As an informal society, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions of people suffering from alcohol addiction to create better lives for themselves without the use of alcohol. It’s run by and for people with addiction disorders involving alcohol, and its meetings can be found in nations all across the world. It isn’t run by clinics, doctors, or psychologists, and there’s no central authority.

Each individual group is therefore free to operate in the way that works best for its local members. However, there are some universal policies and philosophies that each group operates by. According to the organization, there are over 115,300 groups around the globe.

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

Alcoholics Anonymous follows the classic 12-Step model, and it is considered to be the first organization to use the 12-Step model to address addiction. Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith are credited for creating these steps as part of their founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, though many individual AA groups use altered versions of the original steps.

The Steps

Members of AA don’t necessarily have to follow the 12 Steps or complete every one of them; the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking. However, many members find success in recovery by following a version of this program. The steps are as follows:

  1. Admitting one’s powerlessness over alcohol and that alcohol has made one’s life unmanageable
  2. Believing in a higher power that can help one overcome addiction
  3. Deciding to turn one’s will and life over to said higher power
  4. Making a “fearless moral inventory” of oneself
  5. Admitting to oneself, another person, and one’s higher power the nature of the wrongs committed during addiction
  6. Becoming ready to have the higher power remove one’s character defects
  7. Asking said higher power to remove these defects
  8. Making a list of people one harmed during addiction and becoming willing to make amends with these people
  9. Making direct amends to these individual when possible and when doing so is not harmful to them
  10. Continuing the moral inventory and admitting when one does wrong again
  11. Improving one’s relationship with one’s higher power through prayer and/or meditation
  12. Carrying the lessons learned to other addicted individuals and continuing to practice the principles learned through the 12 Steps

Whether or not someone wants to try or complete the 12-Step program, the first thing a person needs to do to become a member of Alcoholics Anonymous is simply attend a meeting. There, new individuals are often encouraged to share their stories, and get advice and information about the program from other members. New members are also encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days – three months of daily AA meetings – in order to help them through the often very difficult early period of addiction recovery.

After this, members are often still encouraged to attend meetings regularly for the rest of their lives. The idea is that constant vigilance and support are needed to prevent triggers and general stressors from creeping up on members and causing relapse. Members can also be assigned a “sponsor” – a more senior member of the local AA chapter who can be there for them when they’re tempted to drink again.

Other than these general guidelines, membership in Alcoholics Anonymous largely works however you want it to work. How involved an individual is in the organization is up to that person, though it’s generally believed that the more effort members put in, the better off they’ll be.