An Overview of Alcoholics Anonymous

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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 their drinking problem.

Overview

Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA 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 a 1941 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 online.

Who Can Join

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

Anyone may attend open AA 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 AA members. People with problems other than alcoholism are eligible for AA membership only if they have a drinking problem, too. According to AA traditions, the only qualification for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

What AA Does

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

People who have never been to an actual AA meeting can have misconceptions about how they work due to portrayals they may have seen in the movies or on television.

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

A typical AA meeting is a topic discussion meeting. The person leading the meeting chooses a topic and members to take turns sharing their experience on the topic. Some AA 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.

Effectiveness

There are several studies that have shown that people who were involved in mutual support groups were more likely to remain abstinent 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 AA along with their outpatient or inpatient treatment program.

A new study published in the Cochrane Library found that AA and 12-step groups can lead to higher rates of continuous abstinence over months and years, when compared to treatment approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Is AA 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 AA, the spiritual aspect of the program can be a stumbling block for some who wish to stop drinking.

Can AA 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. AA has no dues or fees, so it won't cost you anything to visit a meeting. The effect of AA can be best seen when a correct "dose" is given, typically 90 meetings in 90 days. Trying a couple meetings is not an adequate trial.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

How to 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. The Central office, intergroup or answering service numbers throughout the world are available on the AA World Services website. There are also many online meetings available.

A Word From Verywell

It's also important to note that meeting effectiveness depends on finding a meeting that's right for you. There are many different types of meetings for different groups of demographics. For example, an intercity group of AA members who are mostly homeless is not likely to help a struggling young mother with an alcohol problem.

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

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Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mendola A, Gibson RL. Addiction, 12-step programs, and evidentiary standards for ethically and clinically sound treatment recommendations: What should clinicians do?. AMA J Ethics. 2016;18(6):646-655. doi:10.1001/journalofethics.2016.18.6.sect1-1606

  2. A.A. History Links. Mitchell K's favorite Alcoholics Anonymous history links and other A.A. resources. Updated February 2000.

  3. Alcoholics Anonymous. Information on Alcoholics Anonymous. Updated 2020.

  4. Krentzman AR, Robinson EA, Moore BC, et al. How Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Work: Cross-Disciplinary PerspectivesAlcohol Treat Q. 2010;29(1):75–84. doi:10.1080/07347324.2011.538318

  5. Kelly JF, Humphreys K, Ferri M. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;3:CD012880. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD012880.pub2

Additional Reading
  • Information on Alcoholics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous.