What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step recovery program for people struggling with alcohol abuse. For almost 90 years, AA has helped millions of people stop drinking and remain sober. However, it’s important to note that AA is not a substance abuse treatment facility or medical provider.
AA meetings occur in local community centers (such as churches, libraries, etc.) and are also available online through the AA Online Intergroup. Meetings are held in approximately 180 countries worldwide. AA groups meet at various times throughout the day in local communities across the globe, making it convenient for people to find a meeting close to them that fits their schedule.
During meetings, members are invited to share their experiences—including past struggles with alcohol and their successes during recovery. AA members typically count the days (and eventually months/years) of their sobriety and often share these important milestones at meetings.
The twelve steps of the AA program are published in what is known as the “Big Book.” Members often reference this text during meetings and are encouraged to get a copy of their own for guidance and inspiration.
About AA as an Organization
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Akron, OH in 1935. Recovering alcoholics Bill Wilson (a NY stockbroker) and Dr. Bob Smith (an Akron surgeon) originally started the program as a community-based fellowship to help others like them.
Since then, AA has evolved into the 12-step program we know it as today. It has even inspired many other similar programs, including:
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
- Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
- Many religious-based 12-step programs
AA groups are funded through donations by participants. Known as the 7th tradition, AA groups are self-supporting and only accept financial contributions from AA members.
AA is a non-profit organization whose official title is Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Its central office, also known as the AA General Service Office, is based in New York, NY.
What Are the 12 Steps of AA?
Members of AA go through a 12-step process to work through their recovery. AA members complete each of these steps one at a time in sequential order, taking as long as needed to complete each step before moving to the next.
The 12 Steps of AA are as follows:
Step 1: Powerlessness. The first step is to admit that you are powerless against your addiction to alcohol. By acknowledging that you have a problem, you can fully commit to recovery.
Step 2: Hope. In step two, you acknowledge that there is a higher power that can help you with your sobriety. The higher power you look to for guidance can be any higher power you choose and does not have to be religious.
Step 3: Surrender. During step three, you surrender to your higher power and will continue to rely on this higher power for guidance throughout your journey.
Step 4: Inventory. The fourth step requires taking stock of yourself and examining where things might have gone wrong that led you to addiction.
Step 5: Confession. After your self-inventory, you will share your new insights with others.
Step 6: Readiness. After admitting your mistakes to others, you spend time reflecting on your past and future.
Step 7: Ask God. During step seven, you ask God (or your higher power) to help you with your sobriety journey.
Step 8: Amends List. Your behavior while drinking likely hurt those around you. During the eighth step, you create a list of people you might have wronged.
Step 9: Make Amends. Once you complete your list, you will reach out to each person to apologize and make amends. (It is important to understand someone on your list may not want to speak with you.)
Step 10: Continue Inventory. Step ten teaches that it is essential to continue taking stock of yourself throughout your recovery and remedy any mistakes as soon as possible.
Step 11: Pray and Meditate. Step eleven teaches that prayer and/or meditation help you stay connected to your higher power and spiritual self.
Step 12: Help Others. Chances are you didn’t get sober without other people’s support. Step twelve asks you to pay it forward by helping others.
Who Can Alcoholics Anonymous Help?
While most people might assume that Alcoholics Anonymous is only for those suffering from alcohol addiction, that is not always the case. Depending on the type of meeting, anyone can attend.
Open meetings are just what they sound like: they are open to anyone and everyone interested in attending. It is not uncommon for family members and loved ones of an alcoholic to attend an open meeting, either with their family member who is suffering or even on their own.
While these nonalcoholic attendees can attend, they are often only there as observers. These meetings can help the family member or loved one better understand what their partner or friend might be going through.
Closed meetings are available only for those who are suffering from alcohol addiction. Those attending a closed meeting typically fit in one of three categories:
- It is their primary source of alcohol treatment
- It is a component of their professional treatment (rehab)
- They have completed treatment and are attending as part of their aftercare program
Closed AA meetings are what you’ll typically see portrayed in television shows and movies. The participants in the meeting will take turns sharing their stories as it pertains to both their addiction and their sobriety.
Support systems centered around addiction aren’t exclusive to those in recovery. The family members and loved ones of those still suffering from addiction or in recovery can also benefit from a strong support system.
Al-Anon meetings are specifically for friends and loved ones of an addict. It is a 12-step program, much in the same way that AA is. Like AA meetings, during an Al-Anon meeting, those in attendance can take turns sharing if they want to.
What to Expect at an AA Meeting
AA meetings all follow a specific structure. When first arriving, attendees can help themselves to any provided snacks and drinks. After everyone is seated, the meeting begins. The type of meeting you attend will dictate the structure of the meeting itself.
During a discussion meeting, the person running the meeting will open the meeting and select a topic for discussion. This topic typically comes from AA literature, such as the “Big Book.” Once the topic is chosen, those in attendance then take turns discussing it.
Speaker meetings are run a little bit differently. During a speaker meeting, attendees are selected to share. During their sharing time, they can talk about their sobriety or even tell a story about something that happened to them recently where their sobriety might have been tested.
At the end of an AA meeting, members stand together in a circle (usually holding hands) and recite the Serenity Prayer. Afterward, members sometimes stay behind for informal discussions or to ask questions.
Most AA meetings last for about one hour.
How to Find an AA Meeting Near You
Today’s technology makes finding a local AA meeting near you easier than ever. The Alcoholics Anonymous website provides a meeting finder on their official website, which you can access by clicking here. AA also offers a free app for iOS/Android that allows users to search for nearby meetings from their smartphones.
Additionally, many community centers offer AA meetings themselves. They also typically post upcoming events on their bulletin boards and websites, including AA meeting times.
Are You Ready to Stop Drinking?
Alcoholics Anonymous has been helping both those suffering from alcohol addiction and their loved ones for over 80 years.
Are you or someone you love struggling with a drinking problem? Visit AA’s meeting finder page on their official website or download the AA Meeting Guide App to check out local and online meeting options.
AA also provides additional resources for people that want to quit drinking, including their online community called the AA Online Intergroup and the AA Grapevine, which has articles and other information about sobriety and life outside of drinking.
FAQs about Alcoholics Anonymous
Does it cost money to attend AA meetings?
There are no dues or fees associated with AA membership. It is not uncommon for a collection basket or similar donation option to be available during meetings to cover the cost of food, drinks, rent, etc. However, no financial contribution is needed or expected.
Who can attend AA meetings?
Open meetings are open for anyone, while closed meetings are strictly for those suffering from an alcohol-related issue.
How do I know if I have a drinking problem?
Moderate drinking is defined as one daily alcoholic beverage for women and two daily drinks for men. Regularly drinking more than this recommended amount can signify “heavy drinking.” Alternatively, periods of drinking excessive amounts in one sitting may indicate a “binge drinking” habit.
You may have an alcohol problem if you engage in heavy or binge drinking or if your drinking negatively impacts your health, relationships, or commitments. In that case, it may be a good idea to seek help—especially if the idea of cutting back or quitting makes you anxious or if you have tried to quit before without success.