A Brief History of AA Medallions

Many AA meetings around the United States and the world have a tradition of recognizing different lengths of sobriety by handing out sobriety chips or medallions. At the beginning or the end of the meeting, depending on local customs, someone will stand and hand out plastic chips for each month of sobriety in the first year.

After handing out the monthly chips, some groups will hand out medallions for consecutive years of sobriety the same way that monthly chips were handed out. Other groups choose to have more of a ceremony around handing out yearly medallions since these represent longer lengths of sobriety.

Why Do Groups Hand Out Sobriety Chips and Medallions?

If you're part of a group that has always handed out AA coins, you might be surprised to find out that the AA chip system isn't an official part of the program. It's just a tradition that some groups choose to honor. The groups that do hand out chips and medallions typically choose to do so for two main reasons: first as a celebration of the progress made by members, and second to show newcomers that it is possible to stay sober.

When newer members start out in the program, getting a chip each month is something to look forward to, a small celebration of all the hard work they're putting in to stay sober. No one really believes that these chips will "keep them sober," but it does feel good to be recognized. Newer members also get inspiration from seeing members who have been sober for longer get their chips or medallions. It shows them that the program works and that people do stay sober for the long haul.

How Did This Tradition Start?

While there's a lot of information available about the history of the AA program and early AA meetings, there isn't a lot of information about the little traditions that certain groups started to adopt. Because of that, there's not a lot of information about how the tradition of handing out AA coins started. However, AA history buffs have pieced together some information about the history of this tradition.

Before groups started hanging out sobriety chips, many individual members of AA chose to carry around tokens of their sobriety as a reminder of how important their sobriety was and the hard work they were doing in their programs. Letters between early AA members indicate that this individual tradition was adopted by a group in Indianapolis in 1942. Back then it was common for AA members to travel great distances to attend meetings, so people from all over visited that Indianapolis meeting and took the AA chip system they developed back to their groups.

Another theory traces the origin of this tradition to Sister Ignatia at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. Sister Ignatia frequently worked with Dr. Bob to get people sober through the hospital's program, and when patients left the hospital she would give them a Sacred Heart Medallion as a reminder of their commitment to their sobriety. It's possible that people who got sober by working with Sister Ignatia and Dr. Bob took the tradition of giving coins to represent a commitment to sobriety back to their AA meetings, resulting in the AA chip system.

Celebrating Sobriety

Regardless of how the tradition started, the AA chip system has become a very important tradition for many people who work hard to stay sober one day at a time for months and years. We're proud to help AA members and groups celebrate their sobriety. To see the coins, sobriety chips, and medallions we offer, check out our store.