How AA And The 12-Step Recovery Process Works

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How AA and the 12 Step Recovery Process Works


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most utilized recovery tools available. The program, founded in the 1930s centers around the 12 steps, a series of spiritual principles that serve as individual guideposts for an individual’s physical and spiritual recovery from alcohol addiction. Widely accessible and free, AA’s 12-step recovery process has served as a powerful tool in helping many overcome their struggles with alcohol since it’s inception.

Today, several offshoots of the program exist, modeling after the same 12-step model, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA), and Pills Anonymous (PA), to name a few.

Where Do I Get Started With An Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program?

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are typically posted publicly with crisis centers, hospitals, libraries, and other community organizations. A search at can also help you locate a meeting in your area. At your first meeting, you’ll likely be given a list of meeting times, meeting topics, and groups hosted in your area.

How Alcoholics Anonymous And The 12-Step Program Work

As a fellowship dedicated to helping those battling an addiction to alcohol, AA centers around regular group meetings. These meetings are open and free to anyone interested getting sober.  The only requirement for participation in the program is a desire to stop drinking. There are two types of meetings: open and closed. Open meetings may include anyone interested in attending, whether they are current drinkers, interested observers, or actively participating in the program. Closed meetings are open to participating AA members only.

There’s also a subtle difference between meetings and groups. Meetings are held regularly, are moderated to some degree by a leader, and tend to center around alternating themes like codependency, sponsorship, gratitude, and coping skills. Meetings may also invite a speaker to share their story or professional insights or begin with a Q&A for those new to the program. An AA group is more informal and may be held at any time and include as few as two to three people who are all committed to working the steps and adhering to the tradition of the program.

Part of the tradition of AA, as the name suggests, is a strict adherence to anonymity. Those who attend meetings or groups are asked that they not share the experiences of others outside of the group. This anonymity affords a level of openness that is important for those recovering from addiction.

One of the more moving aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs is that, by design, it creates continuum of support built upon the experience of those overcoming alcohol addiction, from the beginner to the person who has remained sober for 30 or more years. Each member has a shared responsibility to other members within the group to step up and offer support as is needed.

When attending your first or first few meetings, you’ll receive a warm welcome and be offered an additional level of encouragement. Those in attendance are all too aware of the challenges of getting sober in those first few months and are eager to help newcomers feel comfortable and welcome. An individual is never required or be pressured to speak. And while collections are taken to support the group, it is not a requirement.

Meetings specific to the 12 steps are held regularly and will address each individually. Groups may form between individuals at similar stages in their recovery and are hugely beneficial as a way to maintain momentum in the program. When an individual has been in the program for a period of a few months or more, they may request a sponsorship from another member of the group who has been sober for a longer period of time (often five years or more). A sponsor acts as a guide and mentor, helping you stay on task with your sobriety in following the steps and avoiding some of the pitfalls common to those newly in recovery.

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Efficacy Of The Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program

There are few studies available to conclude the ultimate efficacy of 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous due to their high level of anonymity. However, through program interviews and assessments, and use of the program by rehabilitation centers, those who apply the 12 steps and attend regular meetings have a significantly higher success rates in achieving long-term sobriety.

In 1998, a federal study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism looked at the efficacy of 12-step programs compared with other treatment types including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Enhancement Therapy. While these programs were all determined to be effective at helping people achieve sobriety, the AA 12-step program achieved slightly higher rates of long-term sobriety.

Why Attending An AA Is Helpful For Current Drinkers

Alcoholics Anonymous welcomes anyone to attend their meetings, as long as there exists an honest desire to stop drinking. However, this doesn’t mean you have to be in recovery to attend. For many, it is through sitting in on an AA meeting that they discover recovery is possible. They are introduced to others who share similar stories to their own and have stopped drinking, and for some, a meeting can offer a level of support and understanding not found elsewhere. Hearing the stories of others can help current drinkers overcome their denial about the addiction and move forward with a plan toward sobriety.

Governance Of Alcoholics Anonymous

While the program goal is not to develop a hierarchy, it does include some structure for the sake of preserving its traditions. Group leaders or “officers” share in the responsibility of conducting meetings, ensuring the integrity of materials covered, handling contributions, and in some cases, acting as public relations persons. Officers are also critical in helping those new to AA locate a meeting and become involved in the program.

Help For Alcohol Dependency

Contact us and speak with someone in confidence today and make this your first step toward a life-long recovery.If you or someone you love is suffering with an addiction to alcohol, is a life-line of online resources and can connect you with the professional support and comprehensive, evidence-based recovery programs that meet your individual needs. Contact us and speak with someone in confidence today and make this your first step toward a life-long recovery.

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