What Are The Basics of AA?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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The Fellowship of AA

Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is a well-known fellowship involving 12 steps to assist people on the journey of recovering from alcoholism. The 12-step program is also for people who want to recover from substance use and addiction.

Many people are introduced to the fellowship after seeking treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous emerged in 1935 and since then has assisted millions of clients by helping them get the support and access to resources that they need in order to recover from a variety of addictions.

Alcoholics Anonymous has great success in assisting people with recovery by relying on the effectiveness of group meetings and fellowship. While the program itself is simple, it is highly effective and has proven itself to be a method toward stable recovery and a healthier lifestyle. When the program is adhered to, it is highly effective. One study conducted by the Alcohol Research Group in Berkely, CA found that people in recovery who got support from AA groups were three times more likely to stay sober than people who did not.

Both alcoholism and substance use are complicated problems, and they appear differently within each individual. Every member of Alcoholics Anonymous has had a different experience and will be able to share their issue from their perspective. While every individual will have a different experience of alcoholism, members share many commonalities. If you are just beginning Alcoholics Anonymous, you may have a lot of questions and wonder what a meeting is actually like. Here is some information on what you can expect from the fellowship.



The selection of a sponsor

The selection of a sponsor deals with finding a member who you feel at ease with discussing pain points and difficulties you’re experiencing. When that person is found, an AA meeting attendee can inquire about selecting them as a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who has had success with getting further along the path of recovery. A sponsor is also willing to assist others with getting to that point of success and beyond. Sponsors have achieved sobriety and have made positive changes in their lives.

The Actions of a Sponsor

The road to sobriety is a journey. Often, one’s willpower is not enough to regain control over health and sobriety — it takes a support network. If one could do it alone, there would not be so many instances of alcoholism making a person’s life very difficult to manage. Alcoholism affects one’s health and ability to manage their responsibilities on a daily basis.

The entire purpose of having a sponsor is to help someone new to the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship maintain sobriety. The sponsor will share with the newcomer what their own experiences have been as well as what has worked for them to remain sober. One of the main responsibilities of a sponsor is to help a person work within the paradigm of the 12 steps to achieve a sober lifestyle.

The 12 steps are an essential part of what makes the AA fellowship effective. A sponsor offers a source of support and encouragement and also leads to healthy social interactions with people who are also recovering. A sponsor can help a newcomer understand some of the pitfalls that can lead to relapse.

Who Is Eligible to Be a Sponsor?

A sponsor can be someone who has dealt with alcoholism and achieved sobriety for an extended period of time. They have the desire to spend time with an individual who has just begun on their path to recovery. Sponsors also benefit from the relationship because it strengthens their commitment to sobriety. By helping others, AA members find that they help themselves. A sponsor is a source of guidance and support.

How Does a Sponsor Help?

Typically, a sponsor will meet with a newcomer on a weekly basis. These meetings may occur after or before an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or if a special need arises. The sponsor will be able to help by sharing aspects of their growth and sobriety. Sponsorship is not meant to be a purely social interaction. The sponsor has accepted the responsibility to mentor you during your recovery journey. On the other hand, they are not there to impose their own ways of life, make demands, or try to control a new member.

Meeting Types

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings can be generalized as being open or closed. An open meeting is designed to welcome anyone who is interested in the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Therefore, friends or family members may be in attendance as observers or supporters. A closed meeting is meant only for AA members or those who are dealing with alcoholism and desire to make a change for the better.

It is asked of the participants of all meetings to maintain discussions regarding recovery and sobriety rather than talking about external topics. At both types of meetings, it may be requested that participants confine their discussion to matters pertaining to recovery from alcoholism.

How Does AA Work?

The problem of alcoholism is prevalent, and the Alcoholics Anonymous program has met the need that many have to become sober. The 12-step approach has permitted the Alcoholics Anonymous program to be highly effective with a great success rate. Studies have shown that the 12-step approach leads to outcomes equivalent to cognitive behavioral treatment, which is science-based. For some individuals, the 12-step program has yielded results superseding cognitive behavioral treatment, or CBT.

The Benefits of Attending AA

Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting provides a great deal of support on the journey of recovery. The 12-step meetings are associated with positive outcomes such as recovery and sobriety. AA hosts a variety of meetings, with the most commonly known one being the 12-step meeting. A variety of meetings are offered to help members find the most motivating and empowering support group from their peers to assist with personal recovery.

Meetings for Newcomers

AA does not require you to attend a specific meeting, but a meeting meant for beginners is more likely to help you acclimate to the community. Meetings for beginners focus on the earliest stages of recovery and deterrence of relapse. It is an ideal environment to share experiences, get assistance with beginning the 12 steps, and acquire resources regarding recovery. Many people work through the first three steps in beginners’ meetings.

Beginners’ meetings assist with learning coping skills, finding ways to help others, creating a social support system, finding positive meaning in life, and maintaining sobriety. Attending a beginner’s group will expose you to the AA model and how it works.

12 Step Group Meetings

The meetings are usually opened with a few statements and the AA preamble. In some cases, there is a moment of silence or recital of the serenity prayer. The host of the meeting will ask if there are any new attendees who would like to introduce themselves to the group. While this isn’t mandatory, it is encouraged. Some meetings begin with reading some AA material such as “More About Alcoholism” or “How It Works.” A statement about anonymity is provided to all members. The meetings may end with a moment of silence, prayer, or reciting the Responsibility Statement.

The Alcoholics Anonymous founders created the guidelines of the 12 steps. They discovered that taking 12 particular actions greatly assisted themselves, as well as others, with abstaining from alcohol at an Akron, Ohio hospital. The founders consider these 12 actions most pertinent within your first year of sobriety. Over time, the 12 steps became a form of repeatable, long-term recovery that can be completed non-linearly. Any of the 12 steps can be revisited as needed by an individual.

Working through the 12 steps is an individual experience involving personal work. However, the meetings and group sessions offer an opportunity to discuss and study with others who are on a similar journey. Working with a sponsor provides additional support, as they will likely attend the meetings with you.

There will be many opportunities to participate in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Each meeting is an opportunity to connect with others and grow through the experience. A beginner’s meeting will allow some time for newcomers and visitors to introduce themselves. The introductions are simply meant to allow others to get to know you. Everyone was once a newcomer to something. Discussion meetings will allow you some time to share your experience with the topic being discussed. After a person new to the group has attended a few meetings, they may be asked to speak about their experience at an upcoming meeting. This is optional, but many people find it is a way to begin opening up about their experience.

Helpful Social Interactions

AA can provide positive social experiences by giving you the opportunity to chat with others before and after meetings. In some cases, staying after the meeting or arriving before the meeting starts will provide you with additional time to socialize with others who are in recovery. These are excellent times to help others in the group.

It’s understandable that if you’re just beginning AA, you may not be familiar with the process. For many people, it is a new experience to enter a room full of people you don’t know and begin sharing intimate details about what you are struggling with. It will not take long for you to understand that you’re in a supportive community with people who are dealing with some of the same situations that you are.

Many members of the community share the same feelings as you do. Any anxiousness that you may feel will begin to dissolve after you start listening to others in the group. Sharing and communicating are a large and essential part of AA. You may find that many of the negative feelings you struggle with can be brought to the meeting, and you can leave understanding them better. This is a good way to release some of the emotions you may have been carrying around with you every day. People at the meeting may also be able to understand what you are going through in a way other people in your life cannot.

Is AA Right for You?

If you have been in treatment and want to continue a sober lifestyle or want to stop drinking and substance abuse, Alcoholics Anonymous may be an excellent fit for you. You will be able to attend meetings, gain social support, and work through the 12 Steps designed to lead you to have a life of sobriety. No matter how complicated your situation may be, AA is accessible to you. The program is free to those who are dealing with alcoholism or another form of addiction. AA meetings that you can attend are likely held near where you live.