Alcoholics Anonymous and other Support Groups (They Help!)

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.

Think you have a drinking problem?

If you suspect you might have a drinking problem, don't wait to seek help. Call our hotline now for confidential advice, support, and the first step towards understanding your relationship with alcohol and beginning your journey to recovery.

AA and Other Groups

You’ve probably heard of AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s an international support group for those who have drinking problems. It’s free, anybody can join, and AA meetings are held almost daily, and almost everywhere. Each individual meeting will have a group leader who is officially affiliated with AA. This leader guides the members through what’s called the 12-step program. Although the program is strongly recommended by AA in order to achieve and maintain sobriety, participation in the 12 steps is not required to be a member.

AA is simply a free place to meet and talk with others who share your addiction.

How it Started

It all began in the 1930s, when a wealthy American named Rowland H. visited famed psychologist Carl Jung with an alcohol problem. Jung assumed Rowland was helpless, and referred him to the Oxford Group, a newly formed Christian organization that promoted and practiced self-improvement. The Oxford Group’s formula, according to AA’s website, was “performing self-inventory, admitting wrongs, making amends, using prayer and meditation, and carrying the message to others.”

Rowland benefitted from the group and showed his friend Edwin, who later introduced a man named Bill W. The story goes that Bill’s entire life changed for the better due to the Oxford Group, so much that he wanted to tell the world about it. In 1935, he met a doctor from Ohio with the same mentality, and AA was born. By 1940, membership grew to 1,400 people among 50 groups.

Today there are well over 2 million active members, with over 115,000 groups.

How it Works

Joining is as easy as showing up to a meeting… but what does the meeting consist of? In their own words, “The leader opens and closes the meeting and introduces each speaker… Each, in turn, may review some individual drinking experiences that led to joining AA The speaker may also give his or her interpretation of the recovery program and suggest what sobriety has meant personally. All views expressed are purely personal, since all members of AA speak only for themselves.”

That’s how the meetings themselves operate. Now let’s talk about how AA works, in the sense of helping people achieve sobriety.

A study conducted in 2007 by the National Council on Alcoholism reported that people attending 12-step treatment programs had a 49.5% abstinence rate after a single year. Those who were in CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy] programs were less successful, maintaining a 37% abstinence rate. This means AA works better than your traditional rehabs. However, with AA, you truly only get what you put into it.

You Must Make the Effort

Statistics can tell many stories. While the 2007 study showed nearly half of AA participants to be abstinent, a summary of five membership surveys, taken from 1979-89 and conducted in 1990, “reported that 81 percent of alcoholics who engaged in the program stopped attending within a year. And only 5% of the AA attendees surveyed had been attending meetings for more than a year,” reports The Fix.

The bottom line is that success from AA comes when you stick to it. Success comes to those who complete the 12-step program. However, AA is NOT a treatment plan. It is not medical in any way, and is solely a self-help support group. Much like church, AA works very well for those who believe in it. Plenty of help exists for those who do not turn to AA.

How do I Participate?

CLICK HERE to find the next AA meeting near you in the United States.

CLICK HERE to find the next AA meeting near you in Europe.

CLICK HERE for web-based, strictly online AA meetings.

CLICK HERE for links to the other 35+ support groups patterned after AA