The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a global, community-based program that was created to help those struggling with problematic drinking get sober with the support of their peers through daily meetings and discussions surrounding addiction.1 AA gives men and women a place to come together and share their experiences, recover from alcoholism and maintain sobriety.1 Its concept revolves around that premise that alcoholism is an illness that can be managed, but not controlled.
AA was founded by Bill Wilson and his physician, Doctor Bob Smith in 1935 and eventually grew to include two more groups by 1939.2 That same year, Wilson published Alcoholics Anonymous, a text which explained its philosophy and methods.2 We know it today as the 12 Steps of recovery. Over the years, the 12 Steps have been adapted by other self-help and addiction recovery groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, to those struggling with other forms of addiction. Additionally, many groups have changed the explicitly Christian overtones of the original 12 Steps to reflect more secular or agnostic philosophies.3
There are no other requirements to AA other than having a desire to quit drinking, and it is not associated with any organization, sect, politics, denomination, or institution. Those attending AA make a commitment to join either voluntarily, as a continuation of therapy or via court-mandated rehab.
Given the number of individuals struggling with or at risk for an AUD, it is understandable that AA has grown to what it is today—an organization with more than 115,000 groups worldwide.8
Stats on Alcohol Abuse
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), in order to be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder (AUD), individuals must meet any two of 11 criteria during the same 12-month period.4 An estimated 16 million people in the U.S. have an AUD, yet only a small percentage of those individuals seek treatment.5 In 2015, only 4.4% of people age 12 and older received specialty treatment for an alcohol use disorder.6
According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 51.7% of people age 12 and older reported drinking in the past month, 24.5% of people age 12 and older binge drank in the past month (4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men on one occasion), and 6.1% engaged in heavy alcohol use over the past month (binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past 30 days).7
Scientific Support and Success Rates
Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book cites a 50% success rate with 25% remaining sober after some relapses.10 However, since many of the group’s published success rates are provided by AA itself—and because some members choose to remain anonymous or don’t want to admit to relapsing—there isn’t enough impartial data to measure those rates.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) states that approximately 10% of the people who become part of a 12-Step program enjoy long-term success in their recovery.11 Yet, members also tend to drop out at a 40% rate during their first year, according to some studies, causing group attendance to change often.12
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AA Meetings During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Many areas have lifted restrictions on in-person gatherings, but virtual meetings are still a great option for those who don’t feel comfortable with in-person groups. Virtual meetings are also convenient for people who don’t live near a meeting location or if you have a busy schedule.
Alcohol.org is brought to you by American Addiction Centers (AAC), a leading provider of nationwide addiction treatment. We have launched free Virtual Support Meetings to help you stay connected and a private Facebook Group. Please join to be kept up-to-date on future meetings and to connect with those in recovery. Please call our hotline at for more information on how to access safe and effective treatment options.
For further information on treatment during the pandemic, we’ve put together a guide that answers some of our most frequently asked questions: