Is AA for Life?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can play a major role in your life both in early and long-term recovery. For more than 80 years, the 12 steps of AA have fostered a structure and community based on recovery from alcohol addiction.1 If you choose to commit to AA, this community can be a support throughout your life.
In this article:
- Attending AA
- Working the 12 Steps
- Discovering Sponsorship
- Performing Acts of Service
- Making Choices for Your Recovery
Research demonstrates that people who engage in the program for at least 49 months have more success in achieving sobriety.2 This research also noted that the sooner participants join AA, the better their outcomes in maintaining sobriety.2
A saying from the AA community goes as follows: “AA is for people who want AA, not for those who need AA.”3 Your overall success in the program depends on your motivation. Motivation in early recovery plays an essential role in developing life changes that can guide long-term recovery.
Meetings provide an opportunity to engage in self-reflection and to learn from others’ experiences. Meetings also allow you to share your perspective with others. This act of fellowship and vulnerability offers an opportunity for you to experience connection with your peers. It can also help others understand how you coped with alcoholism and what they can do to cope with it themselves.
Finding the right community to support you in recovery from alcoholism can help you realize the value of attending AA meetings long-term. You can start conversations with peers and “carry this message” of sobriety to other individuals experiencing alcoholism.3 These connections can help you maintain motivation to continue working within the AA framework. You can also apply these principles of motivation in other areas of your life.
Ultimately, you have the choice to participate in AA programs. You may begin participating as a mandatory part of a treatment program, but the decision to keep attending and for how long is yours.
Working the 12 Steps
The 12 Steps of AA offer guidance for personal growth and healing from alcohol addiction. You can revisit these steps when you need to, even after you become sober.
The 12 Steps encourage you to examine the loss of control you face in addiction and to expand the spiritual and mindful practices that empower you.4 The steps also encourage you to explore your conscience and take accountability for the harm you may have caused others. These aspects of self-reflection can reduce the risk of relapse while promoting commitment to your personal growth and well-being. If you experience a relapse at some point in your recovery, the 12 Steps can also help you return your focus to healing from alcoholism.
Taking accountability for your actions may trigger painful thoughts and feelings. You can share the feelings of embarrassment, disappointment, or shame that you may encounter in recovery in meetings or with your sponsor. The goals of connecting with spirituality and community create a space where you can safely explore these emotions. This safe space may also supplement other treatment you receive for alcoholism, such as interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
The 12 Steps of AA work to instill hope at each stage of the recovery process.5 The 12 Steps of AA outline tools for reshaping the way you think, feel, and act. While the initial aim of changing how you cope focuses on sobriety, this process of change can also help you in other areas of your life.
These steps contribute to a foundation of personal development which then fosters community development. If you experience instability in your efforts to remain sober, the 12 Steps and AA fellowship can offer a roadmap that guides you back to long-term recovery.
You can turn to your peers and mentors when you encounter triggers. The humility and action called for in the 12 Steps can help you find hope in situations that may otherwise appear insurmountable. As the AA saying goes, “It works if you work it.” 6
Just as you have the option to actively participate in AA meetings and work the 12 Steps, you also have the choice of engaging in AA sponsorship. Finding a sponsor involves forming a relationship with someone who has completed the 12 Steps.
Working with Your Sponsor
In early recovery, a sponsor can guide you through the 12 Steps of AA. Your sponsor can encourage regular attendance at meetings, suggest sober activities, and guide you through challenges that test your newfound sobriety.
When looking for a sponsor, consider working with someone you can trust, who you communicate well with, and who can meet you where you are. AA does not require sponsors to be licensed mental health professionals, meaning your sponsor cannot offer therapeutic treatment or counseling. Think of your sponsor instead as a peer mentor. If for any reason, you feel that your sponsor is no longer a good fit, you have the option to find a new one.
Your sponsor can share their experiences and insight with you as you work through the 12 Steps. The relationship you form with your sponsor can help you navigate challenges at each stage of your life, even after you have achieved sobriety.7 A sponsorship relationship can last as long as it serves you and your sponsor, with some lasting a lifetime.
Becoming a Sponsor
While there is no obligation to become a sponsor, you may have the opportunity to offer sponsorship to newer members of your AA group when you have maintained sobriety and completed the 12 Steps. With this opportunity, you can share insight and experience you have gained in AA.
Long-term participation in AA can enhance your patience, flexibility, understanding, and commitment to sobriety and the recovery process. These skills can prepare you to sponsor someone else. By modeling and discussing the recovery process, you actively review the lessons you have learned throughout the early stages of your recovery. This repetition and application of 12-step principles can help you develop new insight into the recovery process well after you have initially achieved sobriety.
Sponsorship calls for you to offer respect and empathy to newer members of the AA community.4 The growth and healing you foster in others can help you feel deeper purpose and meaning in your daily life. What you learn from newer members can help you maintain long-term sobriety.
Performing Acts of Service
AA also encourages serving your community, both by carrying the message of AA to other people struggling with alcohol misuse and by volunteering. You serve the community when you choose to share your presence, personal experience, or leadership skills in and out of meetings.
You can use your experience as a participant in meetings to potentially run meetings for your AA chapter.8 This experience would place you in a position of guidance and leadership for a larger group of individuals in recovery. You would become responsible for enforcing guidelines, coordinating activities, fostering discussion, and maintaining resources for the group such as handling facility logistics.
This responsibility can foster new experiences of connection and healing. The skills you learn in AA leadership can also serve as a foundation for growth in other areas of your life.
Making Choices for Your Recovery
Whether you feel curiosity about or commitment to AA, the community welcomes you to join in recovery from alcohol addiction. Long-term participants serve as a foundation for success in peer-led recovery groups.
However, AA is not the only peer support group option to help you achieve and maintain sobriety. Other peer support group programs include SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, and Women for Sobriety.9 Each of these communities welcome newcomers and people who have questions about the recovery process. If you need support identifying which group would work best for you, a qualified treatment professional can offer insight.
A peer support group can help you at any stage of your recovery, including during and after rehab treatment.
Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? and speak with a treatment specialist today.
- Kelly, J. F., Humphreys, K., & Ferri, M. (2020). Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3, CD012880.
- Moos, R. H., & Moos, B. S. (2004). Long-term influence of duration and frequency of participation in Alcoholics Anonymous on individuals with alcohol use disorders. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(1), 81–90.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2002). Chapter 7: Working With Others. Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book (4th ed.).
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2019). Questions and Answers on Sponsorship.
- Wnuk, M. (2017) Hope as an important factor for mental health in alcohol-dependent subjects attending Alcoholics Anonymous. Journal of Substance Use, 22:2, 182-186.
- 12Step.org. Recovery Slogans.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2016). Twelve steps and twelve traditions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2019). The A.A. Group… Where it All Begins.
- Zemore, S. E., Kaskutas, L. A., Mericle, A., & Hemberg, J. (2017). Comparison of 12-step groups to mutual help alternatives for AUD in a large, national study: Differences in membership characteristics and group participation, cohesion, and satisfaction. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 73, 16–26.