Could AA Be Right for Me?

Recovering from alcohol addiction is a lifelong journey, which is why this substance use disorder is often treated using a combination of therapies. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one resource to help people become and stay sober and is available nearly worldwide.

Whether you recently finished an alcohol rehab program, are seeking the right treatment for you, or are in traditional therapy and could use more support, AA may be a beneficial support as you start your journey to long-term recovery.

What Happens During AA Meetings?

AA meetings are a gathering place for people who have experienced alcohol addiction or currently struggle with alcohol misuse. While there are multiple types of AA meetings, the most commonly attended are 12-step meetings. These meetings are guided by a set of principles known as the 12 Steps—each of which aims to reduce a person’s need or urge to drink and enable the person to feel happier, more productive, and more whole.

  • During AA meetings, a designated speaker or chairperson opens with the AA Preamble followed by group prayer
  • One or more members may take turns reading parts of AA literature that outlines the 12 Steps and how AA works
  • People in the group may take turns sharing personal stories about their experiences with alcohol

Not all AA meetings follow the same format and structure. For example, while beginners are welcome at all AA meetings, there are beginners’ meetings available that focus on introducing the tools available for maintaining sobriety. Some meetings may be geared toward a specific theme or topic—such as studying the book Alcoholics Anonymous, or the Big Book, rather than the 12 Steps—while others may serve as forums to allow everyone in the group to speak. Some AA meetings are even open to including non-AA members who want to learn more about alcohol addiction, such as family members. These meetings are referred to as “open meetings,” while meetings restricted to those dealing with alcohol addiction themselves are referred to as “closed meetings.”

One of the most appealing aspects of AA is that there are groups and meetings that cater to all backgrounds, situations, and demographics. If you are looking specifically for an AA group with members who are similar to you in terms of age, gender, religion, or life experience, chances are you can find one online or in your local area. Loved ones of those with alcohol use disorder who wish to attend regular support groups can join Alcoholics Anonymous family groups, often shortened to Al-Anon.

Do I Need to Be Religious to Benefit From AA?

AA literature and the 12 Steps often emphasize “God” or a “Higher Power,” which may feel exclusionary to those who do not practice religion or do not consider themselves to be spiritual. However, AA stresses that it does not require members to be religious or have religious beliefs. Many AA members prefer to replace the conventionally Christian entities of God or a Higher Power with those that align more closely with their personal beliefs or faith.

You do not have to be religious to benefit from AA. In fact, there are many AA groups for those who are agnostic, atheist, humanist, or freethinking. If you cannot find an areligious meeting in your local area, you may be able to find a virtual meeting (VM) online. If you have a sponsor, discuss how to handle the 12 Steps if you are not religious but are attending meetings that place emphasis on God and religion.

How Much Does It Cost to Go to AA?

AA meetings are free to join and attend and are open to anyone who thinks they may have a problem with alcohol misuse. There are no dues or fees to hold an AA membership.

Some AA groups may pass around a collection basket or accept donations to cover the cost of coffee, donuts, and other refreshments offered at meetings. Some of these funds may also go toward rent for the facility at which meetings take place.

AA meetings are an ideal option for those who do not have current access to traditional treatment due to financial constraints, view meetings as a form of long-term aftercare following an addiction treatment program, or need affordable supplemental supports to their current form of treatment. Many people in long-term recovery choose to attend meetings regularly for the rest of their lives to stay connected to the AA community and to celebrate and maintain their continued sobriety.

Is It Easy to Find AA Meetings?

AA meetings are available in nearly every country. In the United States, you can find meetings in every major city and in many smaller cities in every state. You can also find online VM groups, which can allow those who live in rural areas, lack transportation, or face other barriers preventing them from attending in-person meetings to attend regularly.

In addition to being available nearly everywhere, AA meetings are often held every day at varying times to accommodate diverse schedules. Typically, a region or state has its own main AA office or intergroup that can help you find AA meetings in your local area.

If you received treatment at an alcohol rehab center, the staff at your rehab center may provide you with a list of nearby AA meetings or suggest that you continue going to AA meetings at their facility as part of an aftercare program. Many addiction treatment centers have aftercare or alumni programs that welcome former patients and members of the recovery community.

Am I Required to Get an AA Sponsor?

AA members are not required to find a sponsor. However, if you are attending 12-step meetings, a sponsor can guide you through the 12 Steps when you need help and can often steer you away from relapse during rough patches in your recovery.

There are several other benefits to having an AA sponsor, including increased access to other resources that can help you stay sober like books and spiritual mantras or prayers about recovery suited to your belief system. Your sponsor will also devote time to listening to you without passing judgment and share their personal experiences related to addiction and recovery. An AA sponsor will hold you accountable for actions that threaten your sobriety and may involve you in sober recreational activities outside of AA meetings that introduce you to like-minded peers.

In a study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers examined the benefits of having an AA sponsor in recovery. They found that 52.1% of adults with sponsors at 12 months had remained abstinent from alcohol that entire year, while only 32.7% of adults without sponsors had remained abstinent during that same period.1

If you choose to find an AA sponsor but later decide that you do not want a sponsor or that you want to change your sponsor, this is completely acceptable. Good reasons for changing your sponsor include having a sponsor with who you do not communicate well, with who you do not form a strong bond of trust, or whose behavior negatively impacts your recovery efforts over time.

What Treatment Benefits Does AA Offer?

Most alcohol use disorder treatment programs are customized for each person based on factors such as whether they have a comorbid mental health diagnosis and what their triggers are for alcohol misuse. Some people may receive different treatments than others based on these factors. However, AA can benefit nearly everyone in recovery from alcohol addiction due to how its structure caters to people from all backgrounds and situations.

Research suggests that AA meetings are effective at helping people stay sober for long periods of time. In a study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases, researchers found that more than 70% of people who attended weekly AA meetings for six months were still sober after two years, while abstinence rates among those who attended meetings less than once a week were the same as those who never attended meetings.2 The same study mentioned that 70% of people who attended at least 27 AA meetings per year were still sober 16 years following the first meeting. 2

Other reasons people attend AA meetings as a form of addiction treatment include that meetings:

  • Do not cost anything to attend
  • Do not require health insurance
  • Do not require previous or current treatment at an alcohol rehab center
  • Allow participants to remain completely anonymous by not providing their full name or other sensitive personal information

AA meetings are open to everyone regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or beliefs. You can attend meetings as often as you want with no obligation to keep meeting with the same group or to commit to a schedule.

How Long Do I Need to Attend AA Meetings?

You can attend AA meetings for as long as you want—especially if you find they are helping you stay abstinent and positive. Some people attend AA meetings until they have developed strong relapse prevention skills and can navigate their lives without misusing alcohol, which may take several months or years. Others attend AA meetings for the rest of their lives and find joy and pride in helping others stay sober.

A study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism found that long-term attendance in AA is associated with positive outcomes and lower relapse rates. Results showed that people who stayed involved in AA and attended regular meetings had better outcomes three years later than those who did not go to AA meetings. Those who attended AA meetings regularly also had lower rates of depression and anxiety. The researchers who led the study concluded that Alcoholics Anonymous is a useful aftercare resource for those in recovery from alcohol addiction.3

Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak to a treatment specialist about your available rehab options if you need help fighting and recovering from alcohol use disorder. Our specialists can answer any questions you may have about alcohol addiction and available treatments.

Resources

  1. Tonigan, J.S. & Rice, S.L. (2010). Is it beneficial to have an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor? Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 24(3), 397-403.
  2. Kaskutas L. A. (2009). Alcoholics Anonymous effectiveness: Faith meets science. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 28(2), 145–157.
  3. Best, D., Gossop, M., Harris, J., Man, L., Manning, V., Marshall, J., & Strang, J. (2003). Is attendance At Alcoholics Anonymous meetings after inpatient treatment related to improved outcomes? A 6-month follow-up study. Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 38, Issue 5, 421–426.

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