What is Alcoholics Anonymous?


Alcoholics Anonymous logo

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is known all over the world for the help that it provides to members (fellows) who are struggling with alcoholism. AA is not a professional organization. It supports itself and all are welcome, regardless of race, political belief, gender, education, or age. Anyone who wants to address issues with alcohol abuse is welcome to attend, in a completely anonymous environment.

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1939, and countless people have received help ever since.
“Since the book Alcoholics Anonymous first appeared in 1939, this basic text has helped millions of men and women recover from alcoholism.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

AA bases its treatment approach on 12 steps, which have formed the basis of many other step programs for a variety of behavioral issues. These are:

1. To admit that you have become powerless over alcohol and that you are no longer able to manage your life.
2. That only a Power greater than yourself can help you bring back your sanity.
3. To decide to turn over your life and will to God or according to how you understand Him.
4. To conduct a fearless and thorough moral inventory of yourself.
5. To admit your wrongdoings to a greater Power, to yourself, and to others.
6. To be prepared to have a higher Power remove all of your character flaws.
7. To humbly ask the higher Power to remove those deficiencies.
8. To make a list of any individuals you may have harmed, and to be ready to make up for them.
9. To make reparations to those you have harmed, unless doing so would cause further harm them or other people.
10. To continue to search your own soul for any wrongdoings and to always promptly admit to any mistakes that you have made.
11. To meditate and pray to the higher Power, asking for knowledge on how to carry out what that higher Power desires you to do.
12. To bring this message to other alcoholics.

The steps must be followed in order, and many people will complete some steps, only to have to return to an earlier step and start again. AA does not judge people on how quickly they can make it through the 12 steps as it considers recovery to be a lifelong journey.

The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

AA also follows 12 specific traditions, which are:

1. Personal welfare is only possible when there is unity in AA, and common welfare hence takes precedence.
2. A higher Power is the only ultimate authority within AA.
3. Wanting to stop drinking is the only requirement for being accepted as a member of AA.
4. All AA groups must run autonomously, working together only when AA as a whole is affected.
5. The primary message of every AA group is to reach out to suffering alcoholics.
6. AA groups will never endorse in any way any other group as it diverts from the primary purpose.
7. No AA group will accept outside contributions, but instead be fully self-supporting.
8. All AA groups will be nonprofessional, but special workers may be employed in service centers.
9. AA will never be an organized group, with the exception of committees or service boards for specific responsibilities.
10. AA does not have opinions on issues other than alcoholism.
11. Personal anonymity must be maintained; hence AA must attract new members rather than promote its services.
12. All traditions are based on anonymity, meaning principles are more important than personalities.

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

A key factor within AA is the acceptance of a higher Power. However, this no longer has to be God as accepted in the Christian faiths. The group is 100% anonymous and all meetings are devoted to discussing alcoholism and how the 12 steps are being applied. Sometimes, large meetings will take place with presentations by speakers, discussing a particular step or challenge.
When people first join the AA, they are encouraged to attend every day, in order to avoid early relapse. Doing so also provides them with the opportunity to socialize in a sober environment. Members listen to each other, thus making them realize that they are not alone in their struggles. The aim of AA is to encourage abstinence, in particular by understanding the consequences of their behaviors. Additionally, they are encouraged to avoid specific things, places, and people, particularly when they feel lonely, tired, hungry, or angry.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?

The effectiveness of AA is hard to determine due to its anonymity. However, for many, the popularity of the 12 step concept speaks for itself. Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Medical School has attempted to bring together existing knowledge on the effectiveness of these programs.
“Research has repeatedly confirmed that alcoholics who participate in AA do better than those who do not. For example, in a study of patients with alcohol and drug dependence who moved from residential treatment to AA or NA, 38% were still involved in the self-help groups two years later. Of the continuing participants, 81% had been abstinent for the previous six months, compared with 26% of the nonparticipants. Similar findings come from a study with an unusually long follow-up of 16 years. After that time, two-thirds of patients who participated in AA for six months or more had few drinking problems, compared to one-third of those who did not participate.”

Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous

For a variety of reasons, AA is not suitable for everybody. Excellent alternatives exist, however, many of which are based broadly on the same principles as AA. Some will have a stronger focus on internal powers rather than higher powers, others are more or less flexible, and so on. Two popular alternatives are SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) and Women for Sobriety.

SMART Recovery

A popular AA alternative that is based on a 4-Point Program is SMART Recovery.
“SMART Recovery is the leading self-empowering addiction recovery support group. Our participants learn tools for addiction recovery based on the latest scientific research and participate in a world-wide community which includes free, self-empowering, science-based mutual help groups.”

The four points are:
1. To build and maintain internal motivation
2. To manage urges and cravings
3. To manage behaviors, feelings, and thoughts
4. To live a balanced life

The approach is based on teaching participants self-reliance and self-empowerment through regular group meetings. It teaches participants appropriate techniques, while supporting psychological and medical treatment at the same time. SMART Recovery is recognized for its excellent results.

Women for Sobriety (WFS)

A second popular alternative is Women for Sobriety, which offers the New Life Program. This program is based on 13 statements of acceptance, targeted specifically at women. Women are encouraged to consciously use this system every day, waking up 15 minutes earlier than they normally would in order to meditate on the statements. They should then choose one specific statement that they will consciously apply for the rest of the day. The Thirteen Statements of Acceptance are:

1. I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility.
2. Negative thoughts destroy only myself.
My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.
3. Happiness is a habit I will develop.
Happiness is created, not something to wait for.
4. Problems bother me only to the degree that I permit them to.
I now better understand my problems and do not permit problems to overwhelm me.
5. I am what I think.
I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.
6. Life can be ordinary or it can be great.
Greatness is mine by a conscious effort.
7. Love can change the course of my world.
Caring becomes all important.
8. The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.
Daily I put my life into proper order, knowing which are the priorities.
9. The past is gone forever.
No longer will I be victimized by the past. I am a new person.
10. All love given is returned.
I will learn to know that others love me.
11. Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.
I treasure all moments of my new life.
12. I am a competent woman and have much to give life.
This is what I am and I shall know it always.
13. I am responsible for myself and for my actions.
I am in charge of my mind, my thoughts, and my life.


Alcoholics Anonymous is a proven approach for helping alcoholics overcome their drinking problem, and for those who wish to take a different path there are alternatives.  A.A. is free and confidential and virtually every community has at least one A.A. group.  If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or heavy drinking call our alcoholic hotline today and get answers and guidance.  1-866-225-8502