Overview of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)

This page is for people coming to A.A. for the first time and for those referring others to A.A. It briefly describes:

  • what A.A. is
  • What A.A. does
  • What A.A. does not do
  • Those court-ordered or from treatment

What A.A. Is

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who have experienced a drinking problem. There are no age or education requirements, membership is open to anyone who wants to recover from a drinking problem. There are no member dues, A.A. membership is nonprofessional, apolitical, self-supporting, and available world wide.

Singleness of Purpose and Problems Other Than Alcohol

Some professionals refer to alcoholism and drug addiction as "substance abuse" or "chemical dependency." Nonalcoholics are, therefore, sometimes introduced to A.A. and encouraged to attend A.A. meetings. Nonalcoholics can attend open A.A. meetings as observers but only those with a drinking problem—anyone with a desire to stop drinking—may attend closed A.A. meetings.

What A.A. Does

  1. A.A. members share their experience with anyone seeking help with a drinking problem. They give person-to-person service or "sponsorship" to the alcoholic coming to A.A. from any source.

  2. The A.A. program, as set forth in the Twelve Steps, offers the alcoholic a way to recover from alcoholism.

  3. This 12-step program is discussed at A.A. group meetings of various types:

    • Open Speaker meetings — open to alcoholics and nonalcoholics. (Attendance at open A.A. meetings is a good way to learn what A.A. is, what it does, and what it does not do.) At open speaker meetings, A.A. members "tell their stories." They describe their life experience with alcohol and how they came to A.A., and how their lives have changed after coming to Alcoholics Anonymous.

    • Open Discussion meetings — members speak about their drinking experience as well as their experience getting sober, on A.A. recovery or drinking-related problems. (Closed Discussion meetings are for alcoholics or anyone who wishes to stop drinking.)

    • Closed Discussion meetings — the same as Open Discussion meetings but for alcoholics only.

    • 12 Step Meetings (usually closed) — discussion meeting focusing on the A.A. twelve steps.

    • Big Book Meetings — meetings focusing on A.A.'s primary textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous.

    A.A. members also hold meetings within correctional facilities or treatment institutions, and conduct informational meetings at court-mandated drunk driving programs.

What A.A. Does Not Do

  • A.A. does not promote itself to the world or alcoholics

  • A.A. does not solicit members.

  • A.A. does not engage in or underwrite research.

  • A.A. does not keep attendance records or case histories.

  • A.A. does not join outside groups or social agencies (but will cooperate with them)

  • A.A. does not keep track or try to control its members.

  • A.A. does not make medical or psychological diagnoses or prognoses.

  • A.A. does not provide detox or nursing services, hospitalization, drugs, or any medical care.

  • A.A. does not offer religious services or host or sponsor retreats.

  • A.A. does not engage in education about alcoholism.

  • A.A. does not provide housing, food, clothing, jobs, money, or any welfare services.

  • A.A. does not provide domestic or vocational counseling.

  • A.A. does not accept money for its services, nor any contributions from outside sources.

  • A.A. does not provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, government officials, etc.

Members From Court Programs and Treatment Facilities

In recent years, A.A. groups have welcomed many new members from court programs and treatment facilities. Some have come to A.A. voluntarily, others under some degree of pressure. The following excerpt, from the pamphlet "How A.A. Members Cooperate," summarizes A.A.'s position regarding such programs.


We cannot discriminate against any prospective A.A. member, even if he or she comes to us under pressure from the courts, an employer, or any other agency.

Although the strength of our program lies in the voluntary nature of the membership in A.A., many of us first attended meetings because we were forced to, either by someone else or by inner discomfort. But continual exposure to A.A. educated us to the true nature of the illness ... Who made the referral to A.A. is not what A.A. is interested in. It is the problem drinker who is our concern ... We cannot predict who will recover, nor have we the authority to decide how recovery should be sought by any other alcoholic.

© Reprinted with permission from A.A. World Services, Inc.