What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

How Does A.A. Work?

Group Sitting in a Circle
A.A. Meetings Can Be Large or Small. © Getty Images

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.

Alcoholics Anonymous, or A.A. as it is widely known, has been around since it was founded in 1935 by Bill W.

and Dr. Bob in Akron, Ohio. The expansion of the program from a meeting between two alcoholics on June 10, 1935 got a boost with the publication of the book, "Alcoholics Anonymous," known as "The Big Book," and in 1941 by the publication of an article in the Saturday Evening Post about the group.

The rich history of the early days of the formation of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement has been chronicled by archivist Mitchell K. in a series of articles available here.

Who Can Join A.A.?

Alcoholism and drug addiction are often referred to as " substance abuse" or "chemical dependency." Alcoholics and nonalcoholics are, therefore, sometimes introduced to A.A. and encouraged to attend A.A. meetings.

Anyone may attend open A.A. meetings. An open meeting is open to the public, while a closed meeting is for members only.

Only those with a drinking problem may attend closed meetings or become A.A. members.

People with problems other than alcoholism are eligible for A.A. membership only if they have a drinking problem too.

According to A.A. traditions, the only qualification for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

What Does A.A. Do?

A.A. members share their experience with anyone seeking help with a drinking problem; they give person-to-person service or "sponsorship" to the alcoholic coming to A.A.

from any source. The A.A. program, set forth in the Twelve Steps, offers the alcoholic a way to develop a satisfying life without alcohol. This program is discussed at A.A. group meetings.

Open A.A. meetings, which anyone can attend, are usually "speaker meetings," at which a member of A.A. will tell his story - what it was like, what happened and what it's like now. Most A.A. meetings, however, are closed meetings for members only.

A typical A.A. meeting is a topic discussion meeting. The person leading the meeting chooses a topic and members take turn sharing their experience on the topic. Some A.A. meetings are designated for a specific purpose, such as 12-step study groups or beginners' meetings - designed to teach newcomers about the basics of the program.

People who have never been to an actual A.A. meeting can have misconceptions about how they work due to portrayals they may have seen in the movies or on television. One long-time member of A.A. has described her early misconceptions about meetings in the article, "What Can I Expect at a 12-Step Meeting?

How Effective Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Due to the confidential nature of a program in which members practice anonymity, and the traditions of the program which discourages members from endorsing "outside enterprises," scientific studies of the efficiency of A.A. is limited.

However, there are several studies that have shown that people who were involved in mutual support groups were more likely to remain abstinent after three years than those who tried to quit "on their own."

There have been several studies that show that people who seek professional treatment or counseling for their drinking problems have better outcomes if they combine participation in A.A. along with their outpatient or inpatient treatment program.

Is A.A. For You?

Clearly, faith-based programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous are not for everyone. Although millions of people claim to have found lasting recovery in A.A., the spiritual aspect of the program can be a stumbling block for some who wish to stop drinking.

Can A.A. help you? The only way to find out is to give it a try and see for yourself if you think the help and support from others struggling with the same problem will help you stay sober. A.A. has no dues or fees, so it won't cost you anything to visit a few meetings.

You really have nothing to lose by giving it a try.

How Do I Find a Meeting?

"Alcoholics Anonymous" is usually listed in the white pages of most local telephone books. Call your local number for information on meetings in your area. Central office, intergroup or answering service numbers throughout the world are available on the A.A. World Services web site. There are also many online meetings available. Click here to find a meeting on the Internet.

Source: Information on Alcoholics Anonymous

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