woman talking with distressed patientApproximately 7 percent of American adults aged 18 and older, or 16.6 million people, were classified with an alcohol use disorder in 2013, as published by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Addiction is a complex and chronic disease, affecting neural pathways in the brain related to pleasure, reward, and motivation.

Fortunately, alcohol abuse disorders and addiction are highly treatable. A study published on addiction found that those who sought formal alcohol abuse treatment were more likely to recover and avoid episodes of relapse than those who did not receive any form of specialized care.

Detox, counseling, and therapy sessions all may be components of an alcohol treatment program. While all of these factors are an important part of addiction treatment, helping to teach you new coping mechanisms and modifying negative and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors, a sustained recovery is bolstered when care extends after leaving a specialized treatment facility. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, provides a positive peer support network that promotes a healthy and happy life with maintained sobriety.

Alcoholics Anonymous model

depressed man with hand on headAA is an open, nonmedical, and non-professional approach to problems with alcohol abuse and dependency that is self-supporting, meaning that members are all recovering addicts who work together to maintain sobriety. Primarily a self-help group founded on a 12-step model, AA is an international fellowship focusing on a new way of life without alcohol that is grounded in spirituality.

Substance abuse can cause you to withdraw from your social circles and damage your interpersonal relationships, creating feelings of loneliness. Alcoholics Anonymous can provide you with a peer support network of those who understand your exact circumstances, offering a safe place to open up and share personal experiences and emotions.

AA is open to everyone with the only rule being to abstain from drinking. Meetings are very accessible, held all over the world and usually in public places, such as a school or church, and at various different times. Most meetings are “open,” meaning anyone can attend, including family and friends while some are “closed” and strictly for those desiring to stop drinking themselves. A typical meeting usually lasts about 90 minutes and follows this format:

  • A call to order occurs, followed by a moment of silence and sometimes by a prayer.
  • Newcomers are welcomed, and sometimes a coin or chip is presented to first-time attendees.
  • Meeting participants are invited to share brief stories or anecdotes relating to drinking and recovery.
  • The chair may open up the floor to anyone who wants to share and hasn’t yet.
  • Donations are often collected, as AA groups are self-sustaining.
  • Meeting ends with a circle, usually everyone joins hands and those who want to will recite either the Serenity Prayer or the Lord’s Prayer.

AA members are encouraged to keep meetings and shared experiences confidential so members can feel comfortable being honest and open. AA offers a format that encourages attendees to share but doesn’t require it, discourages interruptions, and differs from therapy, as you will not be told what to do.

Members are generally paired up with a sponsor who has been in recovery for longer and who is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for additional support. AA can help you maintain your resolve to remain sober by surrounding yourself with likeminded people striving for the same goal. It can also assist you in understanding the disease of addiction better. In addition, AA can improve your connections to your community as well as enhance your spirituality.

AA for everyone

AA discussing drug dependence

Alcoholics Anonymous is founded on a group of principles that encourages you to experience personal growth from comprehensive internal reflection, accept your faults, make amends, and turn yourself over to a higher power. There are numerous different types of AA groups, including groups for professionals, gay and lesbian groups, and other sub-groups, so there is sure to be one that will suit you. Those recovering from a drug abuse or dependency may also benefit from AA groups, or they can attend Narcotics Anonymous, or NA, which is an offshoot of AA that may differ slightly in its format, although the underlying principles and goals are the same.

AA can provide you with a group of peers who understand recovery and the full range of emotions you may experience during aftercare. A complete commitment to the program and meeting attendance can also increase self-esteem and confidence levels. A study published by the American Journal on Addictions found that those who attended meetings regularly and worked through all 12 steps in the AA program felt better and more secure about themselves than those just starting to work through the steps.

Anyone can walk in to a meeting at any point, and the general format makes it easy to transition between different groups when necessary. There are a variety of different meeting types to accommodate different needs and stages of recovery as well, including:

  • Beginner: Those new to recovery are not restricted to these meetings, but they are a great place to meet other peers who are just starting out in recovery. These meetings are often led by more experienced members in recovery and may focus on an introduction to the AA model.
  • Traditional: Meetings generally follow the format listed above.
  • Big Book: The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as the “Big Book,” is usually provided for these meetings, and the focus is often on specific text found therein.
  • Discussion: A chairperson may define a specific topic to talk about, share a personal experience on the topic, and then open up to group discussion.
  • Speaker: A specific speaker may be brought in to spark the group’s discussion.
  • Step: These meetings focus on the 12 steps and working through them. Generally, new steps are read and discussed each week.

Different groups may combine meeting formats, and you may attend more than one type of meeting if you like. It is vital that you find a group you can connect with on a personal level. AA members often socialize outside of meetings as well participate in healthy recreational activities and support each other continually throughout recovery.

The principles of AA are highlighted in their logo, which is a triangle within a circle, with the legs of the triangle representing unity, service, and recovery. The circle highlights fellowship and the sharing circle, as explained by an official publication of the American Medical Society on Alcoholism.

Participation in AA is completely voluntary, although wholehearted participation is highly beneficial to a long-term and sustained recovery. The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) estimates that 23.5 million American adults aged 18 and older – that is 10 percent of the adult population of the United States – admit to having a prior issue with drugs or alcohol, successfully overcoming it, and now consider themselves to be in recovery.

Alcoholics Anonymous can help you reach your goals, and it is in your best interest to participate in all that the program has to offer during aftercare and further into recovery. A study published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases found that those who attended AA meetings were twice as likely to remain abstinent as those who didn’t, and regular attendance increased abstinence rates.

If you’d like to learn about how AA can factor into your recovery here at The Recovery Village, contact us today. We’re here to answer any questions you may have.