Top 10 Questions About Alcoholics Anonymous
Recovering from prolonged alcohol use often involves making significant lifestyle changes. You may need to make different choices about who you spend time with, the places you visit, and what activities you do. If you’re thinking about, or currently receiving, treatment and would like to know how to maintain your progress after the session is over, read on for more information.
Many tools exist to help you remain focused on the changes you need to make. No matter the stage of your recovery, healthy social connection remains one of the strongest pillars of wellness. Alcoholics Anonymous can offer a way to maintain this pillar of connection.
1. What Is AA?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) serves communities across the globe. Members use their shared experience to create a “fellowship of men and women.”1 This fellowship focuses on the goal of maintaining sobriety. Members who engage in AA have an alcohol use disorder. This organization offers a welcoming environment for those experienced with or new to sober living.
The organization began when a man named Bill W. initiated a relationship with Bob S. in 1935.2 Their meeting would lay the foundation for what we know as AA today. The men, inspired by one other’s journey to recovery, also wanted to guide others. Because they had personal experience with an addiction to alcohol, both men used their shared experience to offer recovery support to their community. The mission was to help those engaged in prolonged alcohol use to find their path to sobriety.
As it exists today, AA members promote one another’s recovery by creating relationships. Members strive to help people who experience alcohol addiction. This network of support spans cities, states, and national borders.
2. How Does AA Work?
The program invites you to become a part of a larger group of individuals who seek to improve their lives by abstaining from alcohol use. AA seeks to change members’ worldviews by helping them foster a spiritual connection with their higher power. Members use this spiritual connection to boost their willingness to commit to the program.
AA promotes healthy ways of eliminating alcohol use with the goal of maintaining sobriety. Meetings and sponsorship make up the two types of services an individual group uses to guide members’ growth. These conversations allow you to connect with other members who have experienced addiction to alcohol.
More experienced AA members guide newer attendees in the application of “The Twelve Steps.” Meetings can serve different purposes:
- Closed meetings offer space just for members to participate as they seek recovery.
- Sponsorship provides a more focused relationship.
- When you connect with a sponsor, you gain the opportunity for one-to-one mentorship.
AA membership is public, with the only requirement being a desire to stop drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous explicitly focuses on abstinence from alcohol use. This encourages members facing other forms of addiction to seek other 12-step groups that may better suit their needs.3
You can volunteer to share your personal experience, but the group will not force you to divulge personal history. AA encourages, but cannot guarantee, confidentiality for attendees who share.4
3. What Are the 12 Steps of AA?
The 12 Steps of AA comprise the guiding principles of the organization. The steps are the framework you can use to change your relationship with yourself and eliminate your use of alcohol. With these guiding principles, you can apply a “program of recovery” in everyday life.
Each step provides tools to address the ways alcohol affects your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. The steps prompt members to reflect on changes they can make to actively address the harmful effects of addiction.
AA encourages members to:
- Seek mentorship and guidance from a higher power and emphasize the importance of spirituality and accountability in recovery
- Make amends towards people they may have harmed while actively using alcohol
If you are a member, you will receive support and encouragement to accept responsibility for your actions as you pursue sobriety.
The Alcoholics Anonymous text, “The Big Book,” by Bill W., describes the 12 steps of AA in “Chapter 5: How It Works.”5 You can also listen to the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” audiobook for free as a resource.
Other 12-step programs exist for a number of other addictions. A few examples of these programs include Narcotics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous.
4. How Long Are AA Meetings?
Meetings typically last up to an hour. Sometimes members stick around to talk after meetings. You can leave if you need to. Many members have families, jobs, and other obligations that require attention before or after meetings.
5. Does AA Actually Work?
AA asks its members to commit to a path of sobriety. Members believe you can maintain sobriety with a willing commitment to the 12-step program.
Many factors can impact your success when engaging in alcohol use recovery programs. Developing a firm understanding of your own needs and preferences can help you set realistic goals in recovery.
If you experience addiction, you may also experience mental health concerns. AA and other support groups provide an invaluable source of connection. These groups can supplement the services offered by licensed addiction treatment professionals. AA does not provide counseling, medication, or supervised detox services, but someone there may have a recommendation for services that they’ve used in the past.
Alcoholics Anonymous promotes total sobriety as the ultimate goal of the 12-step program. Other approaches to addiction recovery and relapse prevention implement harm-reduction perspectives. Harm-reduction targets moderation of alcohol use as the key to long-term recovery, rather than strict sobriety.
Consider your personal preferences and needs as you choose a recovery support group. Two alternatives to AA include SMART Recovery and Celebrate Recovery.6,7 These groups also offer communities and connections to help you manage the effects of addiction.
6. How Do You Become an AA Sponsor?
A member may choose to meet with a sponsor for guidance beyond regular meetings. Sponsorship serves as a personal relationship between two members, one who offers guidance to the other.8
You may feel the call to support another person in their recovery. Sponsorship provides an opportunity for experienced members to promote newer members’ engagement. If you would like to become a sponsor, AA guidelines recommend connecting with your own sponsor first.
How can you tell when you are ready to become a sponsor? The more experience you have working the 12 steps, the better. Sponsors:
- Share their experiences with others
- Can provide new members with insight into maintaining sobriety
- Work to respect their members’ beliefs by not enforcing their own values on their sponsees
- Encourage new members to attend meetings, discuss the 12 steps, and set an example for lasting recovery
Successful sponsorship requires flexibility, patience, and understanding. Sponsors can support many members. The program encourages mentors to continue to engage in self-reflection as they take on leadership roles.
Sponsors can continue to seek support in maintaining their own program of recovery. You can support another person in recovery from addiction by focusing on your boundaries and recovery first.
7. How Do You Chair an AA Meeting?
As a chairperson for an AA meeting, members take on a leadership role within a larger AA group.9 The chair of the group provides structure to meetings, reminds members of the guidelines, and fosters discussion which pertains to specific meeting goals.
Chairpersons also provide direction for group members outside of meetings. Responsibilities include coordinating with officers of the group, facilitating group activities, and maintaining resources for other members to use.
The program encourages members to maintain at least a year of sobriety. Members can also serve the group in another capacity before taking on the role of chairperson. AA literature suggests members maintain the role of chairperson for six months.
8. Can You Attend AA Meetings Online?
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, AA has broadened access to online groups. Online meetings allow more flexibility and safety, allowing you to continue progressing in your path to recovery during a pandemic.
9. What Does an AA Sponsor Do?
Finding a sponsor in AA can improve your chances of remaining connected to others, yourself, and your goal of maintaining sobriety. Sponsorship accomplishes these goals through individual mentorship.
A sponsor serves as a person who can guide you through the 12 steps beyond meetings. Sponsors often use their own actions and experience as sources of information to guide newer members in the program.
If you find speaking in meetings intimidating, sponsors can help you maintain sobriety outside of meetings. They can also offer you a source of connection, understanding, and accountability as you navigate the path of your recovery.
10. Can You Quit Drinking Without AA?
Alcoholics Anonymous offers guidance that can help you quit drinking and remain sober. While AA offers a well-established network of support, it serves a different purpose from other treatment approaches. Many groups and treatment centers, offering a wide variety of approaches, exist to help people with an alcohol use disorder.
If you face severe health or safety concerns due to alcohol use, consider treatment with a licensed professional. The detox process can present major health complications.10 Medical supervision and medically assisted treatment can offer a safe approach to early recovery.
Whichever path you choose, social connection remains a vital aspect of recovery from addiction. You do not have to live in the alienation, disconnect, and isolation you experienced while drinking.
Make healing and wellness your priority. Call 800-839-1686Who Answers? today to talk to a specialist about the choices you have for treatment and recovery.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2021). Alcoholics Anonymous: What Is A.A.?
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2021). Alcoholics Anonymous: Historical Data: The Birth of A.A. and Its Growth in the U.S./Canada.
- Wilson, B. (1958). Problems Other Than Alcohol. New York, NY; A.A. Grapevine, Inc..
- Coleman, P. (2005). Privilege and Confidentiality in 12-Step Self-Help Programs. Journal of Legal Medicine, 26(4), 435–474.
- Wilson, B. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous: big book reference edition for addiction treatment (fourth).
- Alcoholics Anonymous. (2014). Alcoholics Anonymous: Big book reference edition for addiction treatment.
- SMART Recovery. (2021, February 24). Self Help Addiction Recovery Program: Alternative to AA.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2018, April 5). Celebrate Recovery.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2019). Questions and Answers on Sponsorship. New York, NY.
- Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2019). The A.A. Group… Where it All Begins. New York, NY.
- Trevisan, L. A., Boutros, N., Petrakis, I. L., & Krystal, J. H. (1998). Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal: Pathophysiological Insights. Alcohol Health & Research World, 22(1), 61–66.