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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). AUD encompasses all drinking problems, including alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcoholism.

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 to 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 help other recovering alcoholics achieve lasting sobriety.

Who Should Attend AA Meetings?

AA is an all-inclusive group and 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.

ARH 12 step meeting

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

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How Do AA Meetings Work?

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, so they are as public as possible. This helps those battling with alcoholism find a meeting anywhere at any time.

Program success is dependent on attending these meetings regularly and holding yourself accountable.

You can also participate in an online AA meeting (AA intergroup), virtual meeting, or zoom meeting instead.

Open vs. Closed Meetings

AA offers both open and closed meetings:

Open 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.

Closed Meeting

Only those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) are allowed to attend closed meetings. A closed meeting is an alternative safe space for those who require more privacy or anonymity throughout the program. 

12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are 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.

How Effective Are AA Meetings?

Some AA attendees never relapse, while others relapse once and never relapse again. Other people 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.

However, since the number of members who attend meetings is continuously changing because people drop out of the program, it is difficult to track success rates. 

Statistically, participants of localized AA groups (or those who attend groups along with treatment facilities), maintain abstinence from alcohol longer than those who only receive professional treatment at an addiction treatment facility.

Is AA Worth It?

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 motivation to attend meetings regularly. Lack of participation will 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 AA 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.

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Resources

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Kaskutas, Lee Ann. "Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science." Journal of Addictive Diseases, US National Library of Medicine, 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746426/.

"What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?" Aa.org, Alcoholics Anonymous, aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa.

W., Bill. “Twelve Promises.” Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland, 24 July 2020, www.aacle.org/what-is-aa/twelve-promises/.

Wilson, Bill. A.A. Tradition-How It Developed. 2019, www.aa.org/assets/en_US/p-17_AATraditions.pdf.

Emrick, C. D., Tonigan, J. S., Montgomery, H., & Little, L. (1993). 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. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1993-98424-003

Tonigan, J. S., Connors, G. J., & Miller, W. R. (2003). 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. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2003-02394-011

Kaskutas, Lee Ann. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science.” Taylor & Francis, Journal of Addictive Diseases, 1 Apr. 2009, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10550880902772464.

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, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8747503/.

Montgomery, Henry A., et al. “Does Alcoholics Anonymous Involvement Predict Treatment Outcome?” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, Pergamon, 18 Nov. 1999, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/074054729500018Z.

Cain, Carole. “Personal Stories: Identity Acquisition and Self‐Understanding in Alcoholics Anonymous.” Wiley Online Library, Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, June 1991, www.jstor.org/stable/640431. https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1525/eth.1991.19.2.02a00040
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