Is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Only for Alcoholics?

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 for one purpose: to provide a support system for those who want to stop drinking alcohol. Membership is free and open to anyone who feels they have a problem with alcohol and has the desire to live a sober life. AA is based on a 12-step program, which, as defined by AA, is “a group of principles, spiritual in their nature, which, if practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole.”

AA emphasizes anonymity, stressing the importance of placing “principles before personalities.” Attendance at AA meetings is meant to be private, providing a safe environment for those who want to share their personal stories. Each individual determines for themselves whether to disclose their AA affiliation and to whom.

Although AA was founded specifically to help those with an alcohol problem, there are situations in which someone with a drug addiction may attend either an open or closed AA meeting.

Open Meeting

  • Anyone who wants to learn more about AA can attend an open meeting, including those with drug or other addictions. Attendees may include recovering addicts, family members of those with an alcohol problem, or someone just researching the program. Open meetings usually feature a speaker who shares a personal story, including how their life has changed in recovery. The speaker will then lead a discussion, which may focus on an aspect of AA recovery or may be sparked by input from those present.

Although those with addictions other than alcohol can attend an open meeting, the focus and discussion are meant to be on alcohol-related problems. An exception would be in the case of a crisis. If a person with a drug-related problem expressed an immediate need for help, he or she would be invited to share with the group. Someone with a drug problem that is not in crisis would be asked to respect that the meeting is for alcohol-related discussion.

Closed Meeting

  • Closed meetings are for members or for any nonmember who believes he or she has a problem with alcohol. Many AA members are more comfortable attending closed meetings as fellow group members share their commitment to the 12-step principles and to anonymity. Closed meetings are conducive to speaking openly about alcohol use without fear of judgment. Group members have a unique perspective and offer valuable understanding and support to one another. Discussion during closed meetings often centers around the 12 steps, as well as focusing on the personal stories and challenges of members.

As with an open meeting, if an individual who had a problem with drugs rather than alcohol dropped into a closed meeting and expressed a crisis situation, that person would not be turned away. Members would attempt to help and would also provide information on Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

  • While AA was founded to specifically support those with an alcohol problem, Narcotics Anonymous is a support program for those suffering from any addiction, including drugs or alcohol. Unlike AA, which focuses specifically on alcohol as the addictive substance, NA looks more at the addictive behavior and how that behavior has caused pain to the addict and others.

Frequently asked questions

Are AA and NA meetings free to attend?

Women in AA meetingYes, both are free. Most meetings will take up a collection to cover expenses like refreshments and meeting room rent, but those in attendance can contribute as much or as little as they like. There is no expectation to contribute anything.

Are AA and NA religious organizations?

No, neither AA nor NA is affiliated with any religious or political organization. It is a spiritual program, which encourages your relationship with a Higher Power, in whatever form you determine that to be. Both AA and NA are self-supporting and operate independently of any outside funding.

Can I just show up at an AA or NA meeting?

Yes, there is no need to notify anyone of your intention to attend a meeting. If you have a drinking or drug problem and want to stop, or if you’re simply exploring the possibility that you may have a problem, you are welcome to attend either an open or closed meeting.

Anyone is welcome to attend an open meeting, including those with any addiction problem, those seeking information for a loved one, or those simply seeking information about AA or NA.

The meeting facilitator will usually go around the room for introductions. You don’t have to introduce yourself if you don’t want to.

How can I find an AA meeting near me?

AA meetings are offered in several formats, including face-to-face group meetings, online meetings, and email recovery meetings. The AA website provides links to locate local meetings in the US and Canada. You can choose to click on your state or province on the left side of the page for regional information or enter your zip code or city on the right side of the page.

Another AA directory for online intergroup meetings provides a brief description of available meetings.

For those who prefer email, AA offers the e-AA Group – get information on email recovery meetings, e-discussion forums, or e-group conscience.

How can I find an NA meeting near me?

Narcotics Anonymous World Services (NAWS) can help you find an NA meeting near you, or a web or phone meeting if that’s your preference. You can search worldwide for NA helplines and websites or use the meeting search option. If you’re looking for a local face-to-face meeting, use the meeting search option to input your address, then a map will pop up showing all nearby meetings.

You can also use the meeting search option to locate web or phone meetings. You can also download a meeting locator app for iPhone or Android from their site.

What is the success rate of AA?

Group Doing A Drug InterventionWell-respected authorities agree that AA’s 12-step program is effective, and researchers have published extensive evidence supporting the program’s efficacy.

AA 12-step programs have been shown to be so effective, 74% of drug and alcohol treatment centers worldwide use some form of this model, according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Seeking to measure the effectiveness of AA, The Journal of Addictive Diseases published the results of a longitudinal study conducted on a large sample of Veteran’s Administration male patients, entitled Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science. The results found “rates of abstinence are about twice as high for those who attended a 12-step group such as AA following treatment.”

The journal Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research published a study that found those who attended about 60 AA meetings a year had a 73% abstinence rate, and those who attended over 200 meetings a year had a 79% abstinence rate at 5 years.

What are some alternatives to AA and NA?

AA 12-steps programs have an excellent success rate, but the AA format, focus on spirituality, or other aspects of the design may not appeal to everyone. Some non-12 step alternatives to the AA or NA program include;

  • SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training): addresses most addictive behaviors, including alcohol and drugs. They offer face-to-face meetings worldwide, daily online meetings, and an online message board. SMART describes their approach as focusing on “self-empowerment and self-reliance.”
  • LifeRing Secular Recovery: seeks “to provide an abstinence based, secular, and self-empowered addiction recovery pathway through our meeting and support network.” They deal with any substance use disorder. LifeRing offers face-to-face and online meetings, email groups, and forums.
  • Women for Sobriety (WFS): a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women overcome substance use disorders. The program encourages “emotional and spiritual growth.” WFS has certified moderators and chat leaders leading mutual support groups online and in person, as well as phone volunteers available for one-on-one support.
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): an anonymous support group for those seeking sobriety via a secular path. They offer support for alcohol, drug, and food addiction. SOS focuses on “empowerment of the individual to find and keep sobriety and/or abstinence.”
  • Moderation Management: a “lay-led non-profit dedicated to reducing the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol.” Their website states they focus on self-management, balance, moderation, and personal responsibility. They offer some face-to-face meetings, as well as online meetings and chat rooms. This organization focuses only on alcohol recovery and not drugs or other addictive behaviors.

Whichever program you choose, don’t be afraid to share your personal challenges with the group. Finding group support and mentorship is key to sustaining a lasting recovery from addiction.

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