“What is Alcoholics Anonymous?”

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. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization, or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy, neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety.

A.A. Preamble
Copyright © by The A. A. Grapevine, Inc.; reprinted with permission.

Frequent Questions from Newcomers

Am I an alcoholic?
If you repeatedly drink more than you intend or want to, if you get into trouble, or if you have memory lapses when you drink, you may be an alcoholic. Only you can decide. No one in A.A. will tell you whether you are or not.
What can I do if I am worried about my drinking?
Seek help. Alcoholics Anonymous can help.
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
We are a Fellowship of men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking and have found ourselves in various kinds of trouble as a result of drinking. We attempt – most of us successfully – to create a satisfying way of life without alcohol. For this we find we need the help and support of other alcoholics in A.A.
If I go to an A.A. meeting, does that commit me to anything?
No. A.A. does not keep membership files, or attendance records. You do not have to reveal anything about yourself. No one will bother you if you don’t want to come back.
What happens if I meet people I know?
They will be there for the same reason you are there. They will not disclose your identity to outsiders. At A.A. you retain as much anonymity as you wish. That is one of the reasons we call ourselves Alcoholics Anonymous.
What happens at an A.A. meeting?
An A.A. meeting may take one of several forms, but at any meeting you will find alcoholics talking about what drinking did to their lives and personalities, what actions they took to help themselves, and how they are living their lives today.
How can this help me with my drinking problem?
We in A.A. know what it is like to be addicted to alcohol, and to be unable to keep promises made to others and ourselves that we will stop drinking. We are not professional therapists. Our only qualification for helping others to recover from alcoholism is that we have stopped drinking ourselves, but problem drinkers coming to us know that recovery is possible because they see people who have done it.
Why do A.A.s keep on going to meetings after they are cured?
We in A.A. believe there is no such thing as a cure for alcoholism. We can never return to normal drinking, and our ability to stay away from alcohol depends on maintaining our physical, mental, and spiritual health. This we can achieve by going to meetings regularly and putting into practice what we learn there. In addition, we find it helps us to stay sober if we help other alcoholics.
How do I join A.A.?
You are an A.A. member if and when you say so. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking, and many of us were not very wholehearted about that when we first approached A.A.
How much does A.A. membership cost?
There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership. An A.A. group will usually have a collection during the meeting to cover expenses, such as rent, coffee, etc., and to this all members are free to contribute as much or as little as they wish.
Is A.A. a religious organization?
No. Nor is it allied with any religious organization.
There’s a lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there?
The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don’t believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and nonbelief.
Can I bring my family to an A.A. meeting?
Family members or close friends are welcome at “Open” A.A. meetings. Discuss this with your local contact.
What advice do you give new members?
In our experience, the people who recover in A.A. are those who:
Stay away from the first drink
Attend A.A. meetings regularly
Seek out the people in A.A. who have successfully stayed sober for some time.
Try to put into practice the A.A. program of recovery.
How can I contact A.A.?
Look for Alcoholics Anonymous in your local telephone directory. These telephones are answered by A.A. volunteers who will be happy to answer your questions, or put you in touch with those who can. If there is no A.A. telephone service close to you, write or phone the A.A. General Service Office.

Excerpt from the pamphlet: A Newcomer Asks…
Copyright © 1980, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Frequent Questions about A.A.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
The Preamble (printed at the top of this page) is the definition used most often. A.A. now has more than two million members in more than 180 countries.
How did A.A. get started?
A New York stockbroker who sobered up late in 1934 realized that efforts to help other drunks helped him to stay sober. On a business trip to Akron in 1935, he was put in touch with an alcoholic surgeon. When the doctor also recovered, the two sought out other alcoholics. The movement spread and acquired its name with the publication of the book Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939.
How does A.A. work?
Chiefly through local meetings, where alcoholics help one another to use the A.A. program of recovery (see next question).
What are the Twelve Steps?
Principles based on actual recovery experiences of early members. Not just a means of staying dry, but a suggested program for living.
What is an open meeting?
A group meeting that anyone — alcoholic or nonalcoholic — may attend. Usually, a leader opens and closes the meeting and introduces the speakers (almost always A.A.s, like the leader). They tell about their lives before and after joining A.A., and may give personal views on its program.
How is A.A. organized?
Very informally. Groups elect officers to serve — not to govern — for limited periods. Each group may elect a representative who takes part in area meetings and helps to elect an area delegate to the General Service Conference (U.S./Canada) — the groups’ link with the General Service Board of trustees. Conference members and trustees, too, serve the Fellowship but do not govern it.
What are A.A. Traditions?
Suggested principles to ensure the survival and growth of groups and A.A. as a whole.
How does a person join A.A.?
Simply by attending meetings of a local group. Newcomers may call a local A.A. office, write to the General Service Office, or be guided to A.A. by a friend, a relative, or a professional. But the decision to join is up to the alcoholic alone. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.
What does membership in A.A. cost?
How is A.A. supported?
Voluntary contributions — accepted from members only — support groups and help support national and international A.A. services.
Are there many women alcoholics in A.A.?
About one-third of the members are women.
How successful is A.A.?
The latest survey (U.S./Canada) indicates that 48% of members have been sober more than five years, and 22% have been sober between one and five years.
Why doesn’t A.A. seem to work for some people?
It works for those who really want to stop drinking and are able to keep that resolve foremost in their minds.
Is A.A. affiliated with any other organization?
No. But it cooperates with other efforts to help alcoholics.
Is A.A. a religious society?
No. It includes people of many faiths, agnostics, and atheists.
Is A.A. a temperance movement?
No. As a society, A.A. has no opinion at all on such outside issues as whether or not other people should drink. Its members simply know that they themselves cannot handle alcohol safely.
What is alcoholism?
A.A.s see it as an illness, not a moral failing; as a progressive illness, which worsens as drinking continues; as an incurable, threefold illness — physical, mental, and spiritual — which can be arrested by practicing the A.A. program.
Who is an alcoholic?
Absolutely any type of person may have this illness, as the unlimited variety of A.A. members indicates. If drinking has an unfavorable effect on any part of a person’s life, and that person still cannot stop drinking, then he or she — in the opinion of most A.A.s — is an alcoholic.
What are some early symptoms of alcoholism?
  1. You start having blackouts.
  2. You consistently drink more than you mean to.
  3. You find liquor means more to you than to others.
  4. You start excusing yourself for drinking.
  5. You start taking eye-openers (the morning drink).
  6. You begin to drink alone.
  7. You get antisocial when you drink.
  8. You start going on benders.
  9. You feel deep, nameless anxiety.
  10. You have a constant craving for alcohol.

(These ten symptoms are taken from pamphlets published by the National
Council on Alcoholism, and Drug Dependence, Inc., New York, N.Y.)

What can the nonalcoholic do to help?
Some suggestions for nonalcoholics to follow — you will have more — indicate that they may do their part . . .

  1. By offering to help the sick alcoholic get in touch with A.A. through the telephone listing or other means available, explaining that this will entail no obligation to become a member. Give them local A.A. and Al-Anon phone numbers.
  2. By offering to attend A.A. open meetings with the alcoholic for informational reasons. They are welcome.
  3. By explaining to individuals that only they themselves know whether they are really alcoholics and suggesting a talk with someone from A.A. to help clarify the problem.
  4. By talking to the sick alcoholic always in terms of suggestion, avoiding threats or duress, since the decision must and can be made only by the alcoholics themselves.
  5. By acquiring a better personal understanding of A.A. through attending some A.A. open meetings and reading A.A. literature, including the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It can be explained that the Big Book is generally accepted as A.A.’s basic text, first published in 1939, issued in a second edition in 1955, a third in 1976, and a fourth edition in 2001, and is available for purchase at most local groups or on direct order from the General Service Office, Box 459, Grand Central Station, New York, NY 10163.
  6. By passing the book and other A.A. literature along to the sick alcoholic, as interesting and worthwhile reading matter.
  7. By using their influence in the community to help other nonalcoholics toward a better comprehension of the problems and needs of the alcoholic and of the help that is available in A.A.
  8. By calling A.A. any time they can be of help.

More information for the nonalcoholic can be found at Alanon World Service and at Alanon NJ.