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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the world’s most renowned and effective recovery programs. It offers structured group meetings and a safe, supportive community to anyone in recovery—whether they have just begun their journey or have been sober for years. Learn more about AA, including how it started, its principles and twelve steps, who is welcome to attend meetings, what to expect from a standard session, and how to join one yourself.

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What Is Alcoholics Anonymous? (AA)

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, AA is NOT a substance use treatment program or medical provider.

AA groups meet at various times throughout the day in local communities across the globe, making it convenient for people to find a meeting that fits their schedule and can choose between in-person and online meetings.

AA meetings occur in local community centers (such as churches, libraries, etc.) and are available online through the AA Online Intergroup. Meetings are held in approximately 180 countries worldwide.

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.

Where Did AA Come From?

The AA program 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 today. It has even inspired many other similar programs, including:

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.

AA Goals and Principles

The goals and principles of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) revolve around helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety from alcohol addiction.

AA emphasizes personal growth, fellowship, spirituality, service to others, unity, anonymity, personal responsibility, continued learning, and gratitude.

Through these principles, AA provides a supportive community where individuals can find understanding, encouragement, and guidance on their journey to recovery.

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AA Twelve Steps

Members of AA follow a 12-step process to work through their recovery. They complete each step one at a time in sequential order, taking as long as needed to complete each step before moving to the next.

The twelve steps of the AA program are published in what is known as “The AA Big Book.” Members often reference the Big Book during meetings and are encouraged to get a copy for guidance and inspiration.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are:

  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.

The Meaning of Each of the 12 Steps:

  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.
  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.
  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.
  4. Inventory. The fourth step requires taking stock of yourself and examining where things might have gone wrong that led you to addiction.
  5. Confession. After your self-inventory, you will share your new insights with others.
  6. Readiness. After admitting your mistakes to others, you reflect on your past and future.
  7. Ask a Higher Power. During step seven, you ask God or your higher power to help you with your sobriety journey.
  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.
  9. Make Amends. Once you complete your list, you will contact each person to apologize and make amends. (It is important to understand that someone on your list may not want to speak with you.)
  10. Continue Inventory. Step ten teaches you to continue taking stock of yourself throughout your recovery and remedy any mistakes as soon as possible.
  11. Pray and Meditate. Step eleven teaches that prayer and/or meditation help you stay connected to your higher power and spiritual self.
  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.

AA Twelve Traditions

AA also has a list of twelve traditions that outline its core principles as an organization.

These Traditions help to ensure the continued effectiveness and unity of AA groups worldwide.

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous are:

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever non-professional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

The Meaning of Each of the 12 Traditions:

  1. Unity: Our common welfare comes first. The unity of AA is essential for our recovery.
  2. Leadership: Our group’s ultimate authority is a collective conscience guided by a higher power, not by individuals.
  3. Membership: The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Autonomy: Each AA group is autonomous, except in matters affecting other groups or AA.
  5. Purpose: The primary purpose of every AA group is to help those who still suffer from alcoholism.
  6. Outside Affiliations: AA groups don’t endorse or finance outside enterprises to stay focused on our primary purpose.
  7. Self-Support: Each AA group supports itself, declining outside contributions to maintain independence.
  8. Professionalism: AA remains non-professional; we’re volunteers dedicated to helping others.
  9. Organization: While AA isn’t organized, we create service boards or committees accountable to those they serve.
  10. Neutrality: AA doesn’t take sides on outside issues to maintain focus on our primary purpose.
  11. Public Relations: Our public relations focus on attraction, not promotion, and we maintain anonymity.
  12. Anonymity: Anonymity protects the spiritual foundation of our traditions and reminds us to prioritize principles over personalities.

AA Meetings

AA meetings offer a vital source of support and fellowship for people going through the alcohol addiction recovery process.

Whether someone is new to recovery or has been sober for years, AA meetings offer a sense of community and connection that can be invaluable in maintaining sobriety and achieving personal growth.

What to Expect at an AA Meeting

AA meetings all follow a specific structure. When first arriving, attendees can help themselves to any snacks and drinks provided. After everyone is seated, the meeting begins. The style of meeting you attend will dictate the structure of the meeting itself.

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Types of AA Meetings

AA meetings provide a supportive and nonjudgmental environment where individuals can share their experiences, receive encouragement, and learn from others who have faced similar challenges.

However, the type of meeting you attend might depend on your particular needs.

  • Open meetings welcome not only those struggling with alcoholism but also observers, including friends, family members, and healthcare professionals, providing an opportunity for education and outreach. Sometimes, open meetings include speakers sharing their personal stories of recovery or discussions about the 12 steps.
  • Closed meetings are exclusively for individuals who have a desire to stop drinking. This distinction ensures a safe and confidential space where attendees can freely share their experiences, struggles, and successes without fear of judgment or outside scrutiny.
  • During a discussion meeting, the person running the meeting selects a topic. This topic typically comes from AA literature, such as The A.A. Big Book or other daily reflections. Once the topic is chosen, those in attendance 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.

Separate Types of Meetings

  • 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. Al-Anon meetings often involve discussions, sharing sessions, readings from Al-Anon literature, and opportunities for personal reflection and growth.

Most AA meetings last for about one hour. 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.

Who Can Attend AA Meetings?

Anyone who is struggling with alcohol addiction (i.e., alcohol use disorder or AUD) or who has a desire to stop drinking can benefit from attending an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting.

Additionally, people who have a loved one struggling with alcohol use may find support and guidance by attending AA meetings designed for observers, such as open meetings.

Benefits of AA Meetings

While the main goal of AA meetings is to help members maintain sobriety, there are many benefits of attendance.

  1. Support and Fellowship: AA meetings provide a supportive community of individuals who understand the challenges of alcohol addiction and offer empathy, encouragement, and understanding.
  2. Guidance and Mentorship: AA meetings often include sponsorship programs where individuals with more experience in recovery provide guidance, support, and mentorship to newcomers.
  3. Structure: AA follows a structured Twelve Steps program that provides a roadmap for personal growth, self-reflection, and spiritual development. Meetings also offer an opportunity to add routine to your daily life.
  4. Accountability: Regular attendance at AA meetings encourages accountability and commitment to sobriety, helping individuals stay focused on their recovery goals.
  5. Tools and Coping Strategies: AA meetings provide practical tools, coping strategies, and resources for managing cravings, triggers, and other challenges associated with alcohol addiction.
  6. Safe Environment: AA meetings offer a confidential and non-judgmental space where participants can freely express themselves without fear of criticism or stigma.
  7. Hope and Inspiration: Hearing the stories of others who have successfully overcome alcohol addiction can provide hope, inspiration, and motivation for individuals in their own recovery journey.
  8. Continued Learning: AA meetings offer opportunities for continued learning, personal growth, and self-improvement through discussions, readings, and interactions with peers.

How to Find an AA Meeting Near You

Today’s technology makes finding a local AA meeting near you easier than ever. 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.

Additionally, many community centers offer AA meetings themselves. They also typically post upcoming events on their bulletin boards and websites, including AA meeting times.

AA also provides additional resources for people who 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.

AA also offers a free app for iOS and Android that allows users to search for nearby meetings from their smartphones.

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Get Help for Alcohol Addiction

Are you or someone you love struggling with a drinking problem? While AA offers amazing support, it is not an addiction treatment program.

The SAMHSA online treatment locator can provide you with referrals to services you might need when quitting alcohol, such as medical detox services or recommendations for nearby inpatient or outpatient treatment facilities.

You can also speak directly with your doctor or primary healthcare provider to see what they recommend for your current situation—especially if you have any current health concerns beyond getting treatment for alcohol use.

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Centric Behavioral Health, our paid treatment center sponsor, is available 24/7:
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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?

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.

Do I have to speak at AA meetings?

No, participation in AA meetings is voluntary. While sharing your story can be helpful, it’s not required. Many people attend meetings to listen and learn from others’ experiences.

Is AA religious?

AA is not affiliated with any specific religion or denomination. While it does have spiritual aspects, members are free to interpret this in their own way. The program encourages individuals to find a higher power as they understand it.

Is AA the only way to recover from alcohol addiction?

No, AA is just one of many options for recovery from alcohol addiction. Some people find success with AA, while others may prefer different approaches such as therapy, medication, or other support groups. It’s important to find what works best for you.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of AddictionHelp.com and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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  4. Lilienfeld, S. O., & Arkowitz, H. (2024, February 20). Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-alcoholics-anonymous-work/
  5. Moos, R. H., & Moos, B. S. (2006, June). Participation in treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous: A 16-year follow-up of initially untreated individuals. Journal of Clinical Psychology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2220012/
  6. Tonigan, J. S., & HillerSturmhöfel, S. (1994). Alcoholics Anonymous: Who Benefits?. Alcohol Health and Research World. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6876448/
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  8. What to expect at an A.A. meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). https://www.aa.org/information-about-meetings

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