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Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Recovery Program

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step recovery resource designed for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). In fact, research indicates that people who attend AA meetings in addition to formal treatment are more likely to stay sober for longer time periods than people who only attend formal treatment.1 Other studies show AA meetings help members learn better coping skills and how to get back control of their lives.2

What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a supportive fellowship group that is open to all people who are dealing with a drinking issue and want help.3 AA is offered around the world, with more than 118,000 groups and roughly 2 million members.4 The main goals of AA are to maintain sobriety and help other alcoholics achieve a sober life.5

Anonymity, or not being fully named or known, is a foundational principle of AA.6 This means that when you attend any AA meetings, you can count on complete privacy and confidentiality.6 AA’s founders knew first-hand the stigma, shame, and fear many alcoholics face, so keeping AA anonymous ensures the group will maintain its membership, growth, and principles.6 It also guarantees a level of protection for those with AUD and keeps things out of the public view.6

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

Local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings offer support and encouragement for people working to overcome an alcohol use disorder. When you attend AA meetings, you will be surrounded by other recovering alcoholics who can relate to what you are going through. This community support is a hallmark of how AA works.

Further, AA recognizes a drinking disorder as a “physical compulsion” combined with a “mental obsession,” meaning a physical craving to drink beyond all reason and control.5 AA also knows that willpower alone can’t cure an AUD, and that no amount of alcohol is a “safe” amount once someone has become a compulsive drinker.5 It is through this deeper understanding of alcoholism, coupled with the sense of community, that AA can help those who are dealing with an alcohol problem.

Does AA Cost Money?

AA meetings don’t have any membership dues or annual fees.7 But some do take donations at meetings to help cover costs such as rent and snacks.7 You can contribute as much or as little as you want.7

Can It Work If You Aren’t Religious?

People of all backgrounds, creeds, and religions attend AA and find it enriching.5 AA is not considered a religious organization and is not affiliated with any religion.7 Some members have no religious background or beliefs at all.7

What Are the 12 Steps in Alcoholics Anonymous?

At the heart of AA are the 12 steps of the program. When attending one of the 12-step meetings, you will learn the following steps:8

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

What Happens at an AA Meeting?

AA meetings happen in a relaxed atmosphere with no pressure on you or anyone else. In a typical Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, you’ll find a group of people sharing their stories. They will talk about what their lives used to be like, how they’ve progressed along the journey of recovery, and how their AUD has affected them.9 Every member has the option to speak about their experiences or what they are dealing with at the moment, but you don’t have to talk if you don’t want to.9 You can sit back and listen for as long as you like. Also, remember that you will have complete privacy and don’t have to answer any questions.9

How Long Does an AA Meeting Last?

A typical meeting might last for about an hour, though some meetings may be shorter or longer.10 One factor that could affect the time is the number of people who attend and share their stories. If more people decide to speak, then it could go longer, whereas if only a few people share, it could be cut shorter.

Types of AA Meetings

There are different types of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. These are as follows:3

  • Open discussion meetings. This meeting will involve someone speaking before the group about their experiences with alcohol and the recovery process. They will offer information about what led them to AA and how it changed their life. Then they will lead a discussion on recovery or any other issue someone brings up.
  • Open speaker meetings. This type of AA meeting is open to both alcoholics and non-alcoholics. Members are encouraged to tell their stories to the group. This is also a good type of meeting to learn about what AA is and how it works.
  • Closed meetings. These meetings are only for alcoholics who are already current AA attendees or someone interested in starting AA.
  • Step meetings. During step meetings, which are usually closed, the leader will do a deeper dive of one of the 12 steps and how it applies to recovery.

AA Meeting Rules

Alcoholics Anonymous does not have any membership rules or bylaws.11 That said, if someone clearly doesn’t want to quit drinking and is disrupting the group, the leader may ask them to leave the meeting. But they could come back when they are ready to quit drinking.11 While these aren’t rules, AA does follow these general guidelines:3,6,7,9

  • You don’t have to speak if you don’t want to.
  • You can keep your identity private.
  • There is no fee or charge for snacks.
  • No one will follow up with you after you leave a meeting.
  • No one will diagnose you.
  • Nobody takes attendance.

What Should I Know Before Attending a 12-Step Meeting?

It’s natural to want to be prepared before attending an Alcoholic anonymous 12 step meeting. You might wonder what types of things you should know before attending or what you should do before you go so that you’ll be better prepared. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep an open mind.
  • Research your local chapters to find the best one for you.
  • Try at least 2 different chapters if you have several in your area to choose from. Decide which one you feels more comfortable for you.
  • Don’t give up if you feel awkward in the first meeting. You’ll get more comfortable in time.

How to Find Local Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

As you begin your recovery journey, your first goal is to find a 12-step AA meeting. You can do so by looking online at Find Local A.A. Click the link for the state in which you want to find a meeting, and you will find a list with names, addresses, and phone numbers in that state.

Are There Virtual AA Meetings?

Yes, you can attend a virtual AA meeting if you prefer. You can find information on various online meetings by searching the Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous. American Addiction Centers (AAC) also hosts a weekly virtual support meeting that you can join.

How to Get Help for Alcohol Addiction

American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of evidence-based alcohol and drug treatment. If you’re looking for formal treatment such as alcohol detox or rehab, call our free and confidential helpline at to learn more. You can also fill out the form below to see if your insurance covers AUD treatment.