happy people in a 12 step aa meeting discussing

What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

If you or someone you know has had a problem with substance abuse like alcohol or drugs, you have likely heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It has been around since 1935 and was started by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith (known as Bill W. and Dr. Bob). Since its creation in Akron Ohio, AA has amassed over 2 million members worldwide and consists of different types of 12 step meetings. Other organizations have been created using similar principles and programs to not only help alcoholics and addicts but also the people who love and support them.

During the time when AA was created, alcoholism was mainly viewed as the individual’s problem alone, a moral failing and not a disease. It was medically thought to be incurable and lethal. Many alcoholics during that time were sent to long-term asylums and imprisoned, and the limited treatment facilities available were too expensive for the average person.

In 1953, Bill W. published the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of AA, and for alcoholics everywhere, they became the foundation for a new view of alcoholism. AA encouraged individuals to form communities in order to support each other’s recovery with the belief that alcoholics are best suited to help other alcoholics. As a result of the service that Bill W. and Dr. Bob did for each other in the 1930s, it ultimately inspired them to free themselves from their cycles of abstinence and relapse, as well as to change their way of thinking by sharing their hope of an alcohol-free future with others.

What are 12 Step Meetings?

group of people sitting in a circle at aa meeting

12-step meetings are typically self-supported gatherings by its members, and therefore, are housed in churches or in buildings that are rented and called clubs. Additionally, 12-step meetings can take place in treatment centers, hospitals, and jail, or even in a backyard. The meetings are run by the members of the individual groups and usually run for an hour at a time. Members attending those meetings become family to each other as they share their journey of addiction, in the hopes that talking about their struggles with others going through the same or similar situation will lighten the weight of their burden and instill support and guidance for their own recovery.

Start of the Meeting

Most types of 12 step meetings follow a similar structure. During the start of the meeting, members and those attending for the first time welcome each other without judgment or condemnation, as there is an understanding that they are all going through the same thing. There are readings of the 12 Traditions and 12 step literature, along with the serenity prayer and related announcements.  Participants may go around the room and introduce themselves by first name only if they choose, as meetings are anonymous and have the mantra “What you hear here, who you see hear, does not leave here”. After, they will ask people in the room to raise their hand if they are willing to sponsor, that way those that are looking for sponsorship may know who to speak with after the meeting. And they may pass around 2 lists, one for men and one for women to write their first name and phone numbers on if they like, in case anyone in the room has requested it. These lists are for anyone coming into the AA program who needs support. The men and women who put themselves on those lists have a clear understanding of the lifesaving and giving power of one alcoholic or addict helping another which they likely learned from someone first helping them.

Middle of the Meeting

Then they celebrate sobriety time, where they ask members to announce how long they have been sober. It can range from less than 30 days, 60 or 90 days of “clean time” all the way to 1 year or several years. As people share their names and clean time, members in the group clap, cheer, or hug one another as a way to show support. Coins or key tags may be given to the people celebrating, as a token of their success.

Then the meeting comes to life with an appointed person sharing their experience, strength, and hopes, along with what the program has done for them. They may read recovery literature and pick a topic for other people to share, and the meeting continues with the participants sharing their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings as they choose, as no one is obligated to speak if they don’t feel comfortable doing so. 

End of the Meeting

Before the meeting ends, three things will happen. First, they will pass around a collection basket where people may donate money to help pay for the rent, group materials, fees, and miscellaneous items like coffee or breakfast. Secondly, they will ask if anyone has a “burning desire” to share. A share that is considered to be a burning desire is defined as one where “if you don’t share, you will drink or use, or hurt yourself or someone else today”, and gives the person who might most be struggling in the room, one last chance to share it with the group before they leave. Lastly, the group will collectively bow their heads and have a moment of silence for the alcoholic or addict that is suffering most and say the serenity prayer together.

Although there is no exact way to calculate the exact number of lives that 12 step meetings and their members have saved, these meetings have been life-savers for many and will continue to help many others struggling with addiction in the future. The one thing that is certain is that if Bill W. and Dr. Bob hadn’t shared their faith, passion, and practices with the world, addiction and recovery would look very different today.

 

Types of 12-Step Programs

group of people in alcohol anonymous meeting

The most widely known programs are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

NA was started in 1953 and uses most of the same practices and principles of AA. If you are asking yourself “What is NA?” or “If there is AA, why do I want NA?” you should check out the links to their websites below. For some people, alcohol is not the only substance they abuse, and NA welcomes people with alcohol and other substance abuse.

If you are interested in finding out more information on AA or NA, check out their websites at Alcoholics Anonymous (aa.org) and NA.

Listed below are some additional 12 step meeting options and links in a group setting. Although the list does not include every type of 12 step meeting in existence, these are great ones to start with.

 

Substance Addictions

Behavioral Addictions

Other 12 Step Meetings

As we mentioned before, often alcoholics and addicts have more than one addiction. You may be an alcoholic and also have a problem with marijuana or pain medication. It may be a good idea to try AA, and also MA or PA, and see which one you like the best. Maybe you will find that your spiritual needs are met in AA, but you get a different feeling from the people of MA and that is important to you too. Or you may have kicked the cocaine habit, but now your gambling is out of control and you could benefit from talking about it with people who have had similar experiences in gamblers anonymous (GA).

One thing that has developed over the last year or so that has been a saving grace for many alcoholics and addicts, is the availability of Zoom meetings. There are multiple meetings happening, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week all over the world. A person can sit on their living room sofa and be a part of a meeting in Australia, Arizona, or Africa. All you need to do is download the Zoom app on your phone, or log in on your computer and you can fellowship anywhere, with anyone, at any time. Download the Zoom app here Download Center – Zoom.  Zoom codes for 12 step meetings are listed on the websites for the links above.

And remember, if you can’t find a 12 step meeting that meets your needs, start one. You are likely not the only person in the world who needs it.

Find a 12 Step Meeting With OTR

Sponsor and sponsee talking on park bench

If you or a loved one needs help finding the 12 step meeting, whether it is alcoholics anonymous, faith-based, marijuana anonymous, or any other meeting, Oregon Trail Recovery can help you find the right one in-person or remotely. Please contact us and we will assist you with anything that you need. We are here for you 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.