Is it OK to use non-conference approved literature in meetings?

Question: My group sometimes reads from The Original Manuscript of The Big Book because many of us favor the more forceful language it uses. Some have objected to doing this because they say only AA approved books can be used in meetings. Is it OK to read from non-AA books in meetings?

Answer: Yes, it is OK to read from “non-AA” literature in an AA meeting unless your group decides to use “conference approved” literature only. Groups are under no obligation to adopt such a restriction.

When talking about whether a book is “AA approved” the question is often this: “Is the book General Service Conference approved literature?” Conference approval is only considered for books published by AA World Service in NY (AAWS). It serves as a way of saying that AAWS has put together a book and the General Service Conference has approved it. AAWS organizes the General Service Conference.

The list of books with conference approval is not a list of what may or may not be used in meetings but a list of literature the conference feels accurately reflects AA’s basic message. Some groups independently decide that they will only use Conference Approved Literature, but there is no requirement that a group limit itself to a list. Each AA group is the highest authority in AA and can use any literature it wants to.

In 1978 the AA General Service Office described what “Conference Approved” means in their Box 4-5-9 newsletter (Volume 23, No 4). Here the General Service Office said:

It (Conference Approved) does not mean the Conference disapproves of any other publications. Many local A.A. central offices publish their own meeting lists. A.A. as a whole does not oppose these, any more than A.A. disapproves of the Bible or any other publications from any source that A.A.’s find useful.

What any A.A. member reads is no business of G.S.O., or of the Conference, naturally.

The General Service Conference has also dealt with the meaning of the term “Conference Approved” in a “Conference Approved” pamphlet (SM F-29) called: Conference-Approved Literature. Here it is explained this way:

“Conference-approved” — What It Means to You

The term has no relation to material not published by G.S.O. It does not imply Conference disapproval of other material about A.A. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and A.A. does not try to tell any individual member what he or she may or may not read.

Books like the Original Manuscript and the First Edition of the Big Book are not Conference Approved Literature since there was no conference at the time they were published.

An odd side effect of a group that limits itself to conference approved literature would be that if the rule were rigorously followed, the group would not allow someone to read from Dr. Bob’s personal copy of the Big Book because, as a First Edition, it would lack conference approval.

Regional newsletters and literature also lack conference approval but are widely used in meetings. Since 1954 the Hazelden published “Twenty Four Hours a Day” (ISBN 9780894860126) has been very widely used in AA meetings and has never been considered for conference approval.

The first AA group in Akron, Ohio (still going today) continues to display the Bible that AA’s founders read from in the earliest meetings. What would have been fine literature for AA founder’s to read in a meeting would spark outrage in some groups today. It all depends on the individual group’s conscience to decide what is appropriate.

A.A. seems to have dealt with this controversy…Do other fellowships such as C.A., N.A., etc., have the same guidelines?

16 thoughts on “Is it OK to use non-conference approved literature in meetings?

  1. A recent area of concern in fellowships today is the use of the Internet i.e. Group and Member websites. A.A. gives its groups virtually complete autonomy in developing their own websites. Point Four states:

    "Q: What A.A. information is suitable for a web site? A. Again, the group conscience will determine the contents."

    Visit the FAQ About A.A. Web Sites:

    The C.A. Information Technology (IT) Committee Workbook and Guidelines states on page 8 under the heading "Things to be Avoided": The following items have been found to be in conflict with the Traditions, or otherwise harmful to Cocaine Anonymous as a whole, and must be avoided by area and district web sites:

    "Sites may only post literature that has been approved by the CA World Service Conference for use in CA meetings or CA service work."

    However, it is not clear if this applies to a CA Group website.

  2. Only A.A. Material?

    I don’t know who in hell came up with the "Only A.A. Approved Material" dictum … but occasionally we have a "bleeding deacon" who is so afraid for his/her own sobriety, that any new or "outside" information or inspiration brought to group might upset his/her tenuous hold on reality or sobriety, and then proceeds to make an ass of them self in meeting insisting that "Only A.A. Conference Approved" material be brought before the group.

    Hehhh!!, as if some of the spoutings of members bears the "A.A. Conference Approved" stamp. The ONLY reason the "This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature" is imprinted on AA literature is to replace the Circle Triangle logo, long since removed as the result of potential ill-advised lawsuits, to indicate that the material is copyright by Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office, and published by AA-GSO.

    The Term "Conference-approved" describes written or audiovisual material approved by the General Service Conference for publication by GSO. This process assures that everything in such literature is in accord with AA principles. Conference-approved material always deals with the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous or with information about the AA Fellowship.

    The term has no relation to material not published by GSO. IT DOES NOT IMPLY CONFERENCE DISAPPROVAL of other material about AA. A great deal of literature helpful to alcoholics is published by others, and AA does not try to tell any individual members what he or she may or may not read.

    To quote from the Big Book …Page 565 …
    Tradition 4, Long Form … With respect to its own affairs, each A.A. Group should be responsible to no other authority than its own conscience. But when its plans concern the welfare of neighboring groups also, those groups ought to be consulted. And no group, regional committee, or individual should ever take any action that might greatly affect A.A. as a whole without conferring with the trustees of the General Service Board. On such issues our common welfare is paramount.

    Read the rest of the long form Traditions … no where in them is there any authority to make a dictum to a group … they are free to follow their conscience as a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose — that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

    To quote from Page 164 …
    "Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answer will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us."

    The above and the 12 Steps are all the instructions needed.

    The charts on the wall of the 12 Steps and the Short Form of the Traditions give us, in 472 words or less, a total and complete philosophy for successful sobriety and life, Happy, Joyous and Free. All else of whatever nature, whether "A.A Conference Approved" or not, is merely by way of explanation.

    All the problems in the world today are the result of the "Theologians" "the Bleeding Deacons," "the Inerrantists" generating the inerrantist nonsense that "only our way is right"… in religions, in civil, secular and fraternal groups, in politics and government, and in A.A.

    Of course, if a true group conscience is reached by consensus, not bird-dogged and browbeaten by some heavyhanded individual or clique, the theologians and bleeding deacons are usually left behind … and if that true group conscience says "only A.A. GSC approved material" will be used by the group, then so be it, the voice of God has spoken.

    Early A.A. groups and many today use(d) all sorts of aids and books to carry the message of the 12 Steps of A.A. for the recovery of the sick alcoholic … everything from Varieties of Religious Experience by James, The Sermon on the Mount by Fox, the various Hazelden books and others, and even to the various scriptures, ie. the Bible, the Torah, etc, (After all is said and done, it was from the understanding that Bill had of these, especially "The General Epistle of James", that the the 12 steps came into being.), to aid the individual and group members in understanding the tenets, the principles and ideals, of our basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book, to which we should adhere … and the understandings given in all the various A.A. published literature, especially A.A. Comes of Age and the other histories of A.A.

    The "Only A.A. Approved" thing smacks of what was happening in A.A. a long time back when long lists of rules were formulated out of fear that the then struggling members might become "contaminated" by those who did not conform to their sensibilities … and resulted in Rule 62 …"Don’t take yourself too seriously" … Remember, always, who is in charge … it isn’t any one of us … K.I.S.S.

    I, myself, will use any damn thing I can lay my hands on to reach through to a sick alcoholic right down where he lives, that will give him the spiritual understanding and connection available in the many non-AA resources, so that he can learn to practice and live the 12 Steps in his life in all his affairs and stay sober a day at a time.

    Love and Peace, Barefoot

  3. A. A. "Conference Approved" Questions, Approaches, Answers By Dick B.

    There is no index of "forbidden books" in Alcoholics Anonymous

    "The answer to our problems was in the Good Book":

    But we were convinced that the answer to our problems was in the Good Book. To some of us older ones, the parts that we found absolutely essential were the Sermon on the Mount, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, and the Book of James. [Source: The Cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous: Biographical sketches Their Last Major Talks (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1972, 1975), 13]

    "AAs are free to read any book they choose":

    Bill W. wrote Barry Collins about the Minneapolis book in November 1950:

    The Little Red Book does fill a definite need and has wide circulation. Therefore, its usefulness is unquestioned. AA has a definite place for such a book. Someday I may try to write an introduction book myself which I hope might complement favorably with The Little Red Book. Here at the Foundation we are not policemen; we’re a service and AAs are free to read any book they choose. [Source:; accessed 06/23/08]

    "There is the Bible you haven’t opened in years. Read it"

    There is the Bible that you haven’t opened for years. Get acquainted with it. Read it with an open mind. You will find things that will amaze you. You will be convinced that certain passages were written with you in mind. Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew V, VI, and VII). Read St. Paul’s inspired essay on love (I Corinthians XIII). Read the Book of James. Read the Twenty-third and Ninety-first Psalms. These readings are brief but so important. Read Alcoholics Anonymous and then read it again. You may find that it contains your own story. It will become your second Bible. [Source: The Akron Manual (published by AA of Akron, commissioned by Dr. Bob, 1939-40)]

    "What is the greatest danger facing A.A. today?" Here was former G.S.O. senior advisor Bob Pearson’s answer to that question: If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer the growing rigidity– the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to "enforce" our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; Prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., "banning books"; laying more and more rules on groups and members. And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met. [emphasis in the original] [Source for the Bob Pearson quote: Ernest Kurtz, Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1991), 266-67. Kurtz states the source of Pearson’s talk in note 44 on page 394 as follows: "Bob P., ‘Closing Talk: Our greatest danger: rigidity,’ Final Report of the 1986 General Service Conference, pp. 6-7." Kurtz also notes as to Bob Pearson that he was the former "G.S.O. senior advisor . . .—director and trustee for six years, office general manager for a decade and chief writer of A.A.’s forthcoming extension of its own history since the publication of Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age . . ." See also: "1986 General Service Conference Closing Talk" by Bob Pearson:; accessed 06/23/08.]


    Gloria Deo Dick B.,
    PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837;
    (808) 874-4876.

  4. "Unity does not mean an absence of diversity. Indeed, diversity among meetings is a healthy indicator of the strength of recovery in any district, area or region.  By Group Conscience, with all members relying upon God for guidance, as each understands God, meetings often adopt different formats, different approaches to carrying the message, and the like.  Thus, the fact that some meetings choose to emphasize their particular experience, strength and hope in carrying the message of how they each recovered and the path they recommend is not by itself troubling, as long as such meetings acknowledge that they do not speak for all in the fellowship."

  5. I celebrated 27 years sobriety June 2015 I haven’t had tome to absorb this entire article so GSO publications financially support AA as whole where non GSO makes somebdy rich

  6. Great remarks here! Now with 36 years sober, it saddens me greatly to see how rigid AA has become, just as Pearson remarked. That “Twenty Four Hours a Day” book was my lifesaver back in the day, as it was for everyone. It is not “conference-approved”. Came through the steps with the “Little Red Book” (also not approved), a MUCH clearer explanation than the 12 X 12 book, which is both confusing and largely devoid of optimism and open-mindedness. Lets not forget the “Big Book”, a fine document. People round here look at me like some kind of heretic, they are so preoccupied with every word and sentence ever produced by one person only, Mr. William Wilson. Its almost like a personality cult. AA is now a very rigid social organization it seems, and dogmatic. I am unable to assist the alcoholic that still suffers due to this situation, and left AA more than a year ago. I wish to help, yet cannot.

  7. Mike, i know it,s not easy but i would love to see you back. I to have seen & hear it all at meetings but i try my best to accept the things i cannot change & i know that if someone or thing keeps me away i try & dig deeper to keep in contact with GOD as i understand him. God Bless my friend. “BOB”.

  8. I am 16 months sober and rely on a variety of literature to help me find different ways of continuing my sobriety. I recently Chaired a meeting where I presented one of the ways and means of Living Sober. This was using Mindfulness and I quoted “Frazzled “, a book written by Ruby Wax. I read some passages which related to using alcohol or drugs, led a couple of meditations etc. These methods are used in conjunction with AA approved and non approved literature. I also use Just for Today, NA literature. Some weeks passed and I was informed that District disapproved of my topic, the meeting was a shambles because I used non AA related literature. A member of the District, in fact the Chief whip happened to be present. I am trying to get my head around this stuff and have been scouring different web sites to give me an answer. Bill Wilson says I quote ” Here at the Foundation we are not policeman, we are a service and AA’s are free to read any book they choose”. He also says”Any AA can read anything, anytime, anywhere for any reason” and ” there is no tradition that can or should or will censor what is presented at a meeting”. Every group has a right to be wrong! Please can you help me with this confusion? Meanwhile, after 40 years of drinking and 17 months sober, my choice of means and ways works for me. Thanks! Yours in sobriety, Annabelle Rose.

  9. You just do not understand. Why we stick more to the AA approved books, is so that we many stat foucused on carrying the message to the alcoholic, not our own personal religious ideas ect ect. We would end up diluting the message. In our own personal lifes of course we find many books which bring about spiritual growth, so forth. But please lets honor what has worked. You may want to study the 12 traditions in depth for a better understanding. We are prople who many times think we know more than the rest and want to change what has been working for the past 80 years.

  10. I participate in a Men’s closed meeting that is literature based. We read only conference approved literature solely because it gives us some common text to work from. If I bring in a copy of Psychology Today and read from it, no one can follow along, look back, reflect on what the words mean, etc. I know the source and agenda of the writing in the Big Book, I often don’t in other publications being read.

  11. To barefoot: You seem fond of the term “bleeding deacon”, they can be a pain in the butt or they can be the voice of reason. Some groups might have a majority of people early in sobriety and need long timers to guide them and the group from straying from our primary purpose.

    While its true that in the early years, Emmett Fox, Scriptures and others were read. Two things come to mind, back then more often than not (I might be wrong in my assumption ) they were dealing with desperate low bottom drunks, where as today we see low to high and a multitude in between and might be scared off by A.A. being “religious”. I was desperate enough I didn’t care. But if I would have sought help the many times I was thinking of it before I actually came in the rooms, I think it would have deterred me. The other thing is todays climate is much different than the early years. Today there are many more paths to God that we are aware of and any one of them could be offensive to another, and in the eyes of a newcomer could be a real turn off. I too would also do whatever takes to reach a newcomer in a one on one setting but in a meeting I think we need to be more careful.

    I believe its a strong statement to declare theologians, bleeding deacons and inerrantist responsible for all the worlds problems. Some things need to change with the times and somethings need to be preserved as is, they could be the purist, the ones that are really K.I.S.S.

  12. I have 8 months of sobriety and I do thank AA for helping me stay sober in those early days. I enjoyed the meetings and have learned much, but I now find them dark and a bit hopeless and depressing. We started a woman’s meeting and one of the long sober women said we were not allowed to read non-AA literature (a newcomer had suggested a Hazelden woman’s 12 step book. From what I can see, other readings would be allowed if the group agrees; either she didn’t know that after 30 yrs or her personal agenda got in the way. Today I was chastised for byt the same woman for asking a woman to lead us in our ending prayer because the person chairing the meeting was not wrapping it up. I realize I should have just kept my mouth shut, but the way I was spoken to was a big turn off and I actually don’t much want to interact with this person anymore. It’s like she is the ‘boss.’ ugh

  13. At what point does it become an outside issue and where will it stop if we start studying literature from other entities. There is a lot of great literature that is not AA approved but if we accept one where does it stop? Next thing you know we will be studying The NA text or alanon literature. The singleness of purpose could easily get lost if we’re not careful. But , I agree with everyone about autonomy I just won’t attend a meeting that starts drifting too far away from the “crux”of the program.

  14. Is the poem “ Yesterday Today and Tomorrow “ , AA approved ? ? It was about
    the only thing that made sense to me in my first few meetings .
    I had a young lad in the program ask me why does he need to do a 4th step
    when he hears us read Yesterday,Today and Tomorrow. There are two days about which we should not worry . One of these days is Yesterday . Why should I worry about cleaning up the wreckage of the past ? when it says ,don’t worry about yesturday ? Is that poem A A approved ?

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