What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the original 12-step program for recovery.
AA was developed as a method to help people recover from addiction to alcohol and to maintain abstinence, with the only requirement for membership being a desire to stop drinking.
Since its inception, AA has grown into a global fellowship with more than 123,000 groups in approximately 180 countries around the world. AA membership is currently estimated to be over two million, and its literature has been translated into more than 100 different languages.
History Of Alcoholics Anonymous
AA was started in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, by Bill Wilson, a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob Smith, an Akron surgeon, who were both alcoholics.
At that time, professional treatment was generally primitive and ineffective. Wilson and Smith formed the foundation of AA based on the premise that alcoholism was a disease that encompasses mind, emotions, and body, as well as the new concept that alcoholics could most effectively be helped through contact with other recovering alcoholics, a process that provides mutual assistance and support to both parties.
In 1939, AA published its basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly known as “the Big Book.” The Big Book explained the fellowship’s philosophy and approach and articulated the 12 Steps (the basis of the AA program of recovery).
With the availability of the Big Book, AA grew and developed exponentially. The 12 Traditions of AA were adapted in 1950 to provide additional structure and guidance, in addition to clarity regarding AA’s primary purpose, and to preserve the fellowship’s unity during a time of rapid growth.
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Therapeutic Value Of The 12-Step Program
12-step programs are successful and widely available resources for individuals seeking recovery from addiction.
These programs are based on behavioral, cognitive, and spiritual principles and practices through which people can learn how to stay clean and sober one day at a time.
The principles contained in the 12-steps include:
- Accepting powerlessness over one’s addiction.
- Acknowledging that willpower alone cannot achieve sustained recovery.
- Connecting with others who have been through similar experiences helps combat isolation and provides social support.
- Having faith in a power beyond oneself provides an antidote for the self-absorption and fear of addiction.
- Working with a sponsor can provide guidance and mentorship.
- Letting go of the need to try to control people and situations.
- Examining past errors and striving to make amends.
- Involving a process of spiritual renewal that draws on the practices of meditation and prayer.
- Being of service by helping others achieve recovery.
What Is An AA Meeting Like?
AA meetings provide a time and place for people to share their personal experiences with addiction and recovery with others in a group setting.
Their purpose is to let members share their challenges, pain, and successes. 12-step meetings are not classes or group therapy sessions. In any given meeting there are people with days to decades in recovery.
Meetings are often held in treatment centers, community centers, churches, and other public facilities because these places tend to be affordable, welcoming to 12-step programs, and available.
In many communities, AA meetings are available seven days a week/365 days a year, and there is no cost to participate (although small donations are encouraged as part of the program’s imperative for self-sufficiency). Meetings are available online as well as in-person and can be found via online search.
Common Questions About Rehab
Is Alcoholics Anonymous Right For You?
Most 12-step programs (and AA, specifically) have defined principles to follow. While most members accept and appreciate these aspects, it is important to be aware of them when considering membership.
Introduction To New Ways Of Thinking
As effective as the 12-step programs of recovery have proven to be, they are imperfect. Much of the language and philosophy of 12-step recovery can be strange and perplexing to those who are new. The suggestion is to “take what you need and leave the rest,” by embracing what makes sense to you in early recovery and setting the rest aside for the time being.
For some, the focus on spirituality in 12-step programs can be a turn-off. It’s important to keep in mind that 12-step programs are spiritual, not religious. For some 12-step program members, spirituality and religion are directly connected; for many others they are not at all connected.
AA and other 12-step programs create an environment that promotes emotional safety, where people have the experience of being connected and feeling understood and accepted unconditionally. For people recovering from addiction, many of whom struggle with anxiety, fear, sadness, depression, guilt, shame, and loneliness, this is often a positive dynamic. Therefore, potential members should be comfortable actively participating in this group setting.
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Help Is Available
For people seeking recovery, AA meetings provide a widely available and effective support system comprising of people who have gone through the same kinds of struggles. Whatever life challenges you have been through or are dealing with currently, there are people in AA who have had that experience and got through it clean and sober. They can help you do the same.
If you are interested in the support provided by the 12-steps of AA recovery, you can find an AA meeting near you by going to their website and searching for your town or state.
Some who struggle with long-term heavy drinking may want to seek treatment beyond AA meetings alone. Contact a treatment provider today to learn more about rehab options near you.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience