Everything You Need To Know About Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous groups combine like-minded individuals who share their addiction journeys to help foster recovery and sobriety.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a recovery model for people struggling with drinking problems. They come together either physically or virtually to help figure out healthy ways to cope with and heal from their alcohol substance use disorder. The group is free for anyone who desires to stop drinking, and does not have age restrictions or membership fees. The primary purpose of AA is to help you achieve and live a sober life.

AA is a multiracial, nonprofessional, and self-supporting organization found almost anywhere globally. The group does not have a sole leadership team but is run by former alcoholics who desire to help others. AA has continued growing worldwide with over two million members.1

Understanding AA

Alcoholism Statistics

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics:

  • 6.7% of adults using alcohol develop alcohol abuse disorder
  • 25.8% of people aged eighteen and over reported binge drinking in the previous month
  • 1.7% of teenagers under eighteen have alcohol abuse disorder
  • According to the World Health Organization, excessive alcohol use causes 7.1% of diseases among males, and 2.2% among females.
  • Alcohol is linked to 13.5% of deaths between twenty and thirty-nine year olds.2 

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Help People Deal With Alcoholism?

AA uses a 12-step program to help people fight alcoholism. Whether or not a member actually finishes the 12-step program, the first step for anyone is to attend a meeting. AA often encourages new members to share their stories while getting information and advice about the program from the other members.


AA emphasizes new members joining ninety meetings in ninety days to help get through the early recovery days. After the first three months, AA encourages members to continue attending the meetings for the rest of their life, although not on the same rigorous basis unless it is needed. It is essential to stay vigilant and get the support necessary to avoid possible relapses.

AA also assigns newer members a senior member "sponsor,” who is someone they can go to when they’re tempted to drink again. Apart from the general guidelines, AA works differently for each member, but the more involved a member is, the better.

Alcoholics Anonymous Help People Deal With Alcoholism

Alcoholics Anonymous Help People Deal With Alcoholism

History Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. The meeting resulted from New York stockbroker Bill W. and Akron-local surgeon Dr. Bob S. Both of these men had struggled with alcoholism and were involved in a non-alcoholic fellowship whose primary purpose emphasized the importance of spiritual values in daily life.

When they met, Dr. Bob was still struggling to maintain a sober life. Bill helped him by highlighting that alcoholism was a sickness that affected the mind, body, and emotions. Even though Dr. Bob was a physician, he hadn't looked at alcoholism as a disease before. After realizing this with Bob’s help, he was able to start leading a sober life.

The men continued discussing their ideas surrounding sobriety and finally arrived at the idea of Alcoholics Anonymous. They formed AA and began working with people battling alcoholism at the Akron City Hospital. After a patient achieved sobriety, the two men agreed that they had created the right program.

In 1939, AA published its first introductory textbook. Bill wrote the texts, explained the group's philosophy and methods, and developed a core ideology. This core ideology runs the AA group and constitutes the 12 steps of recovery still to this day. Since its foundation, the group has reached various locations throughout the United States and worldwide in New Zealand, Germany, Spain, and other major cities.3

Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

You or your loved one can achieve a significant part of recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. During meetings, members share their experiences and give hope and strength to each other while they find solutions to their drinking habits. There are three general types of AA meetings, including:

  • Closed AA meetings: “Closed” meetings are available for members only. However, people can attend a closed session if they believe they desire to quit drinking. After the meeting is over, people can become a member themselves by signing up. People don't need to have attended any previous meetings to join a “closed” meeting.
  • Open AA meetings: These are open to anyone who desires to attend the meeting for their alcoholism problem. If you are a non-alcoholic, or are a friend or family member of the one suffering from alcoholism, you can still participate as an observer.
  • Alcoholics anonymous online meetings: AA online meetings occur virtually. Whether the sessions are “open” or “closed,” it is open to anyone who wants to attend. Use your local AA meeting finder to locate online or in-person AA meetings near you. 

What to Expect From an AA Meeting

Big Book, 12 Steps, & 12 Traditions Of Alcoholics Anonymous

The “Big Book" explains the AA alcohol recovery program. Since its publication in 1939, it shows how the first 100 people who participated in AA became sober. The book has been translated into seventy languages and still holds the main principles of AA to help members step forward towards recovery.

12 Steps Of Alcoholics Anonymous

Most AA success comes from the idea that a former alcoholic reaches out and helps others stay sober. These mentors use the 12-step program outlined as follows:

  • Step 1: Admit that you are powerless and your life has become unimaginable due to drinking.
  • Step 2: Come to believe that a power greater than you can restore yourself.
  • Step 3: Decide to turn your will and life to the care of God as you understand him.
  • Step 4: Make a fearless and searching moral inventory of yourself.
  • Step 5: Admit to God, yourself, and other people the exact nature of your wrongs.
  • Step 6: Be entirely ready to let God remove all the defects of your character.
  • Step 7: Humbly ask God to deal with your shortcomings.
  • Step 8: Make a list of everyone you wronged and be ready to make amends to them.
  • Step 9: Make direct amends to such people when you can. However, don't make don't direct amends if it will hurt them, others, or yourself.
  • Step 10: Continue to take personal inventory and admit it when someone wrongs you.
  • Step 11: Through meditation and prayer, seek to improve your conscious contact with God. 
  • Step 12: Carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all your affairs.

Intentions of Alcoholics Anonymous

Even if newcomers do not feel like abiding by these 12 steps, for one reason or another, AA asks them to keep an open mind as they attend meetings and read AA literature interpreting and describing the AA program. The members usually emphasize that you can determine yourself whether or not you are an alcoholic.

Similarly, they point out that medical testimonies that indicate alcohol is a progressive disease, and abstaining from it entirely is the best course of action. Also, even though the 12 steps talk about commitment to God and recognizing sins quite frequently, members do not have to be Christian or religious in order to attend sessions. Although many members abide by this since it’s in the steps and traditions, members are allowed to believe and practice whatever they’d like.

12 Traditions Of Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12 traditions of AA are:

  • Common welfare of members comes first, and personal recovery depends on AA unity.
  • The group's purpose has one ultimate authority, which is a loving God who is the group's conscience.
  • The leaders of the group are trusted servants, not governors.
  • The only requirement for members is a desire to quit drinking.
  • Every group must be autonomous except where they affect other groups or AA as a whole.
  • Each group has one purpose, which is to carry the message to other alcoholics who still suffer.
  • AA groups should never finance, endorse, or lend the AA name to any related outside enterprise or facility. This eliminates any problems of property, prestige, or money diverting members from their primary purpose.
  • Every AA group should fully self-support its activities and refuse outside contributions.
  • AA should not have opinions on outside issues. Therefore, the name AA should never get drawn into public controversy.
  • Public relations is based on attraction, not promotion.
  • AA should remain member-run but may employ special workers in service centers.
  • AA shouldn't have service boards, and committees need to be responsible to those they serve.
  • Anonymity is the spiritual foundation for all traditions of AA. It reminds members to choose principles before personalities.

Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness And Criticism

AA has received considerable media attention since the 1940s for helping people lead sober lives. The program has been credited for its effectiveness in teaching people how to build a better life during recovery and also to maintain sobriety. According to a study conducted by the Stanford School of Medicine, AA is the most effective technique for healing, even over therapy.


The researchers found that AA:

  • Was more effective than psychotherapy in achieving alcohol abstinence.
  • Pushed participation, which also lowered the costs of health care.
  • Is effective because it involves social interaction and camaraderie between members.
However, AA also faces some criticism in regards to sexual harassment and criticism of culture, such as some senior AA members exploiting their authority by asking for sexual favors from newcomers in order to “help with recovery.” Also, AA applies its 12-step program for all types of alcoholics and does not distinguish if some alcoholics may need additional help in other ways.4

Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous

There are several alternatives to AA in case some people find that AA doesn’t help with their recovery journey.  

Alcoholics Anonymous vs. Other Treatment Opportunities

SMART Recovery

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is an educational and mental health program. SMART draws its techniques from the work of psychologist Albert Ellis. Dr. Ellis developed cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

REBT works to change human behaviors by teaching beliefs and emotions that may cause alcohol abuse. A therapist will train the patient how to manage these beliefs and emotions using self-empowerment techniques. SMART recovery draws from Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing (MI).  

Holistic Therapies

Holistic therapies aim to treat the whole person instead of individual symptoms. A holistic treatment treats the mind, emotions, and spirit, and maintains overall wellbeing and good health. Also known as Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), it helps the body regain its full energy and physical balance.


Holistic Therapy Techniques
Holistic therapy combines various techniques and treatments to help patients achieve sobriety from alcohol. The most common types of holistic medicine include:

  • Reflexology: These are massages and apply pressure to some parts of the hands, ears, and feet to encourage healing and relieve tension and stress.
  • Massage therapy: This promotes healing and enhances overall wellbeing. A massage therapist uses hands-on movements to manipulate the body's muscles and soft tissue.
  • Acupuncture: An acupuncturist will place fine needles at various body parts to stimulate the muscles and skin nerves to produce different effects.

Experiential Therapies

Experiential therapies use expressive activities and tools like arts and crafts, acting or role-playing, music, guided imagery, animal care, or various forms of recreation. When you focus on these activities, you identify emotions associated with self-esteem, success, responsibility, and disappointment.

Your therapist guides you as you release and explore negative feelings of hurt, shame, or anger relating to your past experiences. You may have blocked these emotions or still have lingering feelings associated with alcohol use. You can learn where your problem stems from by facing your feelings and can make the necessary changes.

Moderation Management (MM)

Moderation management is a nonprofit organization that provides peer-run support groups for anyone who desires to reduce alcohol abuse. MM was founded in 1944 as an alternative to AA. It is based on problem drinkers who want to moderate their alcohol consumption but not necessarily stop drinking.

MM allows you to set your own drinking goals as appropriate, though you follow particular drinking guidelines, plan setting techniques, limits, and a nine-step cognitive-behavioral change program. As a member, you don't need to follow the suggested guidelines rigorously, but they encourage you.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT combines behavioral therapies, counseling, and FDA-approved medications to treat alcohol abuse disorders. Anti-anxiety and antidepressants are effective for regulating the moods of people battling addiction. Some MAT solutions for alcohol abuse include:

  • Naltrexone. This blocks opioid receptors responsible for creating the satisfying effects of alcohol cravings.
  • Acamprosate. This reduces withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, dysphoria, and restlessness. This drug acts on the glutamate neurotransmitter systems and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
  • Disulfiram, which interferes with alcohol degradation and results in the accumulation of acetaldehyde.

Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at San Diego Detox

There are various rehab options for alcohol recovery at San Diego Detox.

Alcohol Detox

Alcohol detox is often the first step of rehab to remove harmful substances from the body. This first step is often accompanied by withdrawal symptoms, which is the body's physical or mental response to the absence of alcohol. These symptoms may last between one to two weeks after beginning detox; however, the length of the symptoms also depends on the severity of the alcohol abuse.

Alcohol Detox Symptoms
Medical providers perform alcohol detox at highly regulated centers in San Diego. The doctors can monitor your health if you develop severe withdrawal symptoms. Some alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Extreme hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Tremors, or delirium tremens in rare cases

Therapy

Alcohol therapies involve various behavioral techniques, including:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT involves replacing negative emotions and thoughts with more positive ones. CBT therapy techniques manage cravings, reduce substance use, and avoid relapse. A therapist guides you as you identify negative thought patterns and emotions during cognitive restructuring. You substitute these patterns with more positive ones and develop coping skills better to face adverse situations or feelings.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
DBT techniques promote two opposing goals: acceptance and change. DBT helps patients balance between the urge to avoid painful circumstances and the need to accept unavoidable changes or pain associated with daily life. A therapist combines telephone sessions, group therapy targeting skill-building, and counseling sessions. The treatment manages cravings, reduces substance use, helps manage symptoms, and reduces withdrawal symptoms' discomfort.

Contingency Management
Contingency management uses a reward system to enforce good behaviors. When you achieve a recovery milestone, your doctor rewards you with small prizes or vouchers. This therapy has four main principles:

  • If you abuse alcohol, you don't get rewarded.
  • You agree on the rewards for sobriety; your doctor offers tips on specific therapy goals.
  • You and your doctor work together and identify positive activities and goals.
  • Your doctor conducts consistent substance testing to ensure you abstain.

Family Behavior Therapy
Addiction affects everyone in a family. Family behavior therapy addresses the addiction and the relationships between family members, behavioral concerns, and parenting issues. A therapist guides you to learn behavioral techniques, create goals, strengthen communication, and offer skills to make your life and your family's easier.

Motivational Interviewing
Motivational interviewing increases engagement with recovery and reduces substance abuse. A therapist encourages you to examine the negative consequences of using alcohol. You gauge where you are, where you want to go, and how alcohol abuse holds you back. This may happen in a group or individual setting.

Therapy

Therapy

San Diego AA Meetings

AA meetings use the 12-step program to help achieve sobriety. The program encourages active participation and attendance in these meetings. Most sessions are individual, though some may involve family members or close friends when necessary.


Newcomers generally focus on the following three steps:

  • Surrendering your addiction problem to a higher power.
  • Accepting a higher power can help fix your problem and not willpower.
  • Accept that alcohol makes day-to-day life unimaginable, and you are powerless against it. 

Contact an Addiction Professional Now!

Contact an addiction or substance abuse disorder professional if you or a loved one struggle with alcohol abuse or other addiction disorders. Form a strong support network with people you trust, because abstinence might be challenging and pose risky withdrawal symptoms. Join an AA group near you to help you avoid drug relapse, stay connected with like-minded individuals, and achieve long-term sobriety. Staying on top of AA meetings and lifestyle can make your life easier when it comes to staying alcohol-free.