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Summary: Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book – Concepts and Stories of Recovery From Alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous (1939) or as it is often known, the Big Book, the Basic Text for Alcoholics Anonymous was first published in 1939 and is now on its fourth edition (2001) and its 31st printing. It’s the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous and has helped countless alcoholics recover. It details a method to beat alcoholism and provides guidance to alcoholics, their families, and their employers. It also includes personal stories of former alcoholics to inspire those seeking recovery.

Introduction: Discover the Alcoholics Anonymous way to sobriety

Bill Wilson was one of the cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was an alcoholic but beat his addiction to go on to live in sobriety. His story isn’t unique and he wasn’t the first alcoholic, but he was perhaps the first to share his story in a form that was accessible to others to help them in their own struggles.

His 12 recovery steps have become the bedrock of a system that has helped countless people since Alcoholics Anonymous, or, as it is commonly referred to, The Big Book, was published in 1939.

In this summary, we’ll share with you Bill’s story of alcoholism, what alcoholism is, and the 12 steps to recovery. We’ll also provide some guidance to spouses, families, and employers of those unable to control alcohol in their lives.

Throughout this summary, we’ll often use you to indicate someone who can’t control alcohol.

Let’s begin with Bill’s story.

Book Summary: Alcoholics Anonymous - The Big Book - Concepts and Stories of Recovery From Alcoholism

Bill’s story

As a new young officer, Bill is assigned to a town in New England where he’s hailed as a hero. It’s here that he discovers alcohol for the first time – ignoring warnings from his family. Soon, he sails for Europe to fight in the First World War. He’s lonely so he turns to alcohol for solace.

After the war, Bill studies law and becomes an investigator. He’s 22 and optimistic about his future. But he nearly fails his final law exams because he’s too drunk to think and write.

Bill realizes that law isn’t his true calling and becomes more and more interested in Wall Street and the stock market. He has some initial success but alcohol grows to become an important part of his life resulting in him experiencing morning jitters.

When the stock market crashes in October 1929 it leads to financial ruin, but Bill doesn’t despair. He finds himself back in a bar and as he drinks, he feels determined to win again.

Bill and his wife relocate to Montreal. Bill has a rich friend there and soon he’s living his old life again. But the drinking soon catches up with him and his friend “lets him go.” The couple is broke.

They then move in with Bill’s wife’s parents. Bill gets a job and promptly loses it after drunkenly fighting with a taxi driver. He then goes through five years of unemployment while his wife, working in a department store, comes home each day to find him drunk. Gin and beer become his morning routine, despite continuing to experience morning shakes.

He manages to have some periods of sobriety, which instills some hope in his wife. But his binges eventually worsen and come to sabotage any hopes at new opportunities. It begins to dawn on Bill that even one drink is one too many. To not fall into any new binges, he realizes he has to give up drinking completely. Despite this realization though, he still continues to have relapses, and keeps telling himself he will do better next time. This cycle continues for two more years.

His brother-in-law, a physician, arranges for Bill’s admission to a rehabilitation institution. As his mind clears, Bill recognizes the physical and mental toll his illness is having. This self-knowledge, he believes, must be the answer. But it’s not.

Bill soon returns to hospital where the doctors inform his wife that he may die from heart failure or develop a “wet brain” within a year. Bill realizes that alcohol has become his master. Although his fear keeps him sober, it’s only for a short while.

One evening, Bill is sitting in his kitchen contemplating whether he has enough gin to last him through the night when he gets a call from an old school friend who’s now sober. Bill invites him over expecting a drinking session. But his friend reveals that he’s found religion and shares some practical steps that have helped him overcome his alcoholism.

Although Bill had rejected religion, he still believes in a higher power. His friend advises Bill to conceive his “own conception of God.” This revelation prompts Bill to surrender to a power higher than himself and acknowledge his powerlessness over alcohol. He resolves to place himself in God’s care and direction and faces his problems with the help of his friend.

Through this exercise, Bill finally achieves sobriety and never drinks again. From this transformative experience, Bill and his wife dedicate themselves to helping others and establish a fellowship of friends, which goes on to lay the groundwork for Alcoholics Anonymous for years to come.

In January 1971, Bill passed away leaving behind a legacy of recovery and support for those struggling with alcoholism.

What is alcoholism and what is the solution?

Bill’s struggle is similar to that of countless people who once felt like him but have also recovered. There’s nothing special about them; they’re average people from all sectors of life. But there’s a fellowship and understanding that binds them. The key to their unity is the common solution they’ve discovered.

But first we need to consider exactly what alcoholism is.

Moderate drinkers don’t have a problem with alcohol; they can take it or leave it. Hard drinkers may injure themselves physically and mentally and may die earlier than otherwise. Such people can also stop altogether or become moderate drinkers – although it may be difficult.

Alcoholics may start out as moderate drinkers. They may become continual hard drinkers. But somewhere along the line, they lose control of their alcohol consumption once they start to drink.

Alcoholism is considered an illness that affects not only the individual but also those around them. Unlike other diseases, alcoholism leads to the destruction of valuable aspects of life, causing misunderstandings, resentment, financial instability, and damaged relationships. The alcoholic’s condition often makes them unapproachable, even to psychiatrists and doctors. But someone who’s found the solution and armed themselves with self-knowledge can help another alcoholic gain confidence and trust. While eliminating drinking is a significant step, AA believes that demonstrating their principles in daily life and helping others without judgment and personal gain is equally important.

Although some drinkers can control or quit drinking with relative ease, real alcoholics can’t. They lose all control once they start drinking and often behave absurdly, unpredictably, and even dangerously. They may possess great potential and talents but repeatedly sabotage themselves due to their alcoholism.

Many people are reluctant to admit that they’re true alcoholics and as a consequence try to prove that they’re like everyone else. They have a persistent illusion that one day they’ll be able to control their drinking. This can be a powerful obsession.

The only road to recovery is through the realization that you’re not like everyone else; you’re an alcoholic. You’ve lost the ability to control your drinking. No true alcoholic ever regains control. You may have brief moments when you think you have gained control, but these are often followed by periods of even less control. Over time, you only get worse, never better.

Consider the case of one man who had been drinking excessively to counter his struggle with nervousness. He realized that his drinking was hindering his business success so he made a firm decision to stop until he’d achieved his goals. Remarkably, he did just that – for 25 years. Once retired, he believed that his self-discipline would then allow him to drink like anyone else. But he soon found himself back in the grip of alcoholism and ended up in hospital within two months. Despite attempts to regulate himself and seek treatment, he succumbed to the illness and was dead within four years.

His case serves to demonstrate that although you may be able to stay sober for an extended period, it doesn’t mean that after that you’ll be able to drink normally. As they say, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. So don’t start drinking again after a period of sobriety as it’ll eventually bring you to the same destructive state. If you truly want to stop drinking you must do so without any reservations or hope of future immunity to alcohol.

An alcoholic often has no effective defense of their own against the first drink, and neither can another human help them. It’s at this point that they must rely on a “higher power.”

Now, the idea of a higher power might seem impossible to the atheists and agnostics amongst us, but continuing on the same path we’re on will be disastrous. Take comfort in the fact that many people have already navigated this challenge and have eventually recognized the need for a spiritual foundation in their lives. Relying solely on their morals or philosophy wasn’t enough to overcome their alcoholism.

If you’re having difficulty with the concept of God or a supreme being, remember that you don’t have to accept someone else’s idea of what that might be. You can use your own understanding – however limited or expansive it is – to find power and guidance. Be open-minded. Believe in a power greater than you and begin your spiritual growth to find a solution to your alcoholism.

The 12-step recovery program

Failures with the 12-step recovery program are rare. When someone fails it’s usually because they won’t fully commit to the program and are unable to be honest with themselves. Some people think there’s an easier way, but most can’t find one. So be fearless and let go completely.

With that in mind, these are the suggested 12 steps to recovery. Don’t be put off by this list. You may not be able to adhere to these principles perfectly just as many others before you, but your goal is spiritual progress, not perfection.

So here are the steps:

One. Admit you’re powerless over alcohol and your life has become unmanageable.

Two. Believe that a power greater than you can restore you to sanity.

We’ve already covered these first two steps in the previous section. If you’re following the plan, you’ll need to be clear that you are an alcoholic, and that you recognize the need for a higher power to help you recover.

Three. Turn your will and your life to the care of God as you understand God.

What does this mean? In essence, it means surrendering yourself to God and removing your selfishness from everything you do. Become less interested in yourself and lose your fear of today, tomorrow, and the hereafter.

Four. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.

You can do this by conducting an honest examination of your flaws and their causes. Resentment, for example, is the number one offender. Write your flaws down. List the people or institutions toward whom you feel anger. What has been affected by this? Think about where you might have been wrong and admit your own mistakes honestly.

The next steps follow from your inventory or are of a personal spiritual nature.

Five. Admit to yourself, to God, and to another human the exact nature of your wrongs.

Six. Be ready to have God remove your character defects.

Seven. Ask God to remove your shortcomings.

Eight. Make a list of everyone you’ve harmed and become willing to make amends to them.

Nine. Where possible, make direct amends to those people, except when you might cause them more harm or harm to others.

Ten. Continue to take a personal inventory, and when you’re wrong, promptly admit it.

Eleven. Seek to improve your contact with God as you understand God through prayer and meditation, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for you and the power to carry it out.

And finally, Twelve. Having had a spiritual awakening through these steps, carry this message to others.

You can offer unique help and support to fellow alcoholics. By engaging with newcomers and fostering connections within a fellowship, you can experience the transformative power of watching people recover and witnessing the growth of a supportive community.

Advice for spouses and families

The consequences of alcoholism don’t stop with the alcoholic but affect those around them – spouses, mothers, fathers, children, and friends.

Spouses in particular are encouraged to meet with other spouses to share experience and advice with others whose loved ones are alcoholics. Spouses face many struggles including fear, resentment, and self-pity. They may also question their own judgment in choosing such a partner and wonder why their partner can’t see the consequences of their alcoholism. They may also try various strategies from sympathy to anger to seeking help or running away.

It’s important to recognize that alcoholism is an illness, so don’t condemn your partner, it’s the alcoholism that’s distorting their behavior and thinking. But in some cases, it may be necessary to protect yourself and children from your alcoholic partner.

If your partner is a heavy drinker and denies being an alcoholic, encourage them to acknowledge their problem and seek professional help. If your partner has a lack of control – they promise to quit or cut back but fail to do so – again, encourage them to seek professional help. If your partner is a binge drinker who has periods of abstinence punctuated by episodes of excessive drinking, express your concern, encourage them to acknowledge the impact on themselves and their family, and seek professional help to identify the underlying reasons for the binge drinking. And finally, if your partner is a chronic alcoholic who has no control over their drinking, be sure to prioritize your own safety and that of others. Seek support from professionals for yourself and attend groups such as AI-Anon which provides support to families of alcoholics.

Each situation is unique – no one solution is right for everyone, so seeking professional help will help you work through the complexity of alcoholism and help both you and your partner on the path to recovery.

Advice for employers

Employers play an important part in helping alcoholics recover. The first step is to understand the nature of alcoholism and then approach the situation with compassion and knowledge.

One former employer recalls that a failure to recognize and address alcoholism in the workplace resulted in the employee taking his own life. Another employee also died by suicide after being fired from work due to their drinking problem.

If you have an alcoholic employee try taking the following steps:

First, set aside any biases or preconceived ideas you may have about alcoholism. Remember that it’s a complex illness that affects the brain and not simply a matter of willpower or lack thereof.

Second, be patient and tolerant, and be open to offering your employee a second chance. What opportunities could you offer for recovery? Can you connect them with an AA group or some other support group?

Third, create an environment that encourages recovery by showing understanding and empathy.

And fourth, recognize that this is an illness that needs treatment, so offer your employee a flexible schedule to accommodate their treatment and seek professional guidance on handling addiction-related illness in the workplace.

Remember that as an employer, if you adopt a compassionate and proactive approach you can make a significant difference in the life of an employee who is battling alcoholism.


This is less of a final summary but rather a vision of hope.

To most people, drinking means companionship and sociability. It can be a release from boredom, cares, and worries. It can give you a sense that life is indeed good. But for the alcoholic, the last days of heavy drinking don’t feel like that. Those days can be devoid of pleasure, filled with loneliness, despair, and hopelessness.

Yet there is hope! Alcoholics Anonymous can help you find release from your boredom, cares, and worries. Your imagination can reignite and life can regain meaning with the years ahead of you holding the promise of satisfaction and fulfillment.

And where will you find this fellowship of people who understand your struggles? The answer is simple: in your own community. AA exists everywhere – cities, towns, villages. You’ll be able to build lifelong friendships there and face the journey to recovery together. You’ll receive love, support, and selflessness. The act of helping others will also bring you profound fulfillment.

Your transformation is possible. As you adopt your new way of life you’ll also witness the growth of fellowship. Your family will also find hope as you regain your dignity.

Remember, you’re not alone on the journey to recovery. AA will welcome you with open arms and will offer you guidance, understanding, and compassion. Together, you can achieve recovery.

About the author

Hazelden Publishing respects the wishes of authors who choose to remain anonymous


Psychology, Nutrition, Health, Fitness, Dieting, Addiction and Recovery, Twelve-Step Programs, Alcoholism Recovery, Substance Abuse Recovery


The book is divided into two main parts: the first part explains the principles and practices of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, and the second part contains personal stories of people who have recovered from alcoholism through AA.

The first part consists of 11 chapters that describe the nature and consequences of alcoholism, the solution offered by AA, and the steps and traditions that guide the AA members. The book emphasizes that alcoholism is a disease that affects the body, mind, and spirit, and that it can only be overcome by a spiritual awakening and a complete surrender to a Higher Power. The book also outlines the 12 steps of AA, which are a set of actions that help the alcoholic achieve sobriety, make amends for past wrongs, and live a new way of life. The book also explains the 12 traditions of AA, which are the principles that ensure the unity and effectiveness of the AA groups.

The second part contains 42 personal stories of men and women who have found recovery from alcoholism through AA. These stories illustrate how different people from various backgrounds and circumstances have suffered from alcoholism, how they came to AA, and how their lives have changed as a result of following the AA program. The stories also show how AA members help each other by sharing their experience, strength, and hope.

The book is a classic in the field of addiction recovery and has influenced millions of people around the world. It is written in a clear and simple language that is easy to understand and follow. The book offers a practical and effective solution to alcoholism that is based on spiritual principles and mutual support. The book also provides hope and inspiration to anyone who struggles with alcoholism or knows someone who does.

The book is not without its limitations, however. Some of the concepts and language used in the book may seem outdated or irrelevant to modern readers, especially those who do not identify with a religious or spiritual worldview. Some of the stories may also seem repetitive or unrealistic to some readers, as they tend to emphasize the positive aspects of recovery and downplay the challenges and difficulties that may arise along the way. Moreover, some readers may find the book too prescriptive or dogmatic in its approach, as it suggests that there is only one way to recover from alcoholism and that anyone who deviates from it is doomed to fail.

Overall, the book is a valuable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about alcoholism and recovery. It offers a comprehensive and proven program that has helped countless people achieve sobriety and happiness. It also showcases the diversity and strength of the AA community and its members. The book is not perfect, but it is honest, hopeful, and helpful.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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