Alcoholics Anonymous in Addiction Treatment
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international group, self-described as a mutual aid fellowship, providing support, advice, and companionship struggling with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. It comprises thousands of individual groups across the world, providing meetings (usually on a weekly basis) and other forms of support to approximately 2 million people worldwide. Attendance at AA groups is free for anyone committing to lead a sober life, and regular attendance entitles one to consider oneself an AA member with no regular dues required to be paid.
The history of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, USA, by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, two men who had struggled with alcoholism and who managed to gain sobriety with the help of members of The Oxford Group, a nondenominational Christian movement. Wilson and Smith came to believe that mutual support, plus faith in a higher power (typically, though not always, God), could help an individual break the cycle of alcohol abuse which was destroying them, and over the next couple of years Wilson in particular developed a series of principles which came to be the central tenets of AA, breaking away from The Oxford Group in 1937.
Principles of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous relies on the collective support all members attendees for each individual struggling with alcohol abuse. As the name suggests, anonymity is vital, to encourage every member to feel that they can participate without judgement or fear that their condition will become common knowledge.
The organisational principles of Alcoholics Anonymous have been codified into what are known as the Twelve Traditions (taken verbatim from the AA website):
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience.
- Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose: to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
- An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centres may employ special workers.
- AA, as such, ought never be organised; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
How does an individual become a member of alcoholics anonymous?
A person becomes an AA member simply by attending AA meetings regularly. As per the traditions listed above, some people may be employed by Alcoholics Anonymous but the vast majority of participants are volunteers.
What can be expected from an alcoholics anonymous meeting?
AA meetings fall into two types: open and closed. Open meetings are open to anybody interested in solving their drinking problem or that of someone else, and welcome families of alcoholics. Most open meetings involve a description of the AA programme and presentations by speakers who have gone through AA and can discuss some of its benefits and challenges.
Closed meetings are available only to individuals who acknowledge that they have a drinking problem and wish to resolve it. Closed meetings will involve sharing stories and advice, requests for help, and mutual support. As always, anonymity is key (though attendees will typically introduce themselves with their first names).
Does Alcoholics Anonymous work?
Alcoholics Anonymous has been crucial in saving the lives of millions of alcoholics across the world. By itself it is no magic cure – attendance at AA needs to be accompanied by a determination to live a sober life, perhaps in conjunction with medical assistance in some cases – but the fellowship provided by AA has proved to be an invaluable tool for countless people on the journey back to sobriety and happiness.
Alcoholics Anonymous is founded on its famous 12-step programme, based on the experiences of the founders, which all members are encouraged to follow. For some people, this programme can be problematic as it asks members to place their lives in the hands of a higher power, which many may feel unwilling to do. Nevertheless, the 12 steps can be used as a foundation for recovery even if complete adherence to them is not possible (“Newcomers are not asked to accept or follow these Twelve Steps in their entirety if they feel unwilling or unable to do so”).
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The 12 steps are:
- “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- 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.”
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- 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.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Choosing a Centre for Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous hosts meetings at venues right across the UK: according to the AA website, there are 3,585 meetings held weekly in England and Wales, and a further 902 in Scotland. Choosing which meetings to attend is a matter of simple personal preference; some people may wish to attend a group close to their home, for convenience’s sake, while others may prefer to avoid the risk of running into someone they recognise in a group (despite the priority placed upon anonymity) and will therefore opt for a group further from home. Either way, it is recommended that once you have chosen a group, you continue to attend the same group rather than chopping and changing, as the benefits of AA attendance are much greater if you can regularly associate with the same members.
You can find AA meetings via AA’s UK website at https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/aa-meetings/find-a-meeting.
Alcoholics Anonymous groups for different substances
As the name suggests, Alcoholics Anonymous is set up to help alcohol addicts specifically. There are other fellowships set up to help those addicted to other substances, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA) which evolved as an offshoot of AA and which also runs a 12-step programme, and various other substance-specific groups (eg Cocaine Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous etc).
Advantages of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous groups can be greatly beneficial to people going through recovery – or trying to do so – who need the fellowship, advice and support given by other people who have been through similar experiences and understand what alcohol addiction really means. AA meetings are no-pressure environments, in which confidentiality is paramount, and free membership means that AA is open to anybody regardless of financial status. Alcoholics Anonymous is the most accessible resource for alcohol addicts other than the NHS.
The role of counselling
Counselling can be extremely beneficial for individuals looking for occasional or regular support whilst in recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous itself does not offer counselling and does not make formal recommendations; however, many individuals attending AA meetings also seek counselling, and addiction counsellors (typically engaged on a private basis by appointment) can be found throughout the country.
Staying clean and sober
Regardless of the duration of your addiction, going through detoxification and withdrawal (which in the case of alcohol addiction can be very dangerous and should never be attempted without medical assistance) is only the first phase of your recovery. Staying clean and sober long-term requires a great deal of dedication, and represents a significant challenge (especially considering the ubiquity of alcohol in modern society). The support and fellowship which can be gained by attending AA meetings can be invaluable, and many addiction specialists – and facilities such as residential rehabilitation units – will recommend participation in AA meetings as a crucial foundation for the recovery process.
Take control of your life – get started on the road to recovery
You may feel you have lost control of your life to alcohol – but you can take that control back, and get started on the path back to a healthy happy life, by acknowledging your condition and reaching out for help. Speak with your GP and/or an addiction specialist today to discuss your situation and the treatment options which may be open to you.
Help centres near you
Your GP and/or an addiction specialist can talk to you about facilities in your area; to find local AA meetings specifically, see the website at https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/aa-meetings/find-a-meeting.
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