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Updated on December 10, 2022
5 min read

How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Works

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Work?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the originator of the 12-step program. It is a therapeutic treatment option for those with alcohol substance use disorder.

Alcoholics Anonymous is based on twelve traditions focused on spiritual progress

A.A. World Services, Inc was founded in 1935 by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson. Sister Mary Ignatia joined later on.

Together, they worked to create a simple program that encourages:

  • The acknowledgment of God
  • Admitted defects of characters
  • A change to one’s general way or manner of living. 

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was founded in 1955. It helps people suffering from all addictions and substance abuse disorders, including drug abuse and gambling. They use the same twelve steps for their program.


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AA Meeting Format

AA meetings follow the same overall format but there are minor differences between AA groups.

The overall format is:

The Introduction: The speaker will introduce themselves and declare themselves an alcoholic. 

The Serenity Prayer: The speaker will lead the group in reciting the serenity prayer.

The Mission Statement: The speaker goes over the rules and viewpoints of AA. Namely, that the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to quit drinking. AA is also entirely neutral and as such neither opposes or endorses any political or cultural viewpoint. The singular focus of AA groups is to help alcoholics stop drinking

The Big Book: A member of the group will be chosen to read chapter 5 from The Big Book; a manual written by founder Bill W. Chapter 5 is titled "How it Works" and deals with the spiritual goal of AA.

Chapter 5 also covers the 12 steps of AA

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

Introduction and acknowledgment: In this section, an AA group encourages new members and visitors to introduce themselves. It also allows time for acknowledgment of sobriety anniversaries. 

Organizational activities: AA groups go over events that concern either the group or AA as a whole. 

The 12 Promises:  A speaker will read the 12 promises of AA, which are as follows: 

  1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
  2. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
  3. We will comprehend the word serenity.
  4. We will know peace.
  5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
  6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
  7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
  8. Self-seeking will slip away.
  9. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change.
  10. Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
  11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
  12. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

The Closing: The members of the AA group will then open the floor for anyone with a “burning desire to speak.” If no member has such a desire they will then repeat the serenity prayer and end the meeting.

How to Get Started with AA

The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to quit drinking.

However, completing AA requires rigorous honesty and a release of old ideas. According to AA, they’ve seen only the occasional person fail.

AA groups don’t expect perfect adherence to the principles of the program, nor do they claim to have it themselves. AA is a program of recovery that focuses on support and understanding from the very start. 

Alcoholics Anonymous world services are available in 180 countries. This means there are likely local AA groups in your region that are open for membership.

There are two primary methods to sign up:

Online: Online meetings are available for those that chose not to or cannot meet in person. Online sign-ups allow continued AA activity during sickness or potential sickness. 

In-person: Signing up in person can be as simple as attending an in-person meeting. Meeting in person can foster a stronger connection and commitment to the principles of AA. 


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Do You Have to Pay for AA?

No, AA is a non-profit organization.

They are sustained by internal donations. These donations are limited to $3,000 per year per member. Anyone who wants to quit drinking can attend an AA meeting.

Updated on December 10, 2022
7 sources cited
Updated on December 10, 2022
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. W., Bill. “Twelve Promises.” Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland, 24 July 2020,
  2. Wilson, Bill. A.A. Tradition-How It Developed. 2019,
  3. Emrick, C. D., Tonigan, J. S., Montgomery, H., & Little, L. . Alcoholics Anonymous: What is currently known? In B. S. McCrady & W. R. Miller (Eds.), Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and alternatives (p. 41–76). Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies.
  4. Tonigan, J. S., Connors, G. J., & Miller, W. R. . Participation and involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous. In T. F. Babor & F. K. Del Boca (Eds.), International research monographs in the addictions. Treatment matching in alcoholism (p. 184–204). Cambridge University Press.
  5. Kaskutas, Lee Ann. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science.” Taylor & Francis, Journal of Addictive Diseases, 1 Apr. 2009,
  6. Tonigan, J S, et al. “Meta-Analysis of the Literature on Alcoholics Anonymous: Sample and Study Characteristics Moderate Findings.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 1996,
  7. Montgomery, Henry A., et al. “Does Alcoholics Anonymous Involvement Predict Treatment Outcome?” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Pergamon, 18 Nov. 1999, Cain, Carole. “Personal Stories: Identity Acquisition and Self‐Understanding in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Wiley Online Library, Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, June 1991,
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