Alcoholics Anonymous

What it is and what it is not

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a vast organisation with representatives and groups in virtually every community in the country and throughout the world. It is not so much a form of treatment as a support system for sobriety. It is a group of recovering alcoholic men and women who share their shared experience, strength, and hope with other alcoholics who desire to stop drinking, thus reinforcing their own sobriety along the way. Unconditional love is the fundamental foundation of AA and makes it work: “Let us love you until you can love yourself.”

For many alcoholics, AA provides a much more robust support system for recovery than anything else available.

Sharing at AA meetings

Meetings consist of people talking about some aspect of their efforts to stay sober, and since one’s view of sobriety changes from day to day, there is a great deal to talk about. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. When you walk in the door, you are automatically a member. Donations are welcome but not mandatory, which defray each group’s expenses, all of which are self-supporting. Any extra funds are sent to an Intergroup office in the area to help the cause. 

Among other tenets, AA emphasises two essential principles: don’t drink and keep coming to meetings. No officers or professionals are heading the groups. A different person chairs each meeting. You need not speak up if you don’t want to, but the benefits of the meeting derive as much from speaking out as from listening to others.

The spiritual aspect of AA 

Sobriety in AA consists of not drinking at all. The organisation has a solid spiritual foundation to help members achieve and maintain total abstinence. Central to this foundation are twelve steps toward sobriety, and articles of faith, which the members are encouraged to understand and follow. One of these steps is recognising that alcoholics are powerless over alcohol, that they cannot hand now or ever. Another is that one accepts the need for the help of a higher power, however the individual conceives of such a power to maintain sobriety. Some alcoholics are put off by what they construe as a religious bias in AA. Still, it is not a religion at all, merely a spiritual element of personal conviction or faith that has proven vital to countless recovering alcoholics. May AA members speak of accepting this aspect of the program only after being in AA for weeks, months, or years.

Relapse and AA

At its root, AA addresses the practical reality that alcoholism is a continuing disorder and that for the alcoholic to stay sober one day at a time is a thoroughly laudable achievement. The alcoholic in AA is not likely to declare, “I’m never going to drink again.” Such statements are not even particularly encouraged since relapse is the nature of the disease, and we are all vulnerable daily to the possibility of taking a drink. In AA, the alcoholic is more likely to say, “I will try very hard not to drink today. I’ll deal with tomorrow when it comes.”

The multifaceted support of AA

However, along with the day-to-day attitude, AA does provide a continuing, long-term, and relatively unchanging avenue of support for recovering alcoholics. This support is personal, providing acquaintance and association with nondrinking people: emotional, combating depression and loneliness; inspirational, providing the recovering alcoholic with examples of many people who have achieved what they are trying to achieve; and spiritual, reaffirming faith in a higher power to guide and help one achieve the goal of continuous sobriety. 

Of course, there are recovering alcoholics who get along without AA, but the chances for good quality sobriety are much better with it. Relapse is always a threat, even with AA. 

Criticism of AA

AA is criticised for many things, mostly for what it’s not. It’s not a medical treatment, not a nutrition centre, it’s not a health club, it’s not psychotherapy per se, and it’s not a church. All of these things can be helpful in addition to AA, but you won’t find them there. Despite all this, AA has many members who can stay sober and were never able to before.

Related organisations

In addition to Alcoholics Anonymous proper, the AA umbrella extends to other support organisations: Al-anon, an organisation for the nonalcoholic families of recovering alcoholics, offering family members support and assistance in dealing with their own genuine and complex problems; and Alateen, for the teenage family member of alcoholics. Both Al-anon and Alateen help the family members recover from the illness of living with alcoholism. 

The twelve steps of AA have also given rise to other organisations that help recover from other compulsive and obsessive behaviours, including drugs, overeating, shopping, smoking and gambling. 

The treatment provided at AddicitonsUK includes the principles of AA apart from evidence-based therapies tailored to individual needs. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, call Freephone 0800 140 4044

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