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.

12-Step Programme

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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Related FAQ’s

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a mutual aid fellowship providing support for individuals addicted to alcohol who wish to lead a sober life.
How does it work?
AA attendees provide support, advice and fellowship to each other at free weekly meetings.
How do I know if I have a problem?
If you feel that your drinking is having a negative impact upon any aspect of your life, and/or you have tried to stop or cut down on drinking, you should seek help.

I think I might have a problem; what do I need to do to get help?
Speak with your GP and/or an addiction specialist about your situation and the treatment options which may be open to you.
Where are AA meetings held?
Meetings are held right across the UK; see the website at https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/aa-meetings/find-a-meeting.
What happens at AA meetings?
Members discuss experiences, share advice and give support to fellow alcohol addicts, on an anonymous basis.
If I go to a meeting, does that commit me to anything?
No.
What happens if I meet people I know?
Simply respect their anonymity, as they will respect yours, and treat them with care and respect.
What does it cost?
Attendance at meetings is free. Donations to the wider organisation are welcome.
Is AA only for alcoholics?
Yes; other organisations exist to help addicts of other substances.
Who are the members of Alcoholics Anonymous?
Anyone can become a member of AA who has a desire to live a sober life.
How do I become a member?
Simply attend meetings regularly and you will be considered a “member” of AA.
What do you mean when you say “Clean”?
“Clean” means being abstinent from the use of alcohol and any other drugs.
What about dual addiction?
AA does not believe in the concept of dual addiction; all alcohol addicts are welcome.
Does a person have to be clean to attend an AA meeting?
Newcomers to AA do not need to be clean but are encouraged to be so for further meetings; however, if you are struggling with absence but dedicated to achieving it you will always be welcome at AA meetings even if you are not “clean”.
What is the difference between “Open” and “Closed” AA meetings?
Open meetings can be attended by anybody, including the families of AA members; closed meetings are only for alcohol addicts themselves.
Is AA a religious organisation?
No, AA is not affiliated with any religion.
Does AA operate detox or treatment facilities?
No.
Should I go to a detox or treatment facility?
AA cannot answer that question; you need to discuss this with your GP and/or an addiction specialist.
Why “Anonymous”?
Anonymity protects the reputation of AA members and encourages full participation in meetings.
Why do people continue to go to meetings after they are cured?
Recovery can be a lifelong process and many people value the support and assistance they get from AA meetings even many years after they stop drinking.
How do I get a Sponsor?
Attending meetings regularly will allow you to get to know individual members; if someone’s experiences resonate particularly strongly with you, you may wish to approach them to ask if they will be a sponsor. There is no obligation to do so.
I think one of my family members has a problem with drugs and needs treatment; can you recommend a facility and what can I do?
AA does not make such recommendations; speak with your GP and/or an addiction specialist.
Are there 12 step programs for family members?
Yes, though none which are affiliated with AA itself.
Can family members attend AA meetings?
Family members, like anyone else, can attend open meetings.

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