The Basics of AA
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA’s stated “primary purpose” is to help alcoholics “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. With other early members Bill Wilson and Bob Smith developed AA’s Twelve Step program of spiritual and character development. AA’s initial Twelve Traditions were introduced in 1946 to help the fellowship be stable and unified while disengaged from “outside issues” and influences.
The Traditions recommend that members and groups remain anonymous in public media, altruistically helping other alcoholics and avoiding official affiliations with other organization. The Traditions also recommend that those representing AA avoid dogma and coercive hierarchies.
AA’s name is derived from its first book, informally called “The Big Book”, originally titled Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism.
AA sprang from The Oxford Group, a non-denominational movement modeled after first-century Christianity,. Some members found the Group to help in maintaining sobriety. One such “Grouper” Ebby Thacher was Wilson’s former drinking buddy who approached Wilson saying that he had “got religion”, was sober, and that Wilson could do the same if he set aside objections to religion and instead formed a personal idea of God, “another power” or “higher power”.
The scope of AA’s program is much broader than just abstinence from drinking alcohol. Its goal is to effect enough change in the alcoholic’s thinking “to bring about recovery from alcoholism” through a spiritual awakening. A spiritual awakening is meant to be achieved by taking the Twelve Steps, and sobriety is furthered by volunteering for AA and regular AA meeting attendance or contact with AA members.
Members are encouraged to find an experienced fellow alcoholic, called a sponsor, to help them understand and follow the AA program.
AA meetings are “quasi-ritualized therapeutic sessions run by and for, alcoholics”. They are usually informal and often feature discussions. Local AA directories list a variety of weekly meetings. Those listed as “closed” are only for those with “a desire to stop drinking”, while “open” meetings are available to anyone (non-alcoholics can attend as observers). At speaker meetings, one or two members tell their stories, while discussion meetings allocate the most time for general discussion. Some meetings are devoted to studying and discussing the AA literature.
Except for men’s and women’s meetings, and meetings targeting specific demographics (including newcomers, gay people, and young people), AA meetings do not exclude other alcoholics. While AA has pamphlets that suggest meeting formats, groups have the autonomy to hold and conduct meetings as they wish “except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole”.
Different cultures affect ritual aspects of meetings, but around the world “many particularities of the AA meeting format can be observed at almost any AA gathering”.
Alcoholics Anonymous publishes several books, reports, pamphlets, and other media, including a periodical known as the AA Grapevine. Two books are used primarily: Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, the latter explaining AA’s fundamental principles in depth.
AA’s New York General Service Office regularly surveys AA members in North America. Its 2014 survey of over 6,000 members in Canada and the United States concluded that, in North America, AA members who responded to the survey were 62% male and 38% female.
According to AA’s 2014 membership survey, 27% of members have been sober less than one year, 24% have 1–5 years sober, 13% have 5–10 years, 14% have 10–20 years, and 22% have more than 20 years sober.
These are just the basics of AA, we believe that if you are to be successful in recovery, we urge you to learn and practice more than just the basics.
This webpage last updated on November 19, 2020.