Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the largest and best known method used in an effort to abstain from alcohol.

alcoholics anonymous.

About Alcoholics Anonymous

The first AA group was co-founded in 1935 at Akron, Ohio. The co-founders were  by traveling stock and bond salesman Bill W., and proctologist Dr. Bob S. During that year a second AA group was formed in New York City. A third formed in Cleveland in 1939.

AA’s “bible,” titled Alcoholics Anonymous, was written by Bill W. and published in 1939. It identified the now-familiar Twelve Steps of recovery. Reflecting the religious beliefs of the fundamentalist Christian movement called the Oxford Group, with which he and Dr. Bob were involved, those steps are:

  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 payer 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.1

These steps have been modified by other groups addressing behaviors involving narcotics, gambling, eating, shopping, sex, and even lip balm.

Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous

It appears that for those individuals who are able to consistently and fully apply these steps over a long period of time, the system might be effective. However, AA’s statistics indicate that about 95% (or 19 of every 20) members fail to do so for even as long as only 12 months. The total body of research has not found evidence that AA or other 12 step programs are effective.2

Nation wide research conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has found that alcoholics who do not participate in AA or other formal program have a much higher rate of either abstaining from alcohol or moderating their consumption.3 Other research supports this finding. For example, studies of untreated alcoholics over time have

  • found that about 18% were abstaining for at least two years.4
  • found that 11% were abstaining over an unreported period of time.5
  • found that 15% were abstaining after a period of seven year.6
  • found that 15% were abstaining at the end of one year and 11% were abstaining after three years.7

This, and much more evidence, suggests that participating in AA is associated with a lower chance of success than not doing so.

Nevertheless, it is clearly helpful to some people. There are members who swear by the program. They even say it saved their lives. However, as addiction expert Gabrielle Glaser warns,

AA “can be just as damaging and dangerous for the people for whom it’s failing. AA doesn’t refer anybody out. It doesn’t tell anybody that AA is not for them. It’s very unlike professional organizations, which refer people to second opinions. AA tells people that if they don’t benefit, it’s basically their fault. This has produced, really, a lot of tragedies [such as suicides]….It causes people to blame themselves for failing and, consequently, spending more time in the program feeling worse about themselves. Families also blame their loved ones if they don’t do well or if they drop out rather than realizing that AA might not be the best approach [for them].”1

The good news is that there are may other options for those seeking either to abstain from alcohol or to reduce their consumption. They include HAMS alcohol harm reduction program, Moderation Management, Rational Recovery, SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, and the affordable Life Process Program.

These programs are based on scientific principles and evidence-based methods rather than faith.


  1. AA. How It Works. In: Alcoholics Anonymous (4th ed.). NY: AA World Services, 2001.
  2. Ferri M., et al. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programmes for alcohol dependence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD005032. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005032.pub2 Updated July 8, 2009.
  3. Alcoholics can Recover from Alcoholism and Drink in Moderation.
  4. Goodwin, W. W., et al. Felons who drink: an eight-year follow-up. Q J Stud Alc, 1971, 32, 136-147.
  5. Lemere, F. What happens to alcoholics. Am J Psychiat, 1953, 109, 674-675.
  6. Kendall, R. E. and Stanton, M. C. The fate of untreated alcoholics. Q J Stud Alc, 1966, 27, 30-41.
  7. Imber, S., et al. The fate of the untreated Alcoholic. J Nerv Ment Disord, 1976, 162, 238-247.


  • Drink Too Much Alcohol?
  • AA. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How many Thousands of Men and Women have Recovered from Alcoholism. NY: AA World Services, 2001. (This is the “Big Book”)
  • AA. The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation, 1993.
  • AA. The Little Red Book: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Twelve Steps.. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1970.
  • AA. An Interpretation of the Twelve Steps. Minneapolis, MN: Coll-Webb Co., 1946.
  • AA. “Pass It On”: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the A.A. Message Reached the World. NY: AA World Services, 1984.
  • AA. Living Sober NY: AA World Services, 1975.
  • AA. Came to Believe: The Spiritual Adventure of A.A. as Experienced by Individual Members. NY AA World Services, 1990.
  • AA. Twenty-Four Hours a Day. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1975.
  • AA. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. NY: AA World Services, 1982.
  • Bill W. Alcoholics Anonymous. NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2014.
  • Bill W. Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. NY: Harper, 1957.
  • Galanter, M. Research on Alcoholics Anonymous and Spirituality in Addiction Recovery: The Twelve-Step Program Model Spirituality Oriented Recovery Twelve-Step Membership Effectiveness and Outcome Research. NY: Springer, 2008.
  • Robertson, N. Getting Better: Inside Alcoholics Anonymous. NY: Morrow, 1989.

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Filed Under: Alcoholism Treatments