Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a group support program for recovering alcoholics. It is accepted worldwide as one of the most popular self-help vehicles for people fighting alcohol dependence and addiction. The umbrella nonprofit authorizes local chapters that are located in over 180 countries around the world. AA is most famous for its recovery philosophy that is embodied in a 12-step program. These steps have served as a model for addiction recovery programs that deal with a wide range of problems, from overeating to drug abuse.
AA Basic Operating Principles
Alcoholism is considered incurable, but that does not mean that people who have it cannot quit drinking. Many alcoholics successfully maintain their sobriety. Following the initial treatment phase, alcoholics are encouraged to continue their participation in therapy and support groups.
The name of the organization underscores two of its basic operating principals. AA meetings are for recovering alcoholics and are not open to people who suffer from other types of addictions. The philosophy behind the restriction promotes the value in making connections between individuals who have direct experience with alcoholism. The people attending the meetings also agree to the confidentiality of the process. Participants are encouraged to remain anonymous by only using first names. More importantly, the explicit agreement against repeating anything said in a meeting creates a safe space for recovery to begin.
Unlike strictly therapeutic alcohol recovery programs, AA’s 12-step program has a spiritual component. Many of the steps make direct reference to a higher power. The steps were designed to also help individuals recover emotionally and spiritually. All of the steps are grounded in the philosophy of having recovering alcoholics:
- admit they cannot control their addiction;
- recognize they need help from a higher power;
- exam past behavior;
- make amends;
- learn new ways of conducting themselves; and
- help others.
The AA 12-step program is an individual action plan to get rid of addictive behaviors and substitute a healthy mindset. The steps are designed to be followed sequentially, but it is not a requirement. Most people consider the first step to be the most important. It requires recovering alcoholics to acknowledge their problem. This is, perhaps, the most widely recognized part of the program. The process of stating a first name and admitting to being an alcoholic in front of a group has been a defining scene in movies and television shows dealing with alcoholism for decades.
Little Objective Evidence
As popular as the AA 12-step program has been since its development in 1935, there is very little objective evidence of its effectiveness. The organization and its chapters do not gather scientific data from the people who attend meetings. People are encouraged to attend at least twice a week, but there is no accountability mechanism that tracks attendance or correlates program completion with the length of sobriety. The organization has conducted voluntary surveys of its participants in the past, but the nature of the process made the results informational rather than scientific.
AA Spiritual Focus
Program detractors tend to point to the spiritual aspect of the steps, equating the emphasis on a higher power with a cult-like focus on outside forces that supposedly direct behavior. Others feel that the emphasis on not being able to control the addiction removes direct responsibility for the person’s actions. Certain medical experts have argued that the program replaces the participant’s ordinary sense of self with a sense of self as defined in terms of a deviation.
Despite the criticisms, the AA 12-step program is the way hundreds of thousands of alcoholics around the world choose to battle their addiction. Although quantitative evidence is scarce, the organization easily points to personal testimonials from people who feel the program has empowered them to change their lives. The most important precept of addiction recovery treatment is to find the program that works for the individual involved. Call our free referral service at 1-800-861-9454, or fill out a quick contact form online for advice about Alcoholics Anonymous chapters near you and help with the 12-step program.