AA: What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in America, so we constantly take active measures to reduce this public health nightmare. One of the oldest and most widely used resources for fighting this disease is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Boasting more than 2 million members, the organization is easily the largest available program combating alcoholism.

Like other addiction programs, though, this group has its detractors. Whether it’s misleading claims that AA is a religious organization or challenges to the program’s efficacy, people have long questioned whether the system is right for those battling alcohol addiction. Once you understand the program in it entirety, though, you’ll realize that it offers hope for many.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship and mutual aid organization with the stated purpose of helping members overcome alcoholism. The group began in 1935 when the founder, Bill Wilson, began having meetings alongside others struggling with alcohol addiction. While these groups were male-oriented in the beginning, it was only two years before the first female member joined.

Within a few years of its founding, the organization had released what’s now known as “The Big Book.” This literature provides the pathway of how people can overcome addiction. It set out many of the principles of AA and eventually became one of the best-selling books of all time. The Twelve Steps mentioned in the book have been adapted to all 12-step programs.

These are the basis for recovery in the program:

  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.

Alcoholics Anonymous also follows the Twelve Traditions. These are rules that guide relationships within groups, between groups, with other parts of the organization, and with society as a whole. They gear everything about the program towards helping people stay sober while assisting other members and maintaining anonymity.

Anonymity in the group is so important, in fact, that there was debate over whether newspapers should include founder Bill Wilson’s full name in his obituary. They also urge members to remain anonymous in public media while groups are to avoid becoming affiliated with outside organizations. Within Alcoholics Anonymous, the focus is only on sobriety.

If you’re struggling with alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders, contact us at Transformations Treatment Center today. Our staff of professionals can help get you started on the road to recovery.

Who Can Join Alcoholics Anonymous?

People from all backgrounds are welcome in Alcoholics Anonymous. The Third Tradition lays out the only requirement for membership: “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Friends and relatives can attend open meetings, but they cannot become members. Al-Anon and Alateen were created for the loved ones of problem drinkers.

Some people avoid membership because they believe AA is a religious-focused group. Since the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions both mention either “God” or a higher power, this is an understandable conclusion. In reality, this higher power only needs to be something that a member sees as greater than themselves.

Each of the following forces are frequently used by members who don’t want to involve religious beliefs:

  • Science
  • Humanity
  • The Universe
  • Nature
  • Consciousness

People of all religious affiliations – and those with no affiliation at all – find themselves welcomed in Alcoholics Anonymous. The program endorses no specific denomination or scripture. Bill Wilson started this process when a friend recommended that the program focus more on the science of treating alcoholism rather than religion. The religious terminology simply stuck over the years.

The organization also takes no stance on political or other divisive issues. Members need to feel welcome regardless of their beliefs, so the focus remains combatting the addictive nature of alcohol. Groups also charge no fee or dues for joining, so on the question of who can join Alcoholics Anonymous, the answer remains “anyone who wants to overcome alcoholism.”

Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness Rates

Another issue some people have with AA involves the debate over its efficacy. Several studies have concluded that the program is effective for increasing abstinence to alcohol, but some conflicting research exists. In the Surgeon General’s 2016 Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, however, it was concluded that Alcoholics Anonymous was effective.

There have been many studies over the years, but a 2009 meta-analysis looking at the bulk of research found that AA members had abstinence rates that were around twice as high as those found in people trying to quit without the program. Another meta-analysis in 2014 found that a direct link to improved abstinence rates existed with Alcoholics Anonymous membership.

As with all programs, though, certain factors increased the rate of success:

  • Prior success in other 12-step programs.
  • Continuous attendance at AA meetings.
  • Family support in programs – including Al-Anon membership.
  • Concurrent treatment of co-occurring disorders.
  • Greater participation in the first three months of meetings.
  • Taking part in other treatments (e.g. individual therapy).

Even though there’s plenty of evidence supporting the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous, researchers continue to delve into whether the program works. One of the most recent studies into the question – a 2020 review from Cochrane Library – found that AA members had a higher abstinence rate than individuals using all other treatment options.

The effectiveness of Alcohol Anonymous really comes down to the individual. While AA can be a powerful tool, there may be better options out there for you. Contact us today at Transformations Treatment Center and we can help you decide the best path forward for overcoming alcohol addiction.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Right For You?

The question of whether Alcoholics Anonymous is right for any particular person can have several answers. While it may be helpful for someone, for instance, there could be similar programs available that cater more to their individual needs. Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety and Moderation Management are just a few alternatives.

The only definite way to know whether AA is right for you is to attend a few meetings. The organization offers a quiz, however, that can help potential members decide if the 12-step program is right for them. Here are a few of those questions:

  • Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
  • Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking– stop telling you what to do?
  • Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
  • Do you ever try to get “extra” drinks at a party because you do not get enough?

There are 12 questions in the full quiz and answering “yes” to at least four signifies a drinking problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean Alcoholics Anonymous is the best program for you, and even if it is, the organization will typically be more successful when used as part of a larger treatment plan.

Regardless of the resources you decide to use to reach sobriety, though, the most important thing is to get started now.

How to Find Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

With over 118,000 groups meeting every week across the world, finding an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is a simple process. You can use the organization’s meeting page – linked in the Sources section below – to find groups that meet every day of the week in every state and 180 countries. You’ll also find information on phone and virtual meetings here.

Virtual meetings became increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person treatment and recovery options during coronavirus became less available, but fortunately, thousands of virtual meetings take place throughout the week. These involve video meetings, chat groups, email communication and several options with 24/7 availability.

There are also dozens of telephone Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout the week. Several groups meet every day, so no matter your schedule, there’s always a good time available. For individuals who may not yet feel comfortable meeting face-to-face, virtual and telephone options are ideal for continued recovery.

You Don’t Have to Fight Alcoholism Alone

Among the most common addictions, alcohol is surpassed only by tobacco in its number of victims. While this fact is disheartening, it also means that no one is alone in the struggle. If you’re dealing with alcoholism, there are many pathways to recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous is often one piece of the puzzle, but it’s important to find a program that works for you.

At Transformations Treatment Center, we believe that addiction recovery is only possible with a customized treatment plan that’s focused on the individual. The right strategy for you may not work for someone else. Contact us today to learn more about how our certified staff of professionals can help you take your life back.


Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings


Alcoholics Anonymous


Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs


Surgeon General Report


Journal of Addictive Diseases


Cochrane Library


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