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The “rule” of H.A.L.T. is a reminder that can help us all along the road to recovery – The Essence of AA

AS ADJUNCTS to AA’s spiritual program and meetings, there are clichés, systems, gimmicks, and a myriad of other tricks that have been used by AA members down through the years to maintain sobriety. I, for one, strongly uphold the application of the foremost of these, the “Rule of HALT,” not only for the new member, but for the old-timer as well. Further, I sincerely feel this simple rule to be too often ignored or passed over lightly.

In the beginning, new members, as we all know, are usually confused and completely without direction. Some are sincere to the very bottom of their souls, while others arc only lukewarm in their desire to “put the plug in the jug.” Both sorts look to us for answers explaining how, and all too often they are disappointed. (This is understandable, for how many of us know how AA works?)

We have precious little to give our “babies” save encouragement, fellowship, and living proof that the program works–at least for us. Why not, then, pass on whatever practical information and instruction we can to each newcomer, to make his beginning more palatable and to enhance his chances of success should he choose to follow these instructions?

We are certain that most members of AA are aware of the “Rule of HALT,” but to what degree we cannot be certain. To scrutinize the rule briefly may be helpful to the reader and will certainly be so to the writer, who has proved in reality that violation of it in part or in toto can, and often does, lead to relapse. Here, then, is the meat of the rule:


Don’t get too Hungry. For a reason we cannot explain, there seems to be in the alcoholic, a peculiar psychophysiological relationship between hunger and the urge to drink.

On some occasions, we would eat a big dinner and then find that it had literally destroyed our desire to drink afterwards. Conversely, and eventually more often, we avoided eating because we knew it would interfere with our drinking.
Years ago, my sponsor told me that if I had a physical urge to take a drink, I should go out of my way to drink a milk shake. If this didn’t work, he said. I should drink another. And another. I can testify that if you can drink liquor on top of two or three milk shakes, you aren’t an alcoholic. You’re nuts!

And so, when you are hungry, eat. Simple and important. (This writer eats little at one time, but may eat something as many as five times daily.)


Don’t get too Angry. Wow! Of all things to tell an alcoholic! But we don’t have to be on the program very long to realize that anger, righteous or not, is better left to those who can handle it.

Borrowing from Father John Doe: “Let the other guy get mad! If somebody calls me an SOB, either I am or I ain’t. If I am, so what? And if I ain’t, why should I make myself one by getting mad about it?”

We can’t afford to get angry–especially at people. Kick the wall or the TV if you will, but “Let the other guy get mad!” We know too well where anger leads: to resentment. And brother, do we know what resentment brings!

Rule of thumb? Well, as the young folks say in this age, “Cool it, baby. Cool it.”


Don’t get too Lonely. Nonalcoholic members of the psychiatric profession tend to equate loneliness with boredom, and we are inclined to agree. If there is any one thing that must be included in the alcoholic’s life before he can once again become a whole man, it is worthwhile activity. This may be Twelfth Step work, his vocation, his avocation, or anything else. But we feel such activity must be present in order to fulfill his existence and eliminate loneliness.

We must also consider the loneliness brought about because the newcomer lives alone. But this is easily rectified. It takes only a phone call or a visit to an AA-oriented social club. Or, for the AA Loner, far from other members, the Big Book or a letter to an AA pen pal may suffice.

Under any conditions, loneliness is the mother of self-pity, and the ultimate end is resentment and drinking.

The rule of thumb? Do something!


Don’t get too Tired. In its effect, the last ingredient or direction in our rule is not too different from the first. Physical fatigue will affect both our bodies and our minds adversely and will thereby lower our defenses against the urge to drink if there is any possibility at all of such a desire being present, consciously or subconsciously.

And here the rule of thumb is: “When you get tired, put the body down!” (How many times have we read and said Easy Does It?)

So there it is: HALT–Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. This rule, when coupled with meetings and living our day-by-day lives according to AA principles, will make things much easier, not only for the newcomer, but for the old-timer as well. Once we recognize that these four conditions are dangerous if succumbed to, we should avoid them as carefully as we would that first drink, for any one of them could be the first step to a drunk.

Dr. John
San Diego, California


AA Group that focuses on the 5th Tradition. Meets weekly on Saturday at 9:30 am EST. Zoom ID: 823 5985 8994 Password: New2AA

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