Explaining AA

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For the past 60 years, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been the most common and often the only form of care for alcohol and other substance use problems. Of the various mutual assistance groups, including Smart Recovery and Narcotics Anonymous, AA is by far the most widely available. AA meetings include frank, open, honest discussion about all aspects of dealing with recovery - both the pains experienced during periods of substance use and the positive experiences brought by recovery.

AA charges no fees. Its meetings are not just for alcoholics - people with all substance use problems are welcome. Some meetings permit smoking, many do not. A volunteer makes coffee for the one-hour sessions, and a volunteer chair typically begins by telling his or her story of personal recovery and then opening the meeting. Individuals then raise their hands and ask to share either a problem they are having or a positive experience that their recovery has brought them. There is no criticism in AA, and nobody's statements or issues are derided. All issues and comments are treated with respect and confidentiality.

Is AA treatment?

No. AA is simply a mutual help organization. Many of those who have entered into recovery have done so simply by attending AA meetings without formal treatment. Many others have used AA as a form of continuing care to keep them sober following formal treatment.

Is AA a religious group?

No. While spiritual (not religious) elements are part of many groups this is not universal. Many AA members believe that getting in touch with their spirituality is a key to their recovery - but not all share this view. There is no requirement for religious or even spiritual involvement in AA.

Is AA only for alcoholics?

No. AA is for anyone who has a substance use problem, regardless of diagnosis or level of severity and has an interest in attaining sobriety and remaining sober. Most of those who attend AA meetings have multiple substance use problems.

What are the 12 steps?

The 12 steps discussed in AA meetings and writings involve the steps suggested by the collective experience of those in recovery that lead to development of an honest, helping, forgiving lifestyle - the kind of life that is inconsistent with addiction.

Is there anything besides just talk?

Yes, most of those who attend AA meetings meet other recovering people and join them socially for coffee and meals and other social events. AA meetings also can lead to connections to jobs, affordable housing, good places to eat and so forth. In this way, AA meetings serve social and day-to-day needs for people in recovery and help them meet their everyday challenges.

Where can I find an AA meeting?

There is a posted AA directory on the Internet and local schedules are available in most treatment programs. Just about every town has one or more churches that dedicate a meeting room to AA meetings several times per day and per week.