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Alcoholics Anonymous Recovery Program, 12 Steps, and Addiction Treatment

Are you struggling to quit drinking? You are not alone. Millions of people each year try to quit drinking, and most of them find it very difficult. But don’t give up—there are plenty of resources available to help you succeed. Here, we will discuss the Alcoholics Anonymous program and whether it might be right for you.

Every day, people attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings to get help with their drinking problems. AA is a 12-Step program that provides support and guidance for people struggling with alcohol addiction.1 The program has been around for over 85 years and has helped millions of people recover from alcoholism.2 If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol misuse, AA may be an effective part of your treatment plan.

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

AA began in 1935 when Bill Wilson (Bill W.), a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Robert Smith (Dr. Bob S.), an Akron, Ohio surgeon, met.3 (It’s customary to not use last names in AA, as it is an “anonymous” program.) Bill W. had achieved sobriety with the help of a friend and was trying to help other people dealing with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) attain sobriety. Dr. Bob had been working with the Oxford Group, a nonalcoholic fellowship in Akron, but he was not having much success staying sober. What Bill W. and Dr. Bob discovered the day they met was that sharing their stories and offering each other support helped keep them sober.

The foundation of the AA program is the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions.1 The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous provide a roadmap of how to stay sober over the long-term.1 The 12 Traditions were developed to help manage the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.1 They lay the foundation for how the institution of Alcoholics Anonymous functions.1

There are 3 primary books used in Alcoholics Anonymous. These books are considered conference-approved literature, which means they are approved by the General Service Conference of AA.4 These books are:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly referred to as “The Big Book”). This book is currently in its 4th edition. The first 164 pages outline the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the rest comprises personal stories of alcoholics in recovery. The stories are updated periodically in order to reflect changing times.
  • 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. This book outlines the 24 basic principles of the program.
  • Daily Reflections. A book of daily meditations.

What Services Does AA Provide?

AA defines itself as follows: “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.”5 AA is a community of people in recovery, helping each other work toward long-term sobriety.5 Membership in AA is entirely voluntary—people come and go as they please.5 AA offers its members strategies and support for living a satisfying, sober life.

AA is not an alcohol treatment program.5 However, there are certain tools that are available to help people achieve long-term sobriety:5

  • Sponsorship. Newcomers of AA are strongly encouraged to obtain a sponsor. This is someone in the program who has spent a substantial amount of time in recovery and will mentor you and work the 12 Steps with you. Their expertise is invaluable in helping you navigate the beginning months of sobriety when things can seem overwhelming. A sponsor is not assigned. Essentially, you meet people in AA, and when you find someone who has achieved a solid recovery that you click with, you ask that person to sponsor you.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous program. Going through the 12 Steps teaches you to live a satisfying life as a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. AA meetings are available in most communities and are regularly scheduled activities where people gather to share their experiences of staying sober.
  • Fellowship. The opportunity to meet (and hopefully make friends with) other people who have successfully stayed sober.

How Can I Join an AA Meeting?

Finding AA meetings can be as simple as searching online. All sanctioned meetings are listed on the Alcoholics Anonymous website. Meetings are available throughout the United States and worldwide. Larger towns and cities may have multiple meetings per day at a variety of times. AA also has an app available for your phone that has a meeting locator in case you want to find a meeting while traveling.

AA meetings have traditionally been held in person. However, there have been online options as long as the internet has been around.6 During the global pandemic, many meetings moved online for the safety of attendees, but there are still plenty of in-person meetings. When you search for a meeting on the AA website, it will show which format the meeting is in. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are free, but they will typically pass around a donation basket during the meeting. This money goes toward rent for the room, coffee, and other expenses.

There are a variety of meeting formats:6

  • Open speaker meetings. These are open to anyone who wants to attend—both those who identify as alcoholic and those who may be curious about AA. A speaker will share the story of their journey toward sobriety. They may share their experience with alcohol, how they came to join AA, and how their lives have improved since getting sober.
  • Open discussion meetings. These are open to anyone who wants to attend. These involve discussion of recovery-related issues and problems that people bring up.
  • Closed discussion meetings. These meetings are not open to the public and are for people who identify as alcoholic.
  • Step meetings. These are usually closed meetings. The meeting will focus on in-depth discussion of one of the Steps.

The meeting list will usually identify the type of meeting and information about any special criteria for the meeting. Some meetings may be women-only or men-only. Others are Spanish-speaking or especially for young people or the LGBTQ community.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The foundation of the Alcoholics Anonymous program is the 12 Steps. The Big Book states, “These are the steps we took which are suggested as a program of recovery.”7 They provide the roadmap for moving through the program. Briefly, each step is as follows:8

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.

The first step is admitting we have a problem with alcohol. We acknowledge that we need help to stay sober and that alcohol is causing problems in our life. This is a decision step.

Step 2: Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The second step involves realizing that, despite your best efforts, you could not stay sober on your own. You start to understand that you need help staying sober and returning to a healthy life. This is a decision step.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

Step 3 involves deciding to do things differently. This step mentions “God”, but it is important to understand that AA is not a religious program. However you define “God” is up to you, and if you don’t believe in a higher power, the program will still work for you. This is a decision step.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 4 asks that you to take an honest look at the impact that your alcohol use has had on your life. This involves looking at resentments you have against people and institutions, considering people you may have hurt through your actions, and seeing your part in these situations. This is an action step and requires you to write these things down on a worksheet or in a format that your sponsor suggests.

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The essence of Step 5 is acknowledging the wrongs that you have done. You share the contents of your fourth step with your sponsor or a trusted mentor. You discuss your role and identify areas in your life where you need to grow and develop different coping mechanisms. This is an action step. In it, you will make a list of your character defects.

Step 6: Were entirely willing to have God remove all these defects of character.

In Step 6, you work on changing your behaviors and addressing areas where you need to grow. You become willing to do the work. This is also an action step.

Step 7: Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 7 requires you to seek help in addressing your shortcomings. This may come through a daily prayer and meditation practice, calling your sponsor when you don’t know how to handle something, or asking for help in other ways. This is another action step.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Using the information from Step 4, you make a list of all the people you have harmed and become willing to make things right with them. This includes financial amends or institutions you may have harmed. This is an action step.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step 9 involves making amends to people you have harmed. Your goal is to make things right on your end and take responsibility for your behavior. Their response to your amends is something that you do not have control over. You just do your part to make things right. This is an action step.

Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step 10 begins the maintenance steps. You’ve done the hard work of looking at yourself and your actions and have made things right with as many people as possible. Now you are looking at continuing your progress in order to stay sober long-term. You constantly assess your thoughts and behaviors, and when you hurt others or behave inappropriately, you make amends immediately.

Step 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.

Step 11 requires you to start developing a spiritual life, however that may look for you. Daily rituals that feed your development are needed to help keep you humble and grounded in recovery. This is a maintenance step.

Step 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.

Step 12 asks you to give back. You have worked through the Steps, your life has improved, and you are remaining sober. Now it is time for you to help others who are on the journey of recovery. This is a maintenance step.

Can Alcoholics Anonymous Help Me?

Alcoholics Anonymous is one tool in the recovery toolbox. The program has emphasized anonymity since its inception. Its anonymous nature has made it difficult to gather ample data on the effectiveness of the program. Most information obtained is anecdotal. What we do know is that many people who have achieved long-term recovery credit some or a great deal of their success to participation in 12-Step programs. Studies show that individuals who take part in 12-Step programs as part of their treatment plans have better long-term outcomes.9,10,11

Treatment programs, both inpatient and outpatient, often include an introduction to 12-Step programs as part of their treatment regimen. They may recommend 12-Step meetings or mandate a certain number of AA meetings as part of treatment. Developing a network of sober people that you can turn to when you leave treatment is important for your ongoing success.11 12-Step meeting attendance can be an important part of aftercare.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a free, widely available option for those who want to quit drinking. If you are struggling with your alcohol use and need help, try it. It just might work for you.

How to Find the Addiction Treatment You Need

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehabs across the U.S. If you or someone you know has been struggling with an alcohol use disorder, our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to help you find the alcohol addiction treatment you need. You can call us free at . You can also check your health insurance coverage using the form below or contact free alcohol hotline numbers.

Health Insurance Providers That May Cover Rehabilitation

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