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What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship of men and women who currently have or have had a drinking problem in the past. AA is self-described as “nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere.”

The primary purpose of AA is to carry its message of hope to those struggling with alcohol abuse. People do not need to be over 21 to participate in AA groups. The only requirement for members is the desire to overcome their addiction to alcohol.

AA Success Rate

Over the years, researchers have tried to determine the effectiveness of alcoholics anonymous in treating alcohol use disorder (alcoholism). The conclusions tend to vary greatly and are controversial.

Some data shows AA's success rate is between 5 and 12 percent. According to the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, the success rate of AA is 50 percent, with 25 percent of members remaining sober after relapsing.

Another study from 2014 found that the success rate of alcoholics anonymous was 27 percent for more than 6,000 members who participated for less than one year.

That rate dropped for longer-term participants, but the organization reported a success rate of 22 percent for members who had been attending for 20 or more years.

In a separate study, researchers found that the success rate of AA is 50 percent for attendees at their one and three-year follow-up. At the eight-year follow-up, the success rate of AA was 49 percent.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The study also revealed that the highest rate of success was for people who participated in formal treatment and AA.

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What to Expect at an AA Meeting

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are informal gatherings attended by people from all walks of life. Meetings are held all over the world, and most are run similarly. They usually last about an hour to an hour-and-a-half (no meeting is longer than 90 minutes).

All meetings begin with a short prayer (usually a shortened version of The Serenity Prayer). Then in most cases, the chairperson welcomes attendees, and the 12 steps of AA and other AA doctrines are read.

Beyond the initial events, AA meetings tend to vary based on the type of meeting it is. People can choose to share their stories, or not, and some receive AA chips. An AA chip or Sobriety Token is a coin commemorating the length of time a person has remained sober. Attendees are also invited to pick up “A Desire to Stop Drinking Chip,” also known as the “24 Hour Chip” or the “Surrender Chip.” The chip symbolizes the commitment to remain sober for 24 hours.

Following the official AA meeting, attendees often mingle with one another. This allows them to get to know other members and exchange phone numbers with people who can provide support when it’s most needed. It also lets them ask any questions that didn’t seem appropriate or didn’t arise during the meeting.

Attendees do not need to “do” anything at a meeting, other than be respectful of others in attendance. Nobody is forced to share, donate money, or participate in prayers. Attendees don’t even need to self-identify as alcoholics as long as they are attending an open AA meeting.

Alcoholics Anonymous encourages meeting attendees to “take what you can use and leave the rest.” The group supports anyone with a desire to change his or her behavior regarding alcohol to have an open mind and try a meeting.

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Open vs. Closed AA Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous offers both open and closed meetings. Anyone can attend an open meeting. Closed meetings are only for members of AA, but each program has guidelines for who counts as a member. Meetings are closed unless otherwise stated.

Closed meetings protect the anonymity of members. Everyone is guided by AA traditions and the 12-steps in a closed meeting. This allows members to speak openly and honestly, knowing everyone in the room has the same expectations of privacy.

Open meetings allow members of the public who are not AA members to attend. This might include visitors in the community or members of the media.

Open meetings tend to include a formal speaker who shares his or her story. These meetings are also a good opportunity to learn more about AA and other 12-step programs regardless of whether or not you want to participate in a recovery program.

12 Steps of AA

Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-step program. This means members accept and are guided toward recovery by 12 specific steps. AA’s Twelve Steps include:

  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. Decided 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. We’re 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 Online

Alcoholics Anonymous offers the opportunity for people to attend meetings online. Online meetings are accessible through the AA site or at http://aa-intergroup.org/. People attend these meetings who also attend in-person meetings as a supplement or by those who are unable to do so.

People you might find at an online AA meeting include people:

  • With a mobility impairment
  • With hearing loss
  • Who are geographically unable to attend a meeting
  • Military members
  • Who cannot find a nearby meeting during a convenient time of day
  • With young children who cannot find childcare

You do not need to be unable to attend an in-person meeting to participate in an online AA meeting. Online meetings are a popular choice during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, some states may only allow online meetings due to COVID-19 temporarily.

If you or a loved one has any questions about alcoholism treatment, call SAMHSA's National Helpline for free at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The helpline is open 24/7 for those in need of a referral. For more information about Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., visit aa.org.

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Resources

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“Alcoholics Anonymous : What Is A.A.?” Aa.Org, 2019, www.aa.org/pages/en_US/what-is-aa.

Kaskutas, Lee Ann. “Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science.” Journal of Addictive Diseases, vol. 28, no. 2, 2 Apr. 2009, pp. 145–157, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746426/.

“Alcoholics Anonymous : Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.” Www.Aa.Org, www.aa.org/pages/en_US/twelve-steps-and-twelve-traditions.

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