Alcoholics Anonymous

Established in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert “Bob” Smith, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has become the cornerstone of effective, non-professional, recovery programs. Today, AA is found in approximately 180 nations worldwide, with estimated membership at over two million.

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Meetings are free of charge. According to their Traditions (the guidelines for AA), members and attendees are asked to give a nominal donation to pay for rent, books, coffee, and other supplies to keep that meeting open. However, no one is turned away if they are unable to donate.

It is often easiest to explain what AA is by explaining what it is not. It is not a religious movement, treatment center and does not have a president or other formal leader. As stated by AA’s preamble, introduced in 1947:

“Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.”

How Alcoholics Anonymous Works

Alcoholics Anonymous has had a history of high success rates because many people find it beneficial to have a support system rather than stay sober alone. Meetings are open to anyone interested in attending, whether for themselves or to find out more for a loved one.

Some groups are open meetings that anyone may attend; some meetings are closed to only those struggling with alcoholism. There are other kinds of meetings, including women or men only or discussion meetings. It is advisable to check your local A.A. website to see the type of available meetings. In the early stages of recovery, many new members are advised to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. While this seems daunting, many members will tell you this practice helped them connect to people and begin recovering from their alcoholism.

It is practice to introduce oneself by first name and identify yourself as an alcoholic. This introduction helps to remove some of the barriers we often see in society. People are welcomed and accepted regardless of experiences or backgrounds. The program states, “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” The uniting factor is the common goal of recovering from alcoholism. Meetings are safe spaces, and people reminded that what is said in a meeting stays in a meeting.

Newcomers are encouraged to find a sponsor. A sponsor is a person who has been sober for some time and can help as you navigate your new way of life. This is helpful for you, and for them as alcoholics helping alcoholics is a key tenet of A.A. philosophy and is seen as a way to stay sober. Simply put, A.A. works when a recovered alcoholic shares their experience (past), strength (A.A.), and hope (their recovery today).

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a secular guide to living a sober life. When Bill W. began his recovery, he used a six-step program based on principles from the Oxford Group, a religious movement founded in the beliefs of early Christianity. The steps as Bill adopted them were:

1. We admitted that we were licked, that we were powerless over alcohol.

2. We made a moral inventory of our defects or sins.

3. We confessed or shared our shortcomings with another person in confidence.

4. We made restitution to all those we had harmed by our drinking.

5. We tried to help other alcoholics, with no thought of reward in money or prestige.

6. We prayed to whatever God we thought there was for power to practice these precepts.

With the aid of agnostic and atheist members of AA, Bill Wilson rewrote the steps in 1948 to emphasize a spiritual, rather than a “God” connection. These steps and principles have been the AA program since the publication of the AA text, known as “The Big Book.” They are a design for living a life in recovery.

There’s no requirement in AA to accept or follow the 12 steps. All that’s asked is that one keeps an open mind, listens to others, and reads some literature to decide for oneself.

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.

Should You Join Alcoholics Anonymous?

The decision to attend support meetings of any kind is a deeply personal choice. The best way to decide is to attend several different meetings in your area, ideally try 30 meetings in 30 days. If you find AA is not for you, there other options available such as SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Recovery Dharma, or Celebrate Recovery. Whatever you choose, meetings can boost the odds of sobriety by up 75%, according to a New York Times article, and most sources agree that AA is an effective way to recover.

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Alcoholics Anonymous

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