What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Learn about Alcoholics Anonymous, how the organization’s 12-Step program can help people with alcoholism, and discover other helpful resources.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship of people with the shared goal of staying sober from alcohol. At AA meetings, people share their stories, strength, and hope to encourage other people who may be struggling on their path to quitting alcohol. The group is inspiring and supportive to many people, and it can be a great resource for keeping sobriety on track.1

Alcoholics Anonymous

The Origin of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by a Wall Street analyst and recovering alcoholic, Bill Wilson, and surgeon Bob Smith. Smith, a recovered alcoholic, told Wilson that his alcoholism was not due to a lack of willpower or a moral failing; it was a legitimate disease. Along with other early members, the two men wrote a book called Alcoholics Anonymous. The book’s popularity gave birth to the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, a support group based on Wilson and Smith’s 12-Step program to recovery. By completing the twelve steps, members are encouraged to correct their problematic behavior around drinking and work on any other struggles they may be facing.

Each year, around two million members participate in AA group meetings worldwide. Anthropologist William Madsen said AA has a “nearly miraculous” success rate. Part of this success may be due to AA’s accessibility: meetings are free, and you can find AA meetings in nearly every major city and online. 2

Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are important to recovery because meetings offer members a chance to inspire and be inspired by recovering members around them. Sharing stories allows members to support each other and hold each other accountable for relapses. At each of the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, you may focus on one of the twelve steps, listen to a speaker share their story, or read with your group leader out of the Alcoholics Anonymous book.

There are open AA meetings and closed AA meetings. Open meetings are available for everyone to attend, alcoholics and nonalcoholics, and are held for anyone interested in learning more about the organization. Closed AA meetings are for AA members only, for those who have a drinking problem and desire to stop drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous Books

Published in 1939 and authored by Bill Wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous, known as the “Big Book,” outlines the principles and guidelines of Alcoholics Anonymous. AA members often regard the book as “divinely inspired,” involving some spiritual principles. The book is still used today to demonstrate how people can recover using Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Steps.


The 12-Steps are a set of spiritual principles that can help people manage or get rid of their compulsion to drink, helping them recover from alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings revolve around learning about and implementing each step into members’ lives.

While the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Steps apply to each member, the 12 traditions apply to AA as a whole and act as guidelines for the organization. They outline the importance of AA maintaining unity in group meetings and the organization.

Alcoholics Anonymous Steps

The 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are as follows:

  1. Admitting you’re powerless over alcohol.
  2. Believing that a higher power can help on the path to recovery.
  3. Making the choice to put your life, will, and recovery in the hands of a higher power.
  4. Taking a moral inventory of yourself and seeing what needs work.
  5. Admitting to yourself, a higher power, and another person the exact nature of your wrongs.
  6. Deciding you’re ready to have a higher power removes these character defects.
  7. Asking a higher power to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Making a list of persons you have harmed, and becoming willing to make amends with these people.
  9. Making amends.
  10. Continuing to take a personal inventory of areas of self that need improvement; promptly admitting when wrong.
  11. Using prayer and meditation to improve connection with a higher power, praying for strength to carry out a higher power’s will.
  12. After having a spiritual awakening due to completing the steps, making the choice to help other alcoholics in need, and practicing the steps in all areas of life.

Many people who have followed the twelve steps have had lasting success in maintaining sobriety. Research shows that, for those who regularly attend AA meetings and follow the 12-Steps of AA, long-term sobriety is attainable. 3

Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous at Essence Healthcare

You may feel anxious about the prospect of attending your first meeting, but you should congratulate yourself for taking the first step towards addressing your drinking problem.

The media sometimes presents AA meetings as depressing situations in dark, smoky basements, but that doesn’t depict the reality of most meetings. In fact, if it’s your first meeting, you will likely be welcomed warmly, with people offering hugs and their phone numbers in case you need a supportive person to reach out to.

What to Expect at Essence Healthcare

You can expect to be in a structured environment, surrounded by other people in the same boat as you, who want to support and be supported. If you feel too shy or vulnerable to share your story, don’t worry — you’re not required to speak at the meetings until you’re ready to share. The meeting facilitator or “chair” will conduct the meeting by reading out of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, focusing on one of the twelve steps, or passing the mic to a guest or group speaker.

If you’re interested in trying AA, you can easily find a meeting in your area by going online and searching ‘Alcoholics Anonymous meetings near me.’ Finding an alcoholics anonymous group should not be difficult, especially if you’re located in or near a major city.

Alternative Healing Opportunities

If you think AA may not be for you, there are alternative options to support you in your recovery. At Essence Health, alcohol recovery programs are offered online and in-person, blending the 12-Steps of AA with modern, effective practices to give you the customized attention you need to recover. The inviting, family atmosphere at Essence helps you feel supported and at home as you begin your journey to recovery.

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Questions About Treatment?

We are a patient-first substance abuse and mental health treatment facility located in Los Angeles, California. At Essence Healthcare, we provide different levels of care from detoxification to drug rehab aftercare. Our team is standing by to address your questions. Your call is confidential and no obligation is required.