“If you want to keep drinking, that’s your business. But if you want to stop… A.A. can help.”
This information is both for people who may have a drinking problem and for those in contact with people who have, or are suspected of having, a problem. Most of the information is available in more detail in literature published by A.A. World Services, Inc. This page tells what to expect from Alcoholics Anonymous: It describes what A.A. is, what A.A. does, and what A.A. does not do.
What Is A.A.?
Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements; membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.
Singleness of Purpose and Problems Other Than Alcohol
Some professionals often refer to alcoholism and drug addiction as “substance abuse” or “chemical dependency.” Nonalcoholics are, therefore, sometimes introduced to A.A. and encouraged to attend A.A. meetings. Anyone may attend open A.A. meetings, but only those with a drinking problem may attend closed meetings.
A renowned psychiatrist, who served as a nonalcoholic trustee of the A.A. General Service Board, made the following statement: “Singleness of purpose is essential to the effective treatment of alcoholism. The reason for such exaggerated focus is to overcome denial. The denial associated with alcoholism is cunning, baffling, and powerful and affects the patient, helper, and the community. Unless alcoholism is kept relentlessly in the foreground, other issues will usurp everybody’s attention.”
What Does A.A. Do?
A.A. members share their experience with anyone seeking help with a drinking problem; they give person-to-person service or “sponsorship” to the alcoholic coming to A.A. from any source. The A.A. program, set forth in our Twelve Steps, offers the alcoholic a way to develop a satisfying life without alcohol. This program is discussed at A.A. group meetings. The purpose of all A.A. group meetings, as the Preamble states, is for A.A. members to “share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” Toward this end, A.A. groups have both open and closed meetings:
- Open meetings are available to anyone interested in Alcoholics Anonymous’ program of recovery from alcoholism. Attendance at an open A.A. meeting is the best way to learn what A.A. is, what it does, and what it does not do. Non-alcoholics may attend open meetings as observers.
- Closed meetings are for A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and “have a desire to stop drinking.”
- At both types of meetings, the A.A. chairperson may request that participants confine their discussion to matters pertaining to recovery from alcoholism.
- Whether open or closed, A.A. group meetings are conducted by A.A. members who determine the format of their meetings.
- Speaker meetings are usually open. At speaker meetings, A.A. members “tell their stories.” They describe their experiences with alcohol, how they came to A.A., and how their lives have changed as a result of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- Open discussion meetings — one member speaks briefly about his or her drinking experience, and then leads a discussion on A.A. recovery or any drinking-related problem anyone brings up.
- Closed discussion meetings — conducted just as open discussions are, but for alcoholics or prospective A.A.s only.
- Step meetings (usually closed) — discussion of one of the Twelve Steps.
- A.A. members also take meetings into correctional and treatment facilities.
- A.A. members may be asked to conduct the informational meetings about A.A. as a part of A.S.A.P. (Alcohol Safety Action Project) and D.W.I. (Driving While Intoxicated) programs. These meetings about A.A. are not regular A.A. group meetings.
What A.A. Does Not Do
A.A. does not:
- Furnish initial motivation for alcoholics to recover
- Solicit members
- Engage in or sponsor research
- Keep attendance records or case histories
- Join “councils” of social agencies
- Follow up or try to control its members
- Make medical or psychological diagnoses or prognoses
- Provide drying-out or nursing services, hospitalization, drugs, or any medical or psychiatric treatment
- Offer religious services
- Engage in education about alcohol
- Provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, money, or any other welfare or social services
- Provide domestic or vocational counseling
- Accept any money for its services, or any contributions from non-A.A. sources
- Provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, employers, etc.
Members From Court Programs and Treatment Facilities
In recent years, A.A. groups have welcomed many new members from court programs and treatment facilities. Some have come to A.A. voluntarily; others, under a degree of pressure. In our pamphlet “How A.A. Members Cooperate,” the following appears:
We cannot discriminate against any prospective A.A. member, even if he or she comes to us under pressure from a court, an employer, or any other agency.
Although the strength of our program lies in the voluntary nature of membership in A.A., many of us first attended meetings because we were forced to, either by someone else or by inner discomfort. But continual exposure to A.A. educated us to the true nature of the illness…. Who made the referral to A.A. is not what A.A. is interested in. It is the problem drinker who is our concern…. We cannot predict who will recover, nor have we the authority to decide how recovery should be sought by any other alcoholic.
Proof of Attendance at Meetings
Sometimes, courts ask for proof of attendance at A.A. meetings.
Some groups, with the consent of the prospective member, have the A.A. group secretary sign or initial a slip that has been furnished by the court together with a self-addressed court envelope. The referred person supplies identification and mails the slip back to the court as proof of attendance.
Other groups cooperate in different ways. There is no set procedure. The nature and extent of any group’s involvement in this process is entirely up to the individual group.
This proof of attendance at meetings is not part of A.A.’s procedure. Each group is autonomous and has the right to choose whether or not to sign court slips. In some areas the attendees report on themselves, at the request of the referring agency, and thus alleviate breaking A.A. members’ anonymity.
A.A. Conference-approved literature is available in many languages. For a literature catalog please write or call the General Service Office. More AA Literature information is also available here.
The A.A. Grapevine, a monthly international journal — also known as “our meeting in print” — features many interesting stories about recovery from alcoholism written primarily by members of A.A. It is a useful introduction and ongoing link to A.A.’s diverse fellowship and wealth of recovery experience. The Spanish-language magazine La Viña, is published bimonthly.
For Grapevine information or to order a subscription to either the AA Grapevine or La Viña: (212) 870-3404; fax (212) 870-3301; Web site: www.aagrapevine.org.
The primary purpose of A.A. is to carry its message of recovery to the alcoholic seeking help. Almost every alcoholism treatment tries to help the alcoholic maintain sobriety. Regardless of the road we follow, we all head for the same destination, recovery of the alcoholic person. Together, we can do what none of us could accomplish alone. We can serve as a source of personal experience and be an ongoing support system for recovering alcoholics.