What is A.A.? How it Works, History & Types of Meetings

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

What is A.A.? How it Works, History & Types of Meetings

Table of Contents

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is an international mutual aid movement that started during the Great Depression, which consists of a wide network of autonomous, self-supporting groups. AA’s stated primary purpose is to help individuals struggling with drinking problems by providing an environment where members can share their struggles and experiences to stay sober and support each other’s recovery. Here’s everything you need to know about it and more.

How A.A. Works?

Alcoholics Anonymous is based on the 12-step program established in 1939. The 12 steps are a set of guiding principles that outline the recovery process from addiction and alcoholism. These steps involve accepting responsibility for your actions and understanding the powerlessness one can experience during an alcohol addiction. AA emphasizes personal responsibility, self-knowledge, and the importance of forming a support network.

The 12 Steps encourage one to take responsibility for their addiction, admit that they are powerless over alcohol, make amends with those affected by their drinking, and develop a spiritual relationship with a Higher Power as part of their recovery process. Eventually, members strive for sobriety by utilizing these steps along with the support and guidance of individuals in the group.

Who are A.A. Members?

A.A. members come from all walks of life and range from 18 to over 80. They may be single, married, divorced, or separated. A.A. members want to do something about their drinking problem, whether they are still drinking. Some have been sober for decades; others are new to sobriety. Some come from wealthy or prominent families; others are homeless. The common factor among A.A. members is a desire for sobriety and a willingness to do something about it.

Many A.A. members have gone through treatment programs such as detoxification, rehabilitation centers, and other therapies before coming to the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous for additional help and support in maintaining their sobriety. They can sign up for a recurring meeting or a support group for a particular forum for their drug addiction to help them stay sober.

There are no age or education requirements for people participating in AA meetings; instead, such people are welcome regardless of their background. According to a study in the Cochrane Database, members inspire each other to change and add to the various methods of reaching sobriety.

Who are A.A. Members

What Is the History of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international fellowship of men and women with drinking problems. It was founded in 1935 by Bill W., an Akron, Ohio stockbroker, and Dr. Bob S., an Akron physician, both of whom were alcoholics themselves. The first group of “alcoholic friends” met at the home of Bill and Lois W., the founders of AA.

Today, Alcoholics Anonymous has more than 2 million members in over 180 nations worldwide, with over 123,000 groups. A.A. is a nonprofit organization that operates through a fellowship of mutual aid and support that encourages sobriety, personal growth, and responsibility for one’s actions.

What Are the Different Types of Programs Offered by Alcoholics Anonymous?


The primary program offered by Alcoholics Anonymous is its meetings. Organization members usually attend these regularly and provide support, accountability, and fellowship for recovering alcoholics.

The meetings also offer the opportunity to share the successes and struggles in recovery while providing a safe space to discuss issues related to sobriety without judgment or criticism.

Open vs. Closed Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings can be either open or closed. An open meeting is one in which anyone can attend, including friends and family members of alcoholics, as well as individuals interested in learning more about Alcoholics Anonymous and its program. These are good for building a support system for those in recovery and introducing the program to those unfamiliar.

A closed meeting is restricted to only members of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s generally used for accountability and sharing recovery stories. These are suitable for those who need more privacy and want to focus on personal growth without the distraction of outsiders.

Speaker Meetings

Speaker meetings are held by Alcoholics Anonymous to give members a chance to hear first-hand stories about recovery and sobriety from those who have been successful in their journey. Speaker meetings can be used as a way for attendees to gain insight into how others have dealt with similar issues and provide hope for continued success in achieving sobriety.


Big Book Meetings

Big Book meetings are based on the Alcoholics Anonymous book, which serves as the main text for Alcoholics Anonymous. These meetings focus on discussing topics from the book and provide an opportunity to gain insight into how these topics can help alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety.

The Alcoholics Anonymous book serves as a guide for those in recovery and can provide much-needed support and guidance on their journeys.

Discussion Meetings

Discussion meetings allow members of Alcoholics Anonymous to have an open and honest dialogue about their recovery. These meetings are typically more casual and allow members to share stories, experiences, successes, challenges, and any other topics related to sobriety.

Discussion meetings can be a way for those in recovery to gain further insight into Alcoholics Anonymous while providing support and understanding to others.

Online vs. Offline Meetings

In addition to traditional face-to-face meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous also offers online meetings. These are typically held via video conference or telephone, providing the same support and guidance as offline meetings. Online meetings can benefit those unable to attend face-to-face meetings due to distance, mobility issues, or other factors. Studies showed that online meetings were beneficial during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Specialized Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous also offers specialized meetings for those in the LGBT community, young people, women, and other specific groups. These can be beneficial for providing a safe and understanding space in which members of these groups can share experiences related to recovery without feeling judged or isolated. E.g., you can have AA meetings as a part of a young adult rehab program.

Regardless of the type of meeting attended, Alcoholics Anonymous provides an invaluable resource for those in recovery and anyone looking for support in achieving sobriety. By providing a variety of meetings, the organization can allow individuals to find what works best for them and continue on their journey toward a better life. With Alcoholics Anonymous, it is possible to lead an alcohol-free life with hope for the future.

What is The Big Book, the Twelve Steps, and the Twelve Traditions?

Three core elements for the basis of Alcoholics Anonymous self-help groups are:

AA Big Book

The Big Book outlines what it takes to become and remain sober. It includes a detailed description of the experiences of early AA members, stories about successful recoveries, and advice on how to stay sober.

The book also outlines the basic principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, such as going to meetings, attending 12-step programs, seeking help from sponsors, and finding support through social activities.

Twelve Steps

The Twelve Steps outline a program for recovery from alcoholism. The Twelve Steps outline a program for recovery from alcoholism. The steps include:

  1. Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction and that life has become unmanageable.

  2. Accepting that a Higher Power can restore sanity.

  3. Believing that this Higher Power will give strength to overcome addiction.

  4. Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor and making amends for them.

  5. Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior.

  6. Taking a moral inventory and admitting wrongs.

  7. Being ready to have the Higher Power remove character defects.

  8. Making an effort to help others who suffer from addiction.

  9. Continuing to take personal inventory and promptly admitting wrongs.

  10. Seeking through prayer and meditation to improve conscious contact with the Higher Power.

  11. Practicing these principles in all aspects of life.

  12. Carrying the message to those who still suffer and remain in contact with them for support.

Each step helps the individual progress toward sobriety and a healthier life.

Twelve Traditions

The Twelve Traditions guide how Alcoholics Anonymous groups should be structured and run, such as maintaining anonymity, refraining from engaging in controversial topics or outside issues, and avoiding financial entanglements. The traditions also emphasize the importance of AA’s unity by providing guidelines for communication between members, groups, and AA as a whole.

Twelve Tradtions

How is AA Organized and Financed?

Alcoholics Anonymous is organized and financed through the contributions of its members. All AA groups are self-supporting, refusing outside contributions from individuals or organizations. This enables AA to maintain its primary purpose of helping alcoholics stay sober.

Group meetings are held in churches, synagogues, hospitals, schools, and other places of worship with no fees or dues required for members. AA groups are free to decide their policy on the collection of voluntary contributions, which are used to cover expenses such as rent, literature, and other administrative costs.

Financing is also provided through the sale of books and pamphlets that contain information about recovery from alcoholism, including the organization’s famous Big Book. AA also produces an informational magazine called The AA Grapevine, which is free to members and available for purchase by non-members.

Although AA receives no outside funding, it has an international service office in New York City that coordinates activities among various groups worldwide. The organization also provides publications and other materials on alcoholism and recovery to members and non-members alike.

What Does Confidentiality Mean for AA Members?

To ensure the safety and trustworthiness of its membership, Alcoholics Anonymous has a strict confidentiality policy. This means that all members are expected to maintain secrecy regarding the identity of other members and what they share in meetings.

The only exception to this rule is when a person needs help outside of AA or in an emergency. In such cases, another member may be able to provide information to help the person or situation.

Confidentiality is also important in protecting AA’s reputation and preventing potential misuse of its resources. By maintaining strict confidentiality policies, AA ensures members are protected from any undesired attention from outside parties.

Are AA Meetings Spiritually Inclined?

While Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization, it provides its members spiritual support. The Twelve Steps of Recovery emphasize the importance of relying on a Higher Power to help recover. It’s the perfect combination of faith meeting science.

At meetings and events, AA members can open up about their struggles and share stories about their own experiences with alcoholism. Members can also turn to their Higher Power for strength and guidance during times of difficulty.

Which Countries Have the Most Members in AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous is active in over 180 countries worldwide. The United States has the highest number of members, with more than two million people in AA directories. Other countries with large AA memberships include Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and Germany.

In many countries with a significant presence of Alcoholics Anonymous organizations, meetings take place in multiple languages. This ensures that the organization can support various people, regardless of language or cultural background.

Which Countries Have the Most Members in AA

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Interact or Collaborate with Other Institutions?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of individuals who have a mutual desire to share their experiences, strength, and hope with each other to benefit from it.

In addition to the 12-Step Program, Alcoholics Anonymous also works with local hospitals, mental health centers, and rehabilitation facilities to provide support services for those in recovery from alcoholism.

Moreover, AA has fostered relationships with individuals from the medical, legal, and spiritual communities to serve better those affected by alcoholism. Here are some of the other institutions that it collaborates with:


Alcoholics Anonymous works closely with local hospitals and medical centers to support and educate patients suffering from alcohol addiction. AA members are often consulted to help develop a treatment plan for the patient. In many cases, they are even asked to serve as mentors during recovery. This collaboration helps ensure that those affected by alcoholism are provided with comprehensive care.


Alcoholics Anonymous also works with prisons, correctional facilities, and rehabilitation centers to support those struggling with alcohol addiction. AA members are often invited to engage in workshops where they can share their experiences with inmates and offer advice on how to stay sober. Additionally, AA provides resources for inmates recovering from alcoholism after being released.

United States Court Rulings

It works with the US court system to support those affected by alcoholism. In numerous cases, AA has been asked to be an expert witness to explain the 12-Step program and addiction recovery process. Furthermore, AA has guided the creation of a supportive environment for individuals struggling with alcohol addiction.

United States Treatment Industry

Alcoholics Anonymous has provided invaluable support to the US treatment industry. AA members regularly collaborate with local centers and facilities to create programs designed to help individuals suffering from alcoholism. Moreover, AA has also been instrumental in providing resources for those affected by alcohol addiction, including literature, support groups, and 12-Step seminars.

Finding an AA Group Near You

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are held in many different locations worldwide and are open to anyone affected by alcohol addiction. To find an AA meeting near you, visit the Alcoholics Anonymous website. You can search for meetings based on your location and view a list of upcoming events there.

At NuView Treatment Center, you can easily look for AA meetings near you. Our team of dedicated professionals is here to help individuals in recovery find the resources and support they need to return to living a life free of drug dependence. Contact us at (323) 307 – 7997 or email us at info@nuviewtreatment.com to learn more about how we can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Alcoholics Anonymous is very effective in helping individuals achieve and sustain sobriety. Recent studies have found that those who attend at least 90 meetings in their first year of membership have an 80-90% success rate. Additionally, many members report improved overall well-being after completing the program, including increased self-esteem and better relationships with family and friends.

Though Alcoholics Anonymous has proven successful in helping many individuals achieve sobriety, the program has received criticism. Some of the complaints include its lack of scientific grounding and the requirement for members to adhere to certain beliefs. Additionally, some believe AA is too focused on spirituality and religion rather than practical advice to help individuals achieve sobriety.

The most widely recognized piece of literature associated with Alcoholics Anonymous is the book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Big Book. This text serves as an instruction manual for members and contains stories from those who have completed the program. In addition to this book, several other books discuss the AA program more in-depth, such as Pass It On: The Story of Bill Wilson; How the A.A. Message Reached the World and Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. There are also several guides to working through the program, such as 12 Steps & 12 Traditions and The Little Red Book for Women.

Alcoholics Anonymous has been portrayed in various forms of media and is usually depicted as a success story. For example, many movies tell the stories of those who have completed the program, which serves to inspire others. Some television shows have also featured AA meetings and how they can help individuals overcome addiction.

  1. Kelly J. F. (2017). Is Alcoholics Anonymous religious, spiritual, neither? Findings from 25 years of mechanisms of behavior change research. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 112(6), 929–936. https://doi.org/10.1111/add.13590

  2. Kelly, J. F., Humphreys, K., & Ferri, M. (2020). Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs for alcohol use disorder. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 3(3), CD012880. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD012880.pub2

  3. Kaskutas L. A. (2009). Alcoholics anonymous effectiveness: faith meets science. Journal of addictive diseases, 28(2), 145–157. https://doi.org/10.1080/10550880902772464

  4. Gross M. (2010). Alcoholics Anonymous: still sober after 75 years. 1935. American journal of public health, 100(12), 2361–2363. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2010.199349

  5. Bergman, B. G., Kelly, J. F., Fava, M., & Eden Evins, A. (2021). Online recovery support meetings can help mitigate the public health consequences of COVID-19 for individuals with substance use disorder. Addictive behaviors, 113, 106661. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106661

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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