Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a worldwide organization of peer-facilitated support groups that helps people recover from alcohol use disorder (AUD), previously called alcohol addiction. 

AA meetings were created to: 

  • Help members support each other
  • Share their shortfalls and successes
  • Hold each other accountable by regularly discussing how alcohol addiction has altered their lives and the lives of their families 
  • Discuss the difficulties of staying sober and offer advice 

Typically, newer members pair up with a veteran member who is their  "sponsor." This sponsor helps guide them through the steps of the program. They are also the person they can call if the sponsee ever gets the urge to drink.

There is a spiritual aspect to AA. Members call on the strength of prayer and their higher power to assist, support, and hold them accountable through the different steps of the program. However, AA is non-denominational and is not allied with any sect, political organization, or institution.

The only requirement for an AA membership is the desire to stop drinking. The primary purpose of AA is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics achieve lasting sobriety.

How Do Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings Work?

AA meetings are either open meetings or closed meetings. These two meeting types offer participants a safe space to share in the ways they feel most comfortable. 

Open Meetings vs Closed Meetings

Open meetings are open to both alcoholics and their guests, such as family or friends. These meetings are a safe space where people can share their journeys and trials. These meetings are totally open to the public so their family and loved ones are able to attend. The AA member is still supported by the structure of the meeting and the group, just with their families present.

In closed meetings, however, only those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD)  are allowed to attend. These closed meetings are an alternative safe space for those who require more privacy or anonymity throughout the program. 

Organized by other people struggling with addiction themselves, AA meetings are usually community-based and easy to find. Each group posts their scheduled meetings online, and as publicly as possible. This helps those battling with alcohol addiction find a meeting anywhere at any time. They can also participate in online AA meetings instead. The entire success of the program depends on the members attending the meetings and holding themselves accountable.


12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is as follows:

  • Step One — Admitted powerlessness over alcohol—that life had become unmanageable. 
  • Step Two — Come to believe that a Power greater than oneself could restore an individual to sanity. 
  • Step Three — Decided to turn one's will and lives over to the care of God as they understand Him. 
  • Step Four — Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of oneself.
  • Step Five — Admitted to God, to oneself, and to another human being the exact nature of their wrongs. 
  • Step Six — Must be entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Step Seven — Humbly asked Him to remove shortcomings. 
  • Step Eight — Made a list of all persons they have harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 
  • Step Nine — Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 
  • Step Ten — Continued to take personal inventory, and when they were wrong, promptly admitted it. 
  • Step Eleven — Sought through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with God as they understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for them and the power to carry that out. 
  • Step Twelve — Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, they are to share this message with other alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all affairs.

Who Should Attend AA Meetings?

AA is an all-inclusive group, and their meetings are open to everyone. The organization and its members are not in a position to tell any participant that they are addicted to alcohol. It is instead the responsibility of the participant to admit they have a drinking problem. 

One may have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) if they have trouble drinking only one alcoholic beverage in an evening or if they have bouts of memory loss from nights of drinking. One can also be addicted to alcohol if their drinking is keeping them from living life as normal, if their drinking is causing violent outbursts or harm to those they love or care for, then addiction  is a possibility. 

How Effective Are AA Meetings?

Numerical success with AA is hard to pin down with the program simply because of the anonymous nature of the program. Some attendees never relapse while some relapse and never relapse again, whereas some stay sober for a few months or years and keep coming back to the program to start over. 

Many prefer their involvement in an AA program to remain anonymous, in line with the group's intention. Most participants do not want to admit to relapsing. Also, since the number of members who attend meetings is continuously changing because people drop out of the program, it is very difficult to track success rates. 

Statistically, participants of localized AA groups, or those who attend groups along with treatment facilities, stay abstinent from alcohol longer than those who attend a treatment center or facilitated addiction treatment.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?

Every addiction aftercare program has to fit a person's needs for success in continued recovery. Therefore, each individual should research their options to determine if the spiritual approach to recovery that AA provides is ideal for their recovery. A twelve-step program could be a viable option if the person has the perseverance to attend meetings continuously. Lack of participation seems to hinder the results of the program. 

If a person does not adhere to the structure and attend regular meetings, they will not receive the full benefit of the program. People must be committed to AA to succeed.


How Much Does It Cost?

There are no membership fees or dues for AA. Each AA group usually has a collection box or a designated time during the meeting to make donations to help cover expenses, such as rent, pamphlets, or coffee. Members are not obligated to contribute and can contribute as much or as little as they wish.


Kaskutas, Lee Ann. "Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science." Journal of Addictive Diseases, US National Library of Medicine, 2009,

"What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?", Alcoholics Anonymous,

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Updated on: June 24, 2020
Alcohol Rehab Help Writing Staff
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Annamarie Coy,
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