What are AA Meetings?

Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly referred to as AA) is perhaps the most widely known program related to overcoming an addiction or chemical dependency. For decades, AA meetings have helped countless men and women overcome their dependence upon alcohol and begin (or continue) their pursuit of lifelong recovery.

Though any form of addiction recovery can be a complex and challenging process, the central tenet of AA meetings is fairly simple and straightforward. This is how AA describes itself (from the AA website):

Alcoholics Anonymous® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

AA meetings are designed as supportive environments for individuals who are in all stages of recovery, as well as for those who are still drinking but, as the AA site indicates, have “a strong desire” to finally quit. The foundation of AA meetings – indeed, the foundation of the entire AA program – is expressed in the 12 Steps, a process that was developed in the early days of AA meetings, and which is now embraced by addiction treatment programs throughout the world

AA meetings are conducted in small groups throughout the United States and in several other nations. There is no cost to attend an AA meeting, there are no dues required in order to become a regular attendee at AA meetings, and there is no requirement that one adhere to a certain philosophical, political, or religious viewpoint in order to participate in AA meetings.

As AA literature describes this global effort to help individuals in need, the purpose of AA meetings is “to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.”

History of AA Meetings

The first AA meeting took place in the mid-1930s. The organization was founded by Bill Wilson (in keeping with the “anonymous” tradition that is central to AA meetings, Wilson is commonly referred to as “Bill W.” in AA-related literature).

Prior to hosting the first AA meeting, Wilson (whose long struggle with alcoholism had caused significant personal, professional, and academic disruption) had been hospitalized multiple times in an effort to end his dependence upon alcohol.

While none of his hospital stays were successful in returning him to sobriety, they did introduce him to a concept that is at the heart of AA meetings around the world: Alcoholism is not a moral failure or evidence of poor character (as many believed then – and, unfortunately, some still do today). Alcoholism is an illness.

After a short period of sobriety that resulted from his participation in an organization known as the Oxford Group, Wilson felt a strong urge to drink while traveling for business. When he reached out to the Oxford Group to put him in contact with another alcoholic to whom he could talk about his cravings, he was introduced to Dr. Bob Smith. Together, Smith and Wilson put together the general principles that guide AA meetings to this day.

The first AA meeting was held in Akron, Ohio, in 1935, with a New York chapter opening shortly thereafter.

Over the decades, though the stigma of alcoholism has faded, AA meetings remain a popular and effective means of helping people end their dependence upon alcohol and pursue lifelong recovery. From an initial meeting between two struggling alcoholics, AA meetings have become a truly global phenomenon.

Because no formal membership is required to participate in AA meetings, it is impossible to ascertain exactly how many people have participated or are currently attended an AA meeting. However, a 2001 AA publication estimated that more than 2 million people attended AA meetings, and that AA meetings were conducted by more than 100,000 groups in 150 nations.

What are the Benefits of AA Meetings?

From the program’s earliest days, the primary benefit of attending an AA meeting is to interact with, learn from, and engage in mutual support with others who are also struggling with alcoholism. AA meetings provide individuals with an ongoing source of support at all stages of the recovery process. AA meetings also give people in long-term recovery the opportunity to mentor and otherwise assist others who are new to the AA meeting concept.

AA itself describes the benefit of AA meetings in the following terms:

In its simplest form, the AA program operates when a recovered alcoholic passes along the story of his or her own problem drinking, describes the sobriety he or she has found in AA, and invites the newcomer to join the informal Fellowship.

What Conditions/Disorders do AA Meetings Treat?

AA meetings are designed to treat one condition: alcoholism. However, the popularity and success of AA meetings have spawned myriad similar programs that are established around a 12-Step process and which adhere to modified versions of the structures and procedures that guide AA meetings. Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous are just three of the many groups that have modeled themselves after the AA meeting concept.