What is the history behind AA’s Responsibility Statement?

The Responsibility Statement reads:

“I am Responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.”

It was written for the 1965 A.A. International Convention in Toronto . I have enclosed an article titled, ‘How I am Responsible became a part of A.A.’, from the GSO newsletter, Box 4-5-9. The article identifies former AA trustee, Al S. as the author of the Responsibility Statement. In the souvenir book for the 1965 Convention, Dr. Jack Norris writes: “..We must remember that AA will continue strong only so long as each of us freely and happily gives it away to another person, only as each of us takes our fair share of responsibility for sponsorship of those who still suffer, for the growth and integrity of our Group, for our Intergroup activities, and for AA as a whole. It is in taking responsibility that real freedom and the enduring satisfactions of life are found. AA has given us the power to choose – to drink or not to drink – and in doing so has given us the freedom to be responsible for ourselves. As we become responsible for ourselves, we are free to be responsible for our share in AA, and unless we happily accept this responsibility we lose AA. Strange, isn’t it?”

In a Grapevine article in October 1965, the Responsibility Statement is discussed, and Bill W. expresses his views: Two major thoughts stood out in the remarks of the many speakers, alcoholic and nonalcoholic, at AA’s July Toronto Convention. The first was admiration and gratitude for AA’s startling success in sobering up hundreds of thousands of lost-cause drunks. The other was concern that the success which has come to AA over the thirty years since its start in Akron, Ohio in 1935 would not lead us to any complacency about the size of the job still to be done. The theme of the Convention was: Responsibility. “I am responsible. . .when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there. And for that: I am responsible.” AA’s co-founder, Bill, in his talk to over 10,000 attending the major sessions of the Convention, stressed the need for cooperation with all who work on the problem of alcoholism, the more than 100 agencies in the United States and Canada alone now engaged in research, alcohol education and rehabilitation. “Too often, we have deprecated and even derided these projects of our friends just because we do not always see eye to eye with them,” Bill said. “We should very seriously ask ourselves how many alcoholics have gone on drinking simply because we have failed to cooperate in good spirit with these many agencies. No alcoholic should go mad or die merely because he did not come straight to AA in the beginning.” “The first concern of AA members should be with problem drinkers the movement is still unable to reach,” Bill said. He estimated that there are 20 million alcoholics in the world today, five million in the U.S. alone. “Some cannot be reached because they are not hurt enough, others because they are hurt too much,” he declared. “Many sufferers have mental and emotional complications that seem to foreclose their chances. Yet it would be conservative to estimate that at any particular time there are four million alcoholics in the world who are able, ready and willing to get well if only they knew how. When we remember that in the 30 years of AA’s existence we have reached less than ten per cent of those who might have been willing to approach us, we begin to get an idea of the immensity of our task and of the responsibilities with which we will always be confronted.”

There have been two Advisory Actions from the General Service Conference regarding the Declaration of Responsibility since it was introduced. In 1971, the Conference recommended that: The Literature Committee, following the general feeling of the Conference, reaffirm both the spirit and the wording of the “I am Responsible” Declaration from the International Convention held in Toronto in 1965. And in 1977, the Conference recommended that: The Responsibility Declaration not be changed, as it was made at the 1965 International Convention in Toronto.

G.S.O. Archives

18 thoughts on “What is the history behind AA’s Responsibility Statement?

  1. I’ve always understood that the Responsibility Statement applied to all Alcoholics new, old and in between. If I am mistaken, is it being specific who “anyone” is?

  2. I cannot think of a more non-specific designation than “anyone anywhere”. An alcoholic fireman or EMT in recovery is not going to determine whether a person in need of assistance is an actual alcoholic before extinguishing a fire or beginning CPR. Anyone, anywhere could be anyone half way around the world. If I see that my unique experience and limited strength can be of some assistance, I am responsible, if I am able to respond. I do not first enter into a debate as to whether the person asking for help is a real alcoholic or whether his problem is related to alcohol.

    • I find the simplicity of “anyone, anywhere” deeply meaningful. As an alcoholic in recovery, working the 12 steps puts me on a spiritual plane that allows me to be used for a higher purpose to be of service to anyone reaching out for help, regardless of the source of their problem.

  3. If someone asks for help, of course I’ll help but the statement itself seems to confer a lot of responsibility on oneself. I’m in my 83rd year soon to be in my 84th year of breathing and perhaps no one thought of old age.would love to know how old whoever came up with it. When I was younger it wasn’t a problem but for someone to read it to me,perhaps the statement ought to begin with the most important word that began sobriety with me, the as program starts off with WE, the statement might be better starting with WE. Just a suggestion like the book reads.

    • It should never never never be WE!!
      The problems of the world today are greatly increased by the deliberate abdication of personal responsibility
      AA does not follow the dictates of a world where nothing is MY responsibility and everything is THEIR responsibility thereby ensuring nobody is responsible.
      No it says I am responsible.
      If age or infirmity restrict us we only need to arrange for another AA to handle the task, but it is my responsibility to make that arrangement
      God spare us from collective responsibility
      Mike Price

    • Absolutely this “confers a lot of responsibility on oneself” — and I am grateful it does! As an AA member who has moved all over the country in sobriety, this tells me that I — bold face, capital I — have to reach out, and AA will be there for me, always. Every time I’ve moved to a new city with new (unknown) people, my old fears and insecurities have returned, at least for a little while. And in those moments I wanted AA to reach out to me, to hug me and pull me into its fold. But that’s not the way it works, at least not for me. When I was one day sober, or today at 32 years sober, the action remains the same: I — bold face, capital I — have to be the one who reaches out. And every time I’ve done that, AA has in fact hugged me and pulled me into its fold.

  4. I think it gently but unmistakably forces each of us to ask ourselves what we can contribute to the task of keeping AA available. Granted, age and infirmity might limit our choices, but even just listening to someone over the phone is the “hand” of AA. Early in my sobriety, I was picked up out of a slump by an 85-year-old AA member whom I visited in a cancer hospice. .I went there to comfort him, but he turned the tables on me.

  5. I have always found it interesting that this statement specifically says “reaches out for help” It doesn’t say “reaches out for help about his/her drinking”

  6. The Responsibility statement is a Service piece. One of my favorites❤

    But yes, unfortunately it is grossly taken out of context, misunderstood and manipulated

    We adopted it at the 1966 General Service Conference.

    When the alcoholics finally took responsibility for our third Legacy(the service structure) It was on that day that we switched from having 14 non-alcoholics on the board, and only 7 alcoholic trustees, to instead NOW having 14 alcoholic trustees(classB) and only seven non-alcoholic trustees(Class A).

    We alcoholics are now responsible for our own society and future of the service structure. ❤

    The responsibly declaration is to our Third legacy (the 12 concepts) what the “Declaration of unity” is to our 2nd legacy (the 12 traditions)

    So what exactly does this service piece speak to?
    Its simply a reminder that we all take part in the weaving of the protective mantle which covers AA as a whole, by helping to ensure the future of AA for “the alcoholic not yet born.” By supporting the GSO, and by learning as much as we can about our traditions, concepts and history.

    Educating myself about these things I help to ensure AAs future, so in the ages ahead, AA is still here for my great great grandkids. Even the isolated and incarserated.

    Although reaching out to the alcoholic who walks through the door today, is crucial, THIS decloration speaks to the preservation of the fellowship for future generations. And for that, I am responsible.

    Read more in “As Bill Sees It” under Wilsons letter titled “I am responsible”

  7. The Responsibility Declaration is about extending the hand of AA to ANY ALCOHOLIC who reaches out for help. It has NOTHING to do with helping Non Alcoholics. The AA History is very clear on this subject. Being a Past Delegate to the General Service Conference and having been Sponsored by 2 past Trustees, and being a Sponsor to one of the best known AA Historians alive today (Arthur S), I took the time to learn AA History so I would not make the mistake of spreading misinformation in AA. I suggest to those who haven’t learned what the Responsibility Declaration is actually about, to get a STRONG, 3 LEGACY AA SPONSOR so you won’t spread MISINFORMATION.

    • Then thats what should have been adopted. What was clear in 1965 not so clear in 2019. Aaers who actually believe the service pledge applies to alcoholics are being assailed on every front. Our annual conference seems to have done little to unmuddy the water. Nonalcoholics do not frequent area assemblies. Perhaps our service structure could be a little more mindful how thier actions affect groups. The service pledge is used as a club to pommel aaers who believe in the singleness of purpose. Check out my statement for inaccuracies before trying to tar and feather me

  8. I’ve been acting as a responsible AA for 18 years. My question is, “Who’s responsible for helping this alcoholic get rid of the bed bugs that I got helping the alcoholic I helped back in April?”

    Don’t bother answering. It’s a rhetorical question, so you’re off the hook. It’s also a trick question since you can never really get rid of bed bugs. But now that I’ve found out that Al S. wrote the Responsibility Pledge, I know he’s the one who’s responsible.

  9. Of course I do what I can to help anyone get to a meeting, talk to someone on the fence, etc…. but equally important, I participate locally in my home group with service and encourage others to do the same. A healthy group is part of a healthy AA as a whole and insures that will always be there when someone does reach out for help. It’s not solely my responsibility, It’s up to all of us to do as much as we can as individuals.

  10. I do not see where this limits us even to those only inside AA. It specifically states anyone anywhere I want the hand of AA to always be there and for that I am responsible. Therefore, i understand that as if I see anyone anywhere asking for help and i may be of service i need to do just that WITHOUT wearing AA on my chest as some sort of super hero.
    I think regardless of age, infirmities, race, whatever excuse one may try to mention it is just that an excuse. We can all help in some way form or fashion

  11. I find the simplicity of “anyone, anywhere” deeply meaningful. As an alcoholic in recovery, working the 12 steps puts me on a spiritual plane that allows me to be used for a higher purpose to be of service to anyone reaching out for help, regardless of the source of their problem.

  12. Bud, I would never abdicate my responsibility to fellow humans who are not alcoholics, And I look for opportunities to be helpful to others no matter where I am.

    However, that human obligation is not covered by AA’s responsibility statement. The statement specifies “the hand of AA” and addresses our obligation to provide the kind of assistance that one problem drinker can provide to another in a way that no one else can.

    I appreciate and agree with the idea that as human beings, we need to be ready to provide whatever assistance we are able to anyone in need.

    But that is unrelated to AAs responsibility statement.

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