AA: Alcoholics Anonymous

What AA Is

"Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." (source)

AA have free meetings around the world to help people who want to stop drinking, based on their 12-step programme. You can find out lots more about it at their excellent website.

How AA works

It works by providing a worldwide 'fellowship' of help and support. The 12 steps have at their heart some excellent ways of changing how you view yourself, the way you think, and the way you relate to other people.

What's good about AA

AA offers a unique community of ex-drinkers who have been there, done it, and returned. They can give you round the clock support, anywhere you might be. No other service can offer anything like this level of help.

It's worked for millions of people, and it's recommended as a proven treatment in lots of research.

It gives you a definite structure - the 12 steps - to work through.

It has lots of good advice about your thoughts, feelings and actions, wrapped up in easy to remember aphorisms.

It encourages you to look beyond your ego, your narcissism: what AA call 'seeking to go beyond the boundaries of the commanding self.'

It seems to work well for people who have become arrogant and deceitful in drink. A good meeting containing people who have overcome those deadly sins themselves can work wonders.

What's not so good about AA

People who don't like AA often say that what they dislike is:

  • The spiritual nature of the 12 steps
  • The elements of ritual and the language used in meetings, which they find a bit 'culty'
  • Too many people reciting their drinking stories over and over again, rather than looking to the future.
  • A fear of indoctrination, and a fear of expressing any view that might seem to be against the AA philosophy
  • Feeling anxious as a new member of a group

Some of the people who have used AA to save their lives - literally - can be quite forceful and evangelical, and believe that the Twelve Step Tradition is the only way.

How to choose & use AA

If you've never tried AA: Go to a meeting or ring their helpline (0845 769 7555). Try to notice what you have in common with people in AA, and try to use this to help yourself. Put to one side any differences. Try a few different meetings. Any meeting is only as good as its members - there are many different meetings, with different memberships, that create a variety of different atmospheres.

Don't think of it as a cult. Think of it as a non-drinking culture, specially designed to help and protect it's members. Read their 'Big Book' - which you can download.

If you've tried AA and hated it, or felt uncomfortable with it: AA is like Marmite - people seem to love it or hate it. Fear not if you can't get on with it - AA is not the only way. Not liking AA does not necessarily mean you're 'in denial' - there are other options. Don't let anyone bully you in to going if you don't want to - look for help elsewhere.

Quotes about AA

'I pick up the leaflet on the Twelve Steps. The garish printing and the overuse of exclamation marks sour the lukewarm water I am sipping. The leaflet contains tinpot philosophy in a corny typeface'

(from Shehan Karunatilaka, Chinaman, p154; Cape)

'I have read the Twelve Steps and they are as follows:

  1. Admit you're a screw up
  2. Believe in God
  3. Make a list of reasons why you're a screw-up
  4. Ask God to take them away
  5. Make a list of those you have wronged
  6. Ask God for strength
  7. Lots of it
  8. Apologise to them
  9. And mean it
  10. Pray
  11. Don't drink
  12. Can't remember the last one'

(from Shehan Karunatilaka, Chinaman, p158; Cape)

Critiques of AA


Interesting anti-12 step site

12 step alternatives