The Basics of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous, commonly referred to as A.A., lists itself as “An international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.”

Enrollment in A.A. is voluntary, non-medical, and outpatient, with participants meeting once or twice a week in a group setting to share experiences and provide support. The program consists of 12 steps that every member is encouraged to take to help with the mental and emotional impact of alcoholism, even when not drinking. Meetings may be open to the public, which often involves speakers sharing their personal histories with alcohol abuse and their journeys to sobriety with A.A. There is no identity verification, and all members can choose to remain anonymous. Some may use a pseudonym during both open and closed meetings.

During closed meetings, only recovering or current alcoholics may attend. In these sessions, members share their stories, discuss daily challenges, and share ways to overcome the immediate urge to take a drink. One of the basic tenets of A.A. is that there are no recovered alcoholics, only sober alcoholics. By treating alcoholism as an illness, the program recognizes that relapse is always a possibility. As members stay sober for long periods of time, they begin to earn chips. Each chip represents a specific amount of time and is a celebration of a sober life.

Steps of Rehabilitation

There is no set time line for completing the 12 steps of A.A., in large part because there is no cure for alcoholism. These steps are meant to provide a consistent framework for managing an incurable illness. Like with any addiction, the first step is admitting to the problem. A.A. publishes the 12 steps in this format:

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.

Members may work on the above steps in any order they chose and may repeat steps as often as they chose.

Who Is a Good Fit for A.A.?

A.A. is available to anyone with a drinking problem. Alcoholism does not discriminate, and neither does A.A. Members of all races and nationalities attend meetings. The rich and poor are both at risk, and no career protects against the ravages of drinking. From homemakers and lawyers to doctors and preachers, all are equally likely to develop a drinking problem. To help preserve the anonymity of its members, A.A. does not maintain a roster, but it does count members. More than 2 million members are estimated to participate in this sobriety program. A.A. works with young drinkers, under the legal age and retirees. It is a welcoming and inclusive fellowship of people joined by a single, common challenge — alcoholism.

A.A. is often considered a support group for those who have already completed a rehabilitation program. Addiction has physical, mental, and emotional aspects, and A.A. does not provide assistance with the physical aspects of alcoholism. Those with a physical addiction may wish to seek medical treatment and participate in a rehabilitation program before joining an A.A. meeting.

Although A.A. frequently mentions God in its 12-step program, attendees are not required to follow a certain religion. Rather, they must accept that there is a higher power and that they are responsible for their actions.

Note: This guide is for informational purposes only to educate the public on how this treatment is used. It is not recommending a specific treatment or giving medical advice. Always consult with your doctor, as well as medical and addiction professionals.

How to Get Help & Additional Resources

To learn more about help with alcoholism, visit our alcohol rehab and recovery guide or check out the government resources below.

  • MedlinePlus explains the meaning of Alcohol Use Disorder, including symptoms, risk factors, and therapy options.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism  has an in-depth guide on treating alcohol problems along with an online Alcohol Treatment Navigator.
  • SAMHSA provides a substance abuse national helpline that is free, confidential, and available round-the-clock, 365 days a year.
  • Learn how to talk to a family member or your children about the dangers of alcohol at

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find a meeting?

A.A. is an international organization with regularly scheduled meetings in a wide variety of locations. To find a meeting near you, click on your state at this site or download the Meeting Guide app.

Can I find more information about A.A. before my first meeting?

A.A. includes a fair amount of written material, starting with the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The book provides a detailed look into alcoholism, its effects, strategies for sobriety, and information for friends, family, and employers supporting an alcoholic through the journey to sobriety. The book is available here.

Can I be cured?

Addiction is often compared to a chronic illness. It may be in remission, but it is never cured. An alcoholic is always an alcoholic, but that doesn’t mean an alcoholic is always a drinker. A.A. provides alcoholics with support for sobriety. Membership is lifelong, with many members living sober for decades.

What does membership cost?

A.A. is free to join and free to attend, but there are costs associated with meetings. To help meet those costs, many branches pass around a basket to ask for donations. Members are encouraged to contribute based on their financial ability and willingness.

Is A.A. really anonymous?

A.A. members are not ashamed of their participation in the program. However, members are not interested in publicity or gossip. Groups do not reveal names and faces outside of meetings.