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How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?


Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most successful self-help groups of all time. It is a non-profit fellowship that is managed almost entirely by volunteers. This approach to addiction recovery does not seem to work for everyone, but it can be extremely effective for many alcoholics who are trying to break away from addiction. One of the most impressive things about this group is that they not only support the individual in their attempt to give up alcohol, but they also provide a program for living known as the 12 Steps.

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The program of AA is broken down into 12 simple steps. It is only necessary for the individual to take step one in order for them to join the fellowship. The rest of the steps are to help the individual break away from addiction and go on to live a wonderful life. The 12 steps of AA include:

  • Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  • Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  • Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him (her/it).
  • Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  • Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  • Step 7: Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  • Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  • Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  • Step 10: Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  • Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  • Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Higher Power in Alcoholics Anonymous

One of the things that can put many people off seeking help from groups like AA is the use of words like “God” and “spiritual awakening.” It can sound to outsiders as if AA is some type of religious cult, and that the individual would not to be highly religious in order to benefit from the program. The reality is that even atheists can benefit from this program, so long as they are willing to consider that there is something out there bigger than they are. In the 12 Steps, what they mean by God is “a power greater than ourselves.” For many people this power will be the God of their religion, but it could also be the power of the group or even the higher self – there are even people who will choose something like a doorknob to be theirs. In the beginning, it does not really matter what the person chooses as their higher power so long as they can get beyond the idea of thinking that they are in charge.

What Happens in a Meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Most people will have at least some idea about what happen in an AA meeting. There have been many portrayals of fellowship meetings in movies and in TV shows and these are reasonably accurate. The sort of thing that the individual can expect at this type of meeting will include:

  • There are many different types of meeting format. For example, some meetings will focus on the Big Book or 12 Steps, and the discussion will revolve around the individuals’ experiences with these. There are also more sharing type meetings where the individual just discusses what is going on in their life.
  • There are open and closed AA meetings. An open meeting means that anyone can attend, but the closed meetings are only for people who are trying to break away from addiction.
  • The only requirement for membership of AA is the desire to stop drinking. The individual is not obliged to follow the 12 steps are anything else. Of course, if they are disruptive in the meeting they might be asked to leave.
  • It is suggested that newcomers at least introduce themselves so that they can feel more a part of the group. There will usually be a time at the beginning of the meeting when newcomers are invited to do this.
  • All the meetings are self-supporting, and this means that there is a collection at some point in the meeting. It is not necessary to give any money, and there is no pressure on people to add anything to the pot. It is possible for people to contribute to the meetings in many different ways – for example, making the tea.
  • These meetings usually last for one hour.
  • The individual does not have to speak at the meeting if they do not want to. If people are sharing, they are asked to be considerate of other people who also want to share – in other words, they should not talk for so long that nobody else gets a chance to speak.
  • It is expected that all people attending an AA meeting respect the anonymity of other members. This includes things like not mentioning if you meet somebody famous at the meeting. This expectation of anonymity is summed up with the words – what you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.
  • Newcomers will usually be offered telephone numbers from other members. This is so they will have somebody to call if they are feeling vulnerable or like they are about to relapse. It is a good idea to collect these numbers because it means that the individual can begin building a network of sober friends.

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