocets, I still attended meetings and was altered and was still a member of Alcoholics Anonymous because I specifically had no such desire to stay altered. I did keep my mouth closed in the meeting and not because I felt like I’d talk from my ass but because I was high and that’s my line. I WAS NOT currently sober and I honor sobriety and those in attendance to the extent that I am not going to share while high. I don’t want you to hear from me on how to stay sober when I’m not sober. It makes no sense.

Example 3: Some years ago I was drinking coffee outside an establishment on the deck while watching a band. I was there with someone who was having a great time drinking and socializing. It was only a matter of time when the guys she was fraternizing / partying with began asking me why I wasn’t drinking. It was a party atmosphere so I had no problem telling them I preferred coffee and “No thanks. I don’t drink.” We were there a couple of hours and went home. Driving home I started to feel funny. By the time we arrived home I had to blink my eyes several times to try to clear my head. “Oh my God! I was drugged!” I lost my noodle. I still don’t know if someone snuck clear alcohol in my coffee when I went to the bathroom or if it was something else. To the obvious point, I may have been altered but again, I had no such desire to get much less stay altered.

Example 4: Members of A.A. who get really sick and are terminally in pain, say, from cancer; Who in their right mind wouldn’t consider them A.A. Members or disallow them to share their woes while sick in an A.A. meeting? In fact, seems the battle for comfort would trump any enticement of “sobriety” at this point. A friend of mine – who has since passed due to cancer – was in a meeting and I was sad to hear her tale of trying to not take the drugs for her comfort. It’s like we’ve gotten so anti-drug in the face of Addicts incorporating themselves into meetings that we’ve forgotten common sense to the point that our very lives and survival are being compromised. I love my friend and I am sure she’d be grateful that I mentioned her small story here.

There are so many more stories and examples I could offer and these are precisely the loopholes that Addicts use to try to hide out in A.A., but the point is that the Singleness of Purpose needs to be the Group’s most important guiding force if we are to help alcoholics and help ourselves.

Why should A.A. groups abide the Singleness of Purpose?

I used to attend a group that called itself an A.A. Group. It was fine to introduce yourself as an addict, encourage the sharing of addicts and share your story on being an addict; And all under the assumption that the Addict was a member.

People talked about their crack, their meth, and how best to control their Ambien. I heard dispensing of advice on depression, whether you should or should not take anti-depressants and how pot maintenance was working for some people. Watching people nodding in and out in their drug-induced stupor was not unusual. It was a sight.

And I thought that if I could just hold the Traditions to my own Recovery, things would eventually work out and I could find my footing. I was wrong and I never found it in that Group that called itself an A.A. Group but wasn’t. I can only imagine had I been a newcomer to hear how the nurse used to shoot herself up in the bathroom stall.

If Alcoholics Anonymous, of all places, isn’t conducive to Alcoholics or how to recover from alcoholism, where does the Alcoholic go?

The drug addict can go to Narcotics Anonymous, but where does the alcoholic go? In my case, I headed to N.A., after discovering every third person in my A.A. Group was sharing while high, sponsoring while high, and living while high while telling others how to get sober. I am forever grateful to Narcotics Anonymous for taking me in under their umbrella of their particular preamble which did state, “…and alcohol is a drug!” I saw the most wonderful people honestly facing their addictions and their struggles and their empathy for my situation was astonishing.

This is why I can’t help but to think that Addicts-Not-Really-Wanting-Sobriety find themselves in A.A. Meetings.

  1. Addicts cannot hide from other Addicts.
  2. Alcoholics are not usually privy to drug addiction.
  3. Alcoholics are confused on the Singleness of Purpose.

This is why Groups, calling themselves A.A. Groups should abide the Singleness of Purpose.

“Sobriety— freedom from alcohol —through the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps, is the sole purpose of an A.A. group. Groups have repeatedly tried other activities, and they have always failed. It has also been learned that there is no possible way to make non-alcoholics into A.A. members. We have to confine our A.A. groups to a single purpose. If we don’t stick to these principles, we shall almost certainly collapse. And if we collapse, we cannot help anyone.” ~ A.A. Co-Founder Bill Wilson (February 1958 – Grapevine)

Alcoholics Anonymous Singleness of Purpose



  • Art said:

    We had an issue recently about our primary purpose in my area. There was a sober softball game being held. Flyers were made, sponsored by a homegroup but there was no meeting taking place at the softball game. I argued that it was not an AA event that the outing should not be announced during meetings, and it should be taken off of our area AA website under the events section. We are still debating the issue at our GSR meetings. I have also involved the District as we move forward. Any thoughts or suggested readings?

  • Samsara (author) said:

    Hi Art.

    I’ve re-read your paragraph several times and have asked other A.A.’s because I think I’ve read it too often. Here are the thoughts.

    1.) If it’s an A.A. Group getting together for an event called Sober Softball, like a group’s Founders Day event (for example) in which fellow A.A.’s fellowship, eat, and mill about, it’s about A.A. members coming together to fellowship.

    2.) However, if it’s a Sober Softball (not an A.A. Group’s Sober Softball), and they’re making flyers or buying their uniforms or providing refreshments, that’s an outside enterprise they’re paying for. Are they trying to combine sober NA/AA/CA’s here?

    Tradition 6 – An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

    If #2 is the case, announcing it at meetings or tacking it on the A.A. Board seems to be expressing an opinion on this outside(of A.A.)issue. [Tradition 10 – Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues.]

    I hope this has been somewhat helpful and that I seemed to have understood what you were saying.

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