What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Find out everything you need to know about AA and recovery before it’s too late.
What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Founded in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous is a group therapy organization centered around sobriety.1 Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, has religious roots and core values but doesn’t impose or restrict religious faith. There are millions of AA members worldwide, and the program is known for being the first treatment dedicated to alcoholism, especially in the group therapy sector.
AA was started by Dr. Bob Smith, also known as Dr. Bob and Bill Wilson, also known as Bill W. Both men were recovering alcoholics themselves. They quickly realized the best way to maintain their sobriety was to help others overcome alcohol dependence. Both men claimed to have had a spiritual awakening before meeting each other and that the awakening was the catalyst for their sobriety.1
Together they compiled “The Big Book,” which serves as a code of conduct, instruction manual, and resource for its members. In their later years, both founders stepped away from the face of the organization as they began to feel the spotlight was on them, which contradicts the anonymous nature of AA. Today, AA is the most well-known form of alcohol treatment.
Why Does Alcoholic Anonymous Work?
How Alcoholics Anonymous Works
Alcoholics Anonymous treatment uses group therapy to cultivate an open, honest, and judgment-free safe space.2 Members share their first name and then tell their story, express concerns about their alcoholism, and otherwise seek guidance from their peers. The meetings are typically run by a senior member of the organization who has maintained their sobriety for an extended period.
In sharing their life stressors and problems with drinking, people can talk about things that they may feel shame or embarrassment toward in their day-to-day lives. Additionally, being surrounded by people who have the same issues often yields more nuanced and practical advice.
Alcoholics Anonymous treatment is also known for its 12-Step recovery program.2 The 12-Steps are designed to lead people to accept, forgive, and move past their dependency. The 12-Steps of AA have no set time frame. And in times of cravings, a person can revisit the steps and core principles of AA.
Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous
There aren’t any Alcoholics Anonymous requirements beyond wanting to be sober. This is why Alcoholics Anonymous is the most effective alcoholism treatment. A study of approx. 10,000 people show that AA is better at keeping more people on the wagon than psychotherapy, medical treatments, etc. The biggest reason AA is so effective lies in its use of group therapy.2 It allows for an open and honest forum to say things that people might have difficulty admitting to family and friends. Truth be told, it’s often easier to be honest around strangers, and Alcoholics Anonymous makes that possible. Plus, making a change in yourself is easier when people with similar goals and beliefs surround you.
The 12-Step Program Alcoholics Anonymous
If you’re wondering how AA works or what AA is, then read on and learn more.
What to Expect at a 12-Step Meeting
12-Step meetings have different focuses and can be split into four types.3
- Beginners: Beginner sessions are focused on newcomers to the group. The meeting is spent discussing what brought a person to AA and what they want from the program. It’s also the place to learn general information about AA and what it takes to maintain sobriety.3
- Discussion: An Alcoholics Anonymous group discussion meeting is led by a senior group member. The attendees choose from a list of objects revolving around AA core principles and teachings. This format helps members apply AA teachings to the woes and gain clarity for life’s challenges. These meetings are also beneficial for members that have experienced relapse and need to find their way to sobriety.3
- Speaker: Speaker meetings are centered around the experiences of pre-selected members. These members share what it was like when they were dependent on alcohol, what caused them to seek help, and how their lives changed. These meetings excel in fostering an open environment for new members to speak and learn from AA.3
- Big Book: Big Book meetings are centered around the 12-Steps. Each step is discussed at a rate of one to two steps per week. Gaining a deeper understanding of each of the individual steps gives a member a better chance of fulfilling the requirements of each one.3
Closed vs. Open Meetings
Closed meetings are invitation-only meetings for members. They can include award meetings, ceremony meetings, specific AA groups such as women’s, veterans, etc. However, should a person show up at a closed meeting and seek help, they’ll still be given resources and guidance.
Open meetings are available for new members and anyone seeking help with their alcohol dependency. Observers seeking to gain more insight into the program can also attend open meetings.3
The Big Book was first written in 1939 and has undergone four editions, with the most recent being in 2001. The big book is a manual for AA members. It details the core principles and goes in-depth about Alcoholics Anonymous. Every member has a copy of The Big Book, and meeting leaders will reference it during discussions.
How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Help and Will It Be a Good Fit for You?
“How does Alcoholics Anonymous help?” is a common question for people that aren’t sure where to begin. If you or anyone you know is experiencing the signs of alcoholism, then AA may be the solution. Here are a few signs that mean it’s time to get help.
If You Decide to Stop Drinking
If you find yourself thinking that your drinking is getting out of hand, then it’s time to seek help. Alcoholism develops gradually; it’s impossible to discern from casual drinking in the beginning. But when you’ve begun to prioritize drinking and experience frequent hangovers, then alcoholism is taking hold.
Has Your Drinking Caused Trouble at Home?
It’s challenging to maintain relationships when alcoholism is in the way. Alcohol consumption comes with an inevitable withdrawal period. During this time, the brain produces low amounts of serotonin, dopamine, and other mood-stabilizing chemicals.4 The result is irritability, depression, and aggression that can manifest as angry outbursts. These factors can strain relationships as a person becomes increasingly unreliable.4 Plus, emotional stress that comes from living with alcoholism impacts everyone in the household.
Have You Missed Days of Work Because of Drinking?
Hangovers put a damper on productivity and reliability. Frequently calling out from work due to hangovers is a sure way to get fired. Plus, hangovers cause you to submit sub-par work. If your performance reviews are in decline and you find yourself trying to find a new excuse to call out due to hangovers, then AA is for you. Plus, your professional reputation follows you by way of word-of-mouth, referrals, and reviews. Too many unexplained absences at any job can reflect poorly on you when it comes time to find new employment. And alcohol dependency is spendy. Losing a job but drinking is a quick way to burn through savings.
Do You Have Blackouts?
Blackouts happen because alcohol impairs the prefrontal cortex and prevents the brain from storing new memories.5 During a blackout, a person can’t control their actions, think logically, and have trouble breathing. It’s important to note that blacking out while drinking is not a regular occurrence. And experiencing them frequently is a sure sign of alcohol dependency. Blackouts can also cause law enforcement to get involved with public indecency charges, DUIs, public intoxication, and a slew of others.
Blackout drinking can also lead to hypoxia, a condition where the central nervous system is severely depressed and unable to process oxygen. This results in a person taking in air but being unable to breathe. Hypoxia can be fatal or lead to long-term brain damage.6
Have You Ever Felt That Your Life Would Be Better if You Didn’t Drink?
Feeling that alcohol has prevented a lot of your upward mobility in life is justified. Alcohol dependency changes all aspects of your life. And you’ll never feel your best a day after heavy drinking. Alcoholics have a higher chance of depression and arrest than their sober counterparts. If you genuinely think that alcohol is the cause of your failures, then AA is an option to consider.
Alcoholics Anonymous vs. Other Treatments
What Alcoholics Anonymous Does Not Do
Harmful misconceptions about Alcoholics Anonymous requirements can prevent people from seeking treatment. Here are the Alcoholics Anonymous facts you need to know and a few of those myths, debunked.
Furnish Initial Motivation for Alcoholics to Recover
Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t a part of the initial want for recovery. That is an internal choice that must be made by the individual. A personal commitment to recovery is required for it to be successful. A person may be able to abstain from drinking for a period but without commitment, healthy coping mechanisms, and time, they will relapse. That’s why AA is an effective choice for people that want to overcome their dependency but aren’t sure where to begin.
AA doesn’t actively recruit members. It has no reason to. There aren’t any Alcoholics Anonymous signs, commercials, etc. The program is there for those that are seeking help. Because of this, you’ll never have to worry about someone trying to force you or anyone to show up to a meeting.
Engage In or Sponsor Research
Alcoholics Anonymous’ sole focus is the recovery of the individual. As such, it doesn’t invest in research. There are dozens of programs both in government and private sectors that do. But there aren’t many options as effective as AA when treating alcohol dependency. AA doesn’t support any political affiliation or take sides in any public controversy. The organization is entirely committed to sobriety and nothing else.
Keep Attendance Records or Case Histories
No one forces a person into AA. If you don’t want to be there, you don’t have to. Therefore, AA has no use for attendance records or case studies. This also upholds the anonymous nature of the organization. Some people might not have attended AA if they had to give a name and history. That’s why AA is structured so that there are no barriers between starting recovery and accessing help.
Engage in Education About Alcohol
Not engaging in alcohol education aligns with AA’s history of not funding alcohol research. The root of the organization is recovery. Every resource AA has is dedicated to helping people maintain their sobriety.
Provide Domestic or Vocational Counseling
AA is an excellent resource to find out about organizations that can help you rebuild your job skills and life. But AA doesn’t directly provide any form of non-alcohol-related counseling. What AA does is teach healthy coping mechanisms and help recalibrate a person’s goals and wants. These changes make it easier to find long-lasting work.
Assign Sponsors to Run Your Life
Alcoholics Anonymous psychology isn’t centered around controlling anything other than dependency. That’s why sponsors are volunteer only. They also don’t involve themselves with any part of your life not related to overcoming alcohol dependency.
They are there for the times you need someone to talk with to prevent drinking. While sponsors are available 24/7 for extreme emergencies, they will have boundaries about when you can’t contact them. Under these guidelines, a student/teacher relationship is born that can last for years. Even members with years of sobriety under their belt have a sponsor.
Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?
The short answer is yes. AA has been proven to be one of the most effective treatments for alcohol dependency. It has a higher success rate than standalone therapy, prescription medicine, and more. What draws people into the program is their individual want to overcome dependency. But what keeps them there is the shared belief that no one can overcome the illness alone. It’s worth mentioning that the organization also has groups dedicated to other substance abuse such as cocaine, heroin, etc. As long as the end goal is sobriety from dependency, AA is a good option.
Through tried and proven use of group therapy, support systems, Alcoholics Anonymous intervention, and rules, the organization helps millions reach and maintain sober living. If you’re looking for an AA meeting, reach out to your local clinics or google “Alcoholics Anonymous, where to find nearby” for local results. You can also use us as a resource for overcoming dependency. Like AA, Alta Centers is dedicated to your recovery and employs a team of experts to better the odds.
The Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous
Learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous treatment and its multitude of benefits. There are no Alcoholics Anonymous requirements. There are no annual dues or monthly fees for AA. This opens the organization up to people who don’t have funds for AA meetings. It also prevents any misconceptions towards the goals of Alcoholics Anonymous.
There is No Obligation to Join
People can attend meetings sporadically until they feel comfortable committing to their recovery. No one will keep track of their attendance. A person can come and observe how AA meetings work, the culture of AA, and more without any pressure to become a member.
You Can Go to Any Meeting in Any Location
You don’t have to worry about transferring between AA chapters. There’s no internal restriction between meetings. This allows you to attend AA after moving, on vacation, or whatever the reason.
It Creates a Network of Support
The biggest benefit of a group therapy atmosphere like AA is the support system. A person gains a support system that understands their troubles personally. Plus, it helps people relearn how to make healthy relationships.
Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the few resources available to anyone suffering from alcohol dependency. The program shows no signs of slowing down, and more and more chapters pop up worldwide to help those in need. The long history of AA and its high effectiveness make it the best option for people looking for recovery. If you want information about your local AA chapter, reach out to us and learn more.
Questions About Treatment?
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