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How Does AA Work, and Is It Right for You?

Updated: Oct 24, 2023



There seems to be some mystery about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and how it works. AA is something that people know casual information about, usually influenced by how the media portrays it. If you or a loved one have never experienced it firsthand, you might not fully understand how AA functions — and that’s okay! That’s why we’re here to walk the journey with you.


When it comes to addiction, joining a community where you can feel understood and supported can make the recovery process much easier. What alcoholics anonymous does is allow you entry into that kind of community. If you’re struggling with addiction of any kind, an AA group could help you to be successful in your journey.


Keep reading to learn more about how AA works and if it is a program that would be right for you.


What Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international network of small groups scattered in different cities that serve as a setting for people to overcome their alcoholism. People can come from all backgrounds to attend meetings with the same goal: to get help and get better.


It was first created in Ohio in 1935 when two men aiming to get sober began supporting each other. They eventually took in a third man looking to stop his drinking problem, and the movement kept growing.


Now you can find easy access to an AA meeting somewhere close to where you live. For people who suffer from other addictions, there are meetings geared towards different substances so that you can be understood even more deeply and supported more thoroughly.


How It Works

AA works on both an individual and group level. It provides a comfortable and safe space for people to share some of their deepest thoughts and darkest moments. There is no judgment at an AA meeting which means people can be more vulnerable and open.


When you suffer from alcoholism, you often feel like you’re suffering alone. With AA, you can see and feel that you are not.


Most AA groups follow the 12-step method that sets guidelines and helps to keep people on track during their recovery. All AA meetings might function a little differently, so if you attend meetings at different locations, they might vary.


In general, someone will lead the group by starting with a topic or question to which the other group members are encouraged to respond. Everyone shares their experiences, which at first can be scary, but it allows you to open up and free yourself from judgment.


Who Can Join?

Anyone that has an addiction to alcohol or suffers from alcoholism can join an AA meeting. People from all backgrounds are encouraged to join, as AA does not affiliate with any political belief or religious denomination. If you struggle with your drinking, you are welcome to join.


The main thing that AA leaders ask of you is that you want to change. Anyone who wants to fix their drinking problem and set boundaries and responsibilities for themselves can join an AA group.


As mentioned above, if you are struggling with another substance abuse disorder that’s not alcoholism, you should be able to find other groups that function nearly the same way. However, these groups will be specifically geared towards your substance of choice so you can get more insight from others who are suffering.


The 12 Steps of AA

There is an element of spirituality in AA that might be a block for some individuals. While AA does not prescribe to a certain religion, the way outsiders might interpret it is very specific to monotheistic views. You can incorporate your beliefs into the 12 steps and still enjoy the support that it brings.


The 12 steps that are listed for Alcoholics Anonymous are:


  1. Admit that we are powerless over alcohol, and our lives have become unmanageable.

  2. Believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore our health and sobriety.

  3. Have decided to turn our will and lives over to the care of this Power.

  4. Have done a moral inventory of ourselves.

  5. Admitted to this Power, ourselves, and other human beings, the nature of our wrongs.

  6. Ready for this Power to remove all these defects of our character.

  7. Asking this Power to remove our shortcomings.

  8. Made a list of the people we have harmed and are willing to make amends to them all.

  9. Make amends to these people whenever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.

  10. Continue to take inventory of ourselves and admit when we are wrong.

  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with this Power.

  12. Had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps.

The 12 Traditions of AA

While the 12 steps are aimed at making the individual sober, the 12 traditions focus more on keeping the group dynamic of AA healthy. These 12 traditions create a guideline for group members to uphold and act on to ensure the group is successful for its participants.


  1. The common welfare of the group members comes first. Recovery depends on the unity of AA.

  2. The only authority is a loving Power; the leaders of AA do not govern but simply guide.

  3. The only requirement to join is to have the desire to stop drinking.

  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters that will affect other groups of AA as a whole.

  5. One primary purpose of AA is to carry its message to alcoholics who are still suffering.

  6. An AA group may not endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside the enterprise.

  7. Every AA group should be fully self-supporting, with no help from outside contributions.

  8. AA should remain forever nonprofessional, but service centers may employ workers.

  9. AA should never be organized, but service boards and committees directly responsible to those they serve may be created.

  10. AA has no opinion on outside issues.

  11. Maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. The public relations policy is to attract, not promote or recruit.

  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of these traditions. Reminder to place principles before personalities.

The Effectiveness of AA

When struggling with alcohol addiction, you may not feel like anyone else understands what you are going through — especially if those around you are not alcoholics. You can feel isolated and misunderstood, making recovery feel impossible. AA works to give you the structure and support that you need to get better.


Importance of Community

People trying to abstain from alcohol do better when they are in a support group. We believe connection is the antithesis of addiction.


There is more accountability to be spread throughout the group, and you can deeply bond with other members. Many people in AA end up finding a sponsor that can be their main point of support. You don’t feel judged, so you are more likely to open up and share.


It’s incredibly common to feel as if the bridges of support around you have been burned. It’s okay if you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your friends and family just yet.


AA can be your first step to reaching back out. You can find a community of support anonymously; no one will come in with preconceived notions about you, so you are allowed to be yourself fully. Being open is essential in the recovery process, and AA encourages it.


Learning New Coping Skills

When you are in AA, you get to hear about how people have overcome their addiction to alcohol. AA isn’t a group you attend until you’re sober and then get out of it; it’s a group that people who have been sober for years are still attending weekly.


Alcoholism is something that you have to battle every day, even long into sobriety. People who have been going for years, have been successful, and have felt supported all have important tips for getting better. You can learn different coping skills and try them to see what works best for you.


Could AA Be for You?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a great choice for people who are looking for community support. You shouldn’t have to go through addiction alone, which is what AA is meant for. If you’re looking for a place where people can understand what you’ve been through and have fought similar battles, a group meeting like AA might be beneficial.


If you’re looking for something even more anonymous, say something virtual, you can find success and support online. With Sober Sidekick, you gain access to a community of sober individuals who want to support each other in their recovery process. It’s not always easy to find an accessible in-person AA meeting, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out.


Sober Sidekick makes it easy for you to join online AA meetings when you need them and interact with people looking to support just as much as they are looking for support. While you can chat and support people, it is from afar and with complete anonymity. Download the app on both Android and iPhone to get started today!


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