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What Is Alcoholics Anonymous and Is It Right for Me?

By Eric Dean JD, MBA, MA, MA, LPC, CADC

Addiction is a disease with no cure, but there are numerous treatment options available that you may not be familiar with. In my practice working with clients who are struggling with substance abuse, I oftentimes receive questions about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)*, which I will summarize in this post.

AA is a support group that helps folks who want to stay sober from alcohol. It was created in the 1930s by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, a stockbroker and medical doctor respectively, who were both personally struggling with alcohol. Basically, AA consists of 12 steps that members are recommended to complete to maintain sobriety; meetings where members share their experiences with one another; and the “Big Book” which is the main textbook of the program that describes the 12 steps, how the program works, and personal stories of recovery. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Attending meetings is a main component of AA. Meetings come in a variety of formats: there are speaker meetings where a member shares their story with the group followed by comments; literature meetings where members read a chapter from the Big Book or a supplementary text; and other meetings where there may be a group meditation. In the Chicagoland area alone, there are about 3,500 meetings per week. There is no required membership fee for AA, but members may donate at meetings if they wish. The program encourages fellowship before and after meetings in addition to “service work,” which may include chairing a meeting or making coffee before a meeting, among many others.

Members are encouraged to get a sponsor, essentially a mentor, who helps the member complete the steps. The steps include, but are not limited to, admitting that one has a problem with drinking; finding a higher power to connect with; admitting past mistakes; making a list of all people whom that person has harmed; making amends to those that were harmed; practicing prayer and meditation; and being of service to others. The steps help members build a foundation in their recoveries for sustainable change. Members are also expected to live in accordance with certain program principles which include not talking about what is said in meetings outside of meetings, among others.

I have worked with clients who credit AA with saving their life and who continue to actively engage in the program after years or even decades of sobriety. I have also worked with clients who find AA unappealing, off-putting, or unhelpful. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery it is important to be aware of all your options. I recommend that clients attend at least 6 meetings before deciding whether to participate in AA.

There are also 12-step support groups for those battling with other substances and behaviors which include: Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Marijuana Anonymous (MA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and many more.

Regardless of what you choose to include in your recovery program, it is essential to stay open-minded to new ideas and resources that could complement individual and/or couples’ therapy. A Symmetry therapist can help you determine whether AA is right for you and how it could be integrated with other self-care activities.

So, let’s get started – call Symmetry Counseling today at 312-578-9990. 


Kelly JF, Humphreys  K, Ferri  M. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12‐step programs for alcohol use disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2020, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD012880. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012880.pub2.

*For more information on AA please visit and

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