Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is an international program designed for men and women who have struggled with alcohol addiction. While Alcoholics Anonymous is specially designed for those, who are struggling with an addiction to alcohol, those attempting to overcome an addiction to drugs have the option of joining Narcotics Anonymous (NA) which is a very similar program with similar recovery methods. The program has spread massively across the globe since its inception in 1939 when the book “Alcoholics Anonymous” was first published.
Alcoholics Anonymous Membership
Available almost anywhere in the world, these programs know no limitations as far as race, political or religious beliefs, gender, or age. The only thing you need to have to join is the desire to change. The organization is primarily made up of support groups where people battling similar struggles meet to lend support to one another. Members are encouraged to attend meetings regularly, to share stories, give advice, and discuss any struggles they may be experiencing.
There are many benefits to the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Becoming a member is free. There are no fees or dues associated with membership in AA. Individual groups will often initiate a collection during a meeting to assist in covering expenses related to running the meeting such as rent, coffee, or any other materials, but members are not required to contribute. Participating members are anonymous. In general, it is not uncommon for the more senior members of the group to “sponsor” newcomers to help guide them through the process of working through the “steps” of the program.
Out of 3.9 million people who needed treatment for substance abuse in 2005, 2.5 million of them were seeking treatment for abuse of alcohol. As a result, the spread of Alcoholics Anonymous is not necessarily shocking and now has over two million members worldwide with more than 115,000 groups available to members.
There aren’t any reliable statistics for the success rate of the program as it is anonymous. Many groups elect to opt out of participating in any study as it could harm the anonymity of its members. Also, those who have experienced a relapse are often unwilling to share that or find it uncomfortable to admit. Many new members have reported being introduced to a group by another member while others have been referred from a treatment facility. The majority of members have attended treatment programs before this outpatient option.
The 12-Step Program of AA
The Alcoholics Anonymous program is made up of 12 steps, 12 promises, and 12 traditions that are designed to keep the member on the path to recovery.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power higher than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Decided to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take a personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- 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 12 promises:
- If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.
- We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
- We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
- We will comprehend the word serenity, and we will know peace.
- No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
- That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
- We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
- Self-seeking will slip away.
- Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
- Fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us.
- We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
- We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
The 12 traditions:
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
- 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.
- The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every AA group ought to be entirely self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- AA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- 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.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
AA also has several famous slogans that members frequently adopt into their daily lives, reflection journals and inner dialogue, such as:
- First things first
- This too shall pass
- Time takes time
- Misery is optional
- Live life on life’s terms
- The key to freedom is in the Steps
Inside an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting
There is a 13th step to the 12-step program that should probably be listed first, and that is: Walk through the door for your first meeting. It takes a lot of courage to make the decision, and even more to act on it so to make it easier, here’s what you can expect from a typical meeting.
Find a meeting – Attend a meeting with someone already in AA/NA who has been in the program long enough to know who it works. If you can’t, some websites can walk you through how to find meetings near you.
Pick the meeting that sounds right to you – There are several different types of sessions you can attend, so make sure to research and decide what is right for you before you go.
Once inside – Most meetings usually start with some AA/NA reading and the Serenity Prayer and end in a similar fashion. You are never required to share and are often not required to introduce yourself. If you do, only first names are allowed.
Find your flow – It’s OK to go to several different group meetings until you find the type that feels right for you. The important thing is that you are there and willing to put the time and effort into your recovery instead of your addiction.
These programs are there to encourage you to open up about any issues you are facing in your recovery and to help you explore other options for keeping busy outside of substance abuse. They are designed to help you recognize triggers and to show you that you are not alone in your struggles.
AA is built on a peer support model, and group meetings are a platform for you to listen to others discuss their struggles, discuss your own and to give and gain wisdom or guidance from others who are also working through their recovery. Being accountable to your group members can go a long way to improving your confidence about staying sober, help motivate you to make good decisions, and will empower you to continue to work toward your ultimate goal: sobriety.