Unraveling some of the mystery and controversy of Alcoholics Anonymous

Providing general information to people about AA, is a very complicated task for me.  That’s because it can be a polarizing (and sometimes delicate) subject. It shouldn’t be. In short — AA is a non-profit group that helps people with alcohol problems. There’s no leader, there’s no religious affiliations and there are no fees or requirements to be a member. Simply put — if you say you are a member — you are. That’s the end of it.

The problem is that people confuse AA meetings, with the program itself.  The program is one “drunk” helping another “drunk” by walking them though the 12 steps of AA. These steps are outlined in a textbook referred to as “The Big Book”.   Yes, there are meetings too. But, the meetings are self-governed. That means that if you want to have a meeting for Jewish, Spanish speaking people who also believe in Christ …. that is okay.

That is when the controversy sets in. Someone walks into that aforementioned meeting and cries out “I’m a english speaking Texan who hates religion … and I just want to stop drinking …. this place is a crazy religious cult”.  But you see that was just a meeting, and you are perfectly permitted to start you own meeting down the street. Go ahead. Start a group  for Japanese, anti-religious, ex-convicts.  Sound confusing? I guess it is pretty weird, for such a big organization to be so loose with the “rules”.

AA 800RecoveryHub
Find a meeting near you

In case, I totally confused you, below is “official” information about the organization. I will also be doing some articles on other programs that have been created to help folks overcome drugs and alcohol. The good news is that there are many choices if you want to get well.

This information is both for people who may have a drinking problem and for those in contact with people who have, or are suspected of having, a problem. Most of the information is available in more detail in literature published by A.A. World Services, Inc. This sheet tells what to expect from Alcoholics Anonymous. It describes what A.A. is, what A.A. does, and what A.A. does not do.

What Is A.A.?

Alcoholics Anonymous is 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.

Singleness of Purpose and Problems Other Than Alcohol

Some professionals refer to alcoholism and drug addiction as “substance abuse” or “chemical dependency.” Nonalcoholics are, therefore, sometimes introduced to A.A. and encouraged to attend A.A. meetings. Nonalcoholics may attend open A.A. meetings as observers, but only those with a drinking problem may attend closed A.A. meetings.

What Does A.A. Do?

1. A.A. members share their experience with anyone seeking help with a drinking problem; they give person-to-person service or “sponsorship” to the alcoholic coming to A.A. from any source.

  1. The A.A. program, set forth in our Twelve Steps, offers the alcoholic a way to develop a satisfying life without alcohol.
  2. This program is discussed at A.A. group meetings.
drug and alcohol treatment
This is another free resource for people with no money or insurance

a. Open speaker meetings — open to alcoholics and nonalcoholics. (Attendance at an open A.A. meeting is the best way to learn what A.A. is, what it does, and what it does not do.) At speaker meetings, A.A. members “tell their stories.” They describe their experiences with alcohol, how they came to A.A., and how their lives have changed as a result of Alcoholics Anonymous.

b. Open discussion meetings — one member speaks briefly about his or her drinking experience, and then leads a discussion on A.A. recovery or any drinking-related problem anyone brings up. (Closed meetings are for A.A.s or anyone who may have a drinking problem.)

c. Closed discussion meetings — conducted just as open discussions are, but for alcoholics or prospective A.A.s only.

d. Step meetings (usually closed) — discussion of one of the Twelve Steps.

e. A.A. members also take meetings into correctional and treatment facilities.

f. A.A. members may be asked to conduct the informational meetings about A.A. as a part of A.S.A.P. (Alcohol Safety Action Project) and D.W.I. (Driving While Intoxicated) programs. These meetings about A.A. are not regular A.A. group meetings.

What A.A. Does Not Do A.A. does not:

1. Furnish initial motivation for alcoholics to recover.

2. Solicit members.

3. Engage in or sponsor research

4. Keep attendance records or case histories.

5. Join “councils” of social agencies (although A.A. members, groups and service offices frequently cooperate with them).

6. Follow up or try to control its members.

7. Make medical or psychological diagnoses or prognoses.

8. Provide detox or nursing services, hospitalization, drugs, or any medical or psychiatric treatment.

9. Offer religious services or host/sponsor retreats.

10. Engage in education about alcohol.

11. Provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, money, or any other welfare or social services.

ways to get sober
There are many kinds of self-help groups

12. Provide domestic or vocational counseling.

13. Accept any money for its services, or any contributions from non-A.A. sources.

14. Provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, employers, etc.

Members From Court Programs and Treatment Facilities

In recent years, A.A. groups have welcomed many new members from court programs and treatment facilities. Some have come to A.A. voluntarily; others, under a degree of pressure. In our pamphlet “How A.A. Members Cooperate,” the following appears:

We cannot discriminate against any prospective A.A. member, even if he or she comes to us under pressure from a court, an employer, or any other agency.

Although the strength of our program lies in the voluntary nature of membership in A.A., many of us first attended meetings because we were forced to, either by someone else or by inner discomfort. But continual exposure to A.A. educated us to the true nature of the illness…. Who made the referral to A.A. is not what A.A. is interested in. It is the problem drinker who is our concern…. We cannot predict who will recover, nor have we the authority to decide how recovery should be sought by any other alcoholic.

Proof of Attendance at Meetings

Sometimes a referral source asks for proof of attendance at A.A. meetings.

Groups cooperate in different ways. There is no set procedure. The nature and extent of any group’s involvement in this process is entirely up to the individual group.

Some groups, with the consent of the prospective member, have an A.A. member acknowledge attendance on a slip that has been furnished by the referral source. The referred person is responsible for returning the proof of attendance.

This proof of attendance at meetings is not part of A.A.’s procedure. Each group is autonomous and has the right to choose whether or not to sign court slips. In some areas the attendees report on themselves, at the request of the referring agency, and thus alleviate braking A.A. members’ anonymity.


A.A. Conference-approved literature is available in French and Spanish. For additional copies of this paper, or for a literature catalog please write or call the General Service Office.

The A.A. Grapevine, a monthly international journal — also known as “our meeting in print” — features many interesting stories about recovery from alcoholism written primarily by members of A.A. It is a useful introduction and ongoing link to A.A.’s diverse fellowship and wealth of recovery experience. The Spanish-language magazine La Viña, is published bimonthly.

For Grapevine information or to order a subscription to either the AA Grapevine or La Viña: (212) 870-3404; fax (212) 870-3301


The primary purpose of A.A. is to carry its message of recovery to the alcoholic seeking help. Almost every alcoholism treatment tries to help the alcoholic maintain sobriety. Regardless of the road we follow, we all head for the same destination, recovery of the alcoholic person. Together, we can do what none of us could accomplish alone. We can serve as a source of personal experience and be an ongoing support system for recovering alcoholics.

A.A. World Services, Inc., Box 459, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163. Tel. (212) 870-3400.

I write this for fun and for free, my company website is here.

My last comment …. I get a little frustrated when I see “paid” journalist,  making money from writing books and articles about the horrors of AA.  It seems like bullying. I will site one example in the comment section, if you are curious.  Why rip on an organization that refuses to respond back. It cost no money to get treatment there.  Let me repeat …. it cost no money to get help there.  If you don’t like it, find something else.  It’s really a losing battle criticizing something that is free.

27 thoughts on “Unraveling some of the mystery and controversy of Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. Victoria, this is great information. I learned a good deal about AA that I didn’t know previously just from reading your post. If your goal was to clear up confusion or misunderstanding and clarify the goals and intentions of AA, I think you did a fabulous job!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like you a little bit more, every time you comment. Gabrielle Glaser makes me so mad. A hack to be sure!! Another gal I find irritating is Maia Szalavitz. My all time least favorite “addiction hating” writer is Stanley Peele. He has never had a problem with abusing drugs or alcohol, but he writes voluminous articles and books “bagging” about recovery. By the way, this is my opinion.


  3. Great job!!! AA has to be one of the more misunderstood organizations on the face of the earth, and YET, it goes on without a board of directors, oversight body, or any other sort of hierarchy typically associated with an organization. Thank you for pointing out our primary purpose!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. AA has saved the lives of many people I love. I am forever grateful for the program.

    I attend open meetings when I can. I learn much about alcoholics, alcoholism, and how to help those in my life who are in the program. I also learn what not to do. Though I am not in the program, I apply many of the principals in my own life.

    Thank you for educating people about AA and addiction. Lives will be saved.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not sure if I’m an atheist or an agnostic (LOL) but the main tenets of AA involve the incorporation of God into your recovery. While it’s not outright religious, it’s spirituality doesn’t align with my own so I never went to a meeting. As it turns out, I have been ok without them regardless. AA is an amazing program, I just didn’t feel that it was for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. AA isn’t for everybody, but the lives its saved can’t be argued. They have (and still do) help a TON of people. I was just writing on another post that for me, it took different lessons from different treatment programs to stick. I mostly audited AA and didn’t commit to working the steps, but still, I never regretted going to any meeting I ever attended, and I did learn a lot- some of which I still use today. Thanks for taking the time to educate. Someone may see your post, put their drink down and get to a meeting tonight because of it.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I can see why you were hesitant to post this because some people get really stirred up about AA. I was skeptical about AA when I first went (I was required to go as part of my rehab) but I warmed to it eventually. And you’re so right about different groups meeting different needs. I had a home group that was wonderful for the time I needed it, and then I switched to another one. I go back and forth between the meetings now, and every week looks different because of my schedule and choices I make. Sometimes I need a meeting, and sometimes I need to cook a meal for my family and hang out. As my addiction counselor told me once, we have CHOICES in sobriety, whereas in addiction we didn’t have choices.

    One choice I wish certain people would make is to either keep quiet about AA or have the common decency to say, “I don’t know enough about it” before they go running their mouths about the program. If people have a bad experience with a group or someone in AA, that doesn’t mean that it’s AA’s fault.

    Also, it’s true that there are other paths to recovery, and AA isn’t a 100% fix for everyone’s alcoholism (or alcohol abuse disorder, if you want to be PC). But there’s much good done in the rooms of AA that will never be overshadowed by critics.

    Don’t like it? Don’t go to meetings…but beware of falling into the trap of “contempt prior to investigation.” I’m often guilty of that, too, but I’m working on it.

    Thanks again for this great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are a man after my own heart Richard ….. contempt prior to investigation has been such a problem for me. I am so glad that I am teachable and more open-minded than I used to be. Science and medicine are slowly making some in-roads with addiction treatment. I need to learn that just because something worked for me doesn’t mean that other options don’t work as well. I appreciate your personal narrative and feedback. You rock!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hats off Velma. I always visualize my denial as a 50 pound backpack that I wore all day. It was so hard to take it off. There was no way I was going to take responsibility for my problems. As long as I could blame someone or somethings I could justify my actions. Once I set that pack down, it sure felt good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My story is no different. My last drunk was three fifths, a bottle of wine & a half a gallon of whiskey. You can read all about it on this blog. I write about it every year. I went thru a nasty divorce and drank myself silly for over a year. I was a “Joan Crawford” drunk. I never drank before 5 pm. Cocktail hour!! I didn’t believe I could possibly have a drinking problem. I went to rehab under the notion I was an “abuser”. Of course I also went w 2 DUI’s under my belt. I had cut my arms legs & face w a knife & burned off all my eyelashes. Despite all this I was in denial. After a week of rehab, which by the way I thought it was important to get my nails done prior to entering treatment lol, there was a corporate exec from Microsoft sharing her story in group. I had been in treatment for one week. As I listened to her share I thought “I’ve done that..I do that”. Then the miracle happened. I blurted out “am I an alcoholic?!! Welcome to treatment. Once I accepted the truth I’ve never looked back. I’m a thankful alcoholic in recovery for 14 years and counting. AA works if you work it!!!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for the informative post, Victoria. I am in AA and have found it to be a wonderful experience. When I first joined, I was bewildered and uncomfortable because it was new to me and of course, my ego and stubbornness (and alcoholism) were telling me that these people weren’t like me (I was somehow BETTER). The truth is, they were different than me because they were successful in recovery and I was not, at least not yet. Very quickly I realized that I needed to let go of my ways of thinking and acting because clearly they were not working for me. I had to open myself up and start doing what these folks did and I could have what they have. I always thought I knew better, and AA taught me that I did not. I am humbled and grateful every day and in particular, when I go to meetings and hear others’ stories. I’m lucky to have found a program filled with loving and welcoming people, flawed just like me.


    1. You are very welcome! Thanks for commenting, because it prompted to read a couple of your articles. I really love your last blog story about traveling sober. What practical advice! The temptation of airport lounges and hotel minibars can be a big challenge.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Since we all get the right to critique who and what we want to I think we should while we can. Some of us at the time of our experience with A.A. might have been young and in the deepest, darkest place in our life. At that point I’m not sure how I personally could’ve started my own meeting down the street when I was first experiencing sobriety. There’s no leader, no religious affiliations. I don’t understand why almost all meetings are held in a church. Also why every meeting I attended around my State ended in prayer. A.A. doesn’t make medical or psychological diagnoses or prognoses. I was told by many that my Depression medication was a “crutch” and I needed to go off it. The problem is it’s all nice and good to have these guidelines when you naively believe they will be followed. The problem is there ARE NO regulations or people to make sure they are. The solution of “starting your own meeting” is simplistic and egregious. With such a well known reputation for helping so many there shouldn’t be so much falling through the cracks. There needs to be a higher standard.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your perspective. After having a less than good experience at AA meetings – what did you try next? What has been the most effective way of treating your alcoholism?


      1. I tried understanding WHY I drank. What was driving me. My Primary Care Doctor had noticed some of my behaviors. She thought she saw more in me than Depression and sent me to a Psychiatrist. I was diagnosed as Bipolar. I went for a second opinion which confirmed it. I even had a brain scan looked at which showed common traits of people with Bipolar Disorder. When I finally accepted the Diagnosis and learned about Bipolar Disorder so much made sense to me. The fact that it took 20 years for a Doctor to see it angered me. I had been to many. I was even court ordered to go to Therapy. No one in those years ever asked the right questions. So I coped by drinking. I don’t think I’ve treated my alcoholism. I’m in what I like to call Remission. When you put so much guilt and shame on yourself for “falling off the wagon” it only makes it harder to stay sober. Guilt and Shame are words that should never be used in recovery. The other reason I stay sober is because my mom never got to see me get sober before she died. Her last words to me were “I’m sorry I ruined your life”. I tried to tell her it wasn’t her fault but she was too medicated to understand me and a few hours later she passed away. Both of my parents were alcoholics but had quit drinking when I was around 8. They both blamed themselves. Yes, it is hereditary but I chose to drink. I take responsibility for that. I never went to any other program. I’ve stayed sober on my own. Not everyone is the same and I still struggle every day. Not to stay sober. To stay alive. That is Bipolar. My Bipolar. I now have Stage 3 Chronic Kidney Disease due to a rare condition. Drinking isn’t an option I hope. All I do is try for myself and my family. Alcohol and Bipolar Disorder has stolen a lot from me. I’ve never married or had children like I thought I would. I’m 43 and am now unable to have children. It isn’t easy being alone either but most of my relationships with men revolved around alcohol. It’s something I still have to work out. If other people can learn from my story or recognize something in themselves I feel I’ve contributed to something in this life. That is worth more than anyone could know.


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