Are You A Friend Of Bill W? A Guide To AA Lingo

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a global network of support groups for people dealing with alcohol addiction. Over the years, people in AA have developed unique lingo terms that they often use with one another.

Are You A Friend Of Bill W? A Guide To AA Lingo

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a well-established support group for people with alcohol addiction.

As an old and widespread organization, AA has developed its own lingo, including the phrase “friend of Bill W.”

Here you’ll find some of the most commonly used AA terms and what they mean.

Friend Of Bill W

Bill Wilson, or Bill W., was one of the two founders of AA, the other being Bob Smith, or Dr. Bob. When somebody says they are a “friend of Bill W,” they are saying that they are a member of AA.

The phrase “friend of Bill W” gives people in recovery a way to identify and connect with one another.

It also comes from the AA tradition of anonymity. In AA meetings, members typically introduce themselves using only their first name and the first initial of their last name.

Organization Lingo

A large amount of AA lingo refers to the organization itself, its practices, and its structure.

12 And 12

“12 and 12” refers to the 12 steps and 12 traditions that define AA.

The 12 traditions are a set of guidelines that determine the values and structure of AA, while the 12 steps are actions that members work through at their own pace.

The steps listed below are quoted from the book Alcoholics Anonymous.

The 12 steps are:

  • We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • [We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • [We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  • [We] made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • [We] admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • [We] were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • [We] humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  • [We] made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • [We] made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • [We] continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  • [We] sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Because the 12 steps are quite spiritual in nature, atheists and agnostics in recovery sometimes adjust the language to suit their needs.

Alternatively, they may interpret their higher power differently than religious group members.
For instance, some may see their connection to friends and family as a higher power.


“Program” is simply another way to say “12 steps.” Some AA meetings may use one term more often than the other, but the two terms are essentially interchangeable.

Three Legacies

The three legacies are recovery, unity, and service.

AA members seek to recover from alcohol addiction. In fact, the desire to stop drinking alcohol is the sole requirement for AA membership.

Members also seek a spirit of unity and support with one another, and “service” refers to helping others who also experience alcohol addiction.


While individual AA meetings take place across the world, “fellowship” refers to AA as a whole.

Big Book

The “big book” is a slang term for a book written by Bill W called Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism.

This book explains the core principles of AA and provides anecdotes from people who have used these principles to begin recovery.

According to the AA website, the term “big book” began as a joke. Not only is the book more than 400 pages long, it was also originally printed in a large typeface on very thick paper.


Many AA meetings open with a preamble, which states the purpose and description of the organization.


When new members join AA, they are generally encouraged to find a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who has experience with AA and uses that experience to help other members.

Specific groups may have different requirements for sponsors, but many require that sponsors be sober for one to two years.

Sponsors act as mentors for newer AA members, helping them as they work through the 12 steps and supporting them through setbacks.


AA chips are also called “medallions” or “coins.” They are small, round tokens that are usually made of metal or plastic.

Many AA meetings provide members with chips to celebrate certain milestones, such as one’s first AA meeting, a year of sobriety, or reaching specific steps.


Many AA members joke about “the cliches” within the organization. These jokes refer to the inspirational phrases on posters that adorn a large number of meeting sites.

AA Lingo Guide

Addiction-Specific Lingo

AA meetings often include specific lingo related to addiction. These terms describe people dealing with addiction as well as their experiences.


“Alcoholic” is a common slang term for people who experience addiction to alcohol.

Addiction treatment professionals have begun moving away from this word in favor of person-first language such as “someone with an alcohol use disorder.”

They do so to avoid stigmatizing what we now understand is a mental health condition rather than a choice, and to avoid defining a person by their addiction.

During AA meetings, however, people generally still use this term, often introducing themselves by stating their name followed by “and I’m an alcoholic.”

Some people with an alcohol addiction prefer this language for themselves, while others prefer a person-first approach.


The word “denial” may emerge many times during an AA meeting, as members describe their experiences with it or encourage others to come to terms with their own denial.

Often, people experiencing alcohol addiction do not realize that they have a substance use disorder, which is one reason why asking for help for addiction is so hard.

AA members often describe “alcoholism” as a disease that convinces people that they do not have it.

The Geographical Cure

“The geographical cure” and “going geographical” are AA terms that describe when a person changes their location in an attempt to cure their addiction.

AA asserts that this method does not work, and to a degree, this stance is correct.

The environment does have an impact on addiction, and being in the right setting can help people distance themselves from their addiction triggers.

However, a change of location alone is not a substitute for quality addiction care. While it may play a significant role in one’s recovery, it should never be the only step a person takes to overcome substance abuse.

A change of location and addiction treatment combine in options like inpatient treatment programs, residential programs, and sober living homes.

Terminally Unique

Some AA meetings use the saying, “Always remember that you are unique — just like everyone else.”

The term “terminally unique” refers to the stance that a person is exempt from any of the 12 steps or other AA principles due to extenuating circumstances.


“Recovery” is a term that is not unique to AA. Many addiction-focused spaces use it. However, it is a very commonly used word in AA meetings.

A person with an addiction is “in recovery” when they no longer use drugs or alcohol.

Treatment Lingo

AA meetings often feature treatment-specific lingo. Like the word “recovery,” these terms are not unique to AA, but they are used often within these spaces.


“Detox” is a shortened form of “detoxification,” which is the process of substances leaving a person’s system after the person stops using them.

Detox will occur in any person who quits substances. However, some people pursue medical detox to ease withdrawal symptoms and ensure safety and success.

Medical detox is commonly recommended for people experiencing severe alcohol addiction or an addiction to opioids such as heroin or prescription painkillers.

During medical detox, healthcare professionals monitor the client’s vital signs, ensuring safety and providing non-euphoric medications for withdrawal.


“Rehab” is a slang term for addiction rehabilitation centers, or treatment centers.

Many AA members have received addiction treatment. Some addiction treatment programs use the 12 steps of AA as a foundation for their services.

However, non-12-step programs are also available.

Drug And Alcohol Addiction Resources

Addiction is a complex disorder, but several resources are available for recovery, including support groups such as AA.

In addition to AA, the following support groups are available for people who have substance use disorders:

  • SMART Recovery — Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is an evidence-based support program for people who deal with substance abuse.
  • Narcotics Anonymous — Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a 12-step program for people experiencing any form of drug addiction.
  • Cocaine Anonymous — Cocaine Anonymous (CA) is a 12-step program for people experiencing cocaine addiction.

These support groups exist to help friends and family members of people dealing with addiction:

  • Al-Anon: This group supports people with loved ones dealing with alcohol abuse.
  • Nar-Anon: This group supports people with loved ones dealing with any type of substance abuse.

These resources are available for people looking for substance abuse treatment:

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on
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