Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international organization aimed at helping people with alcoholism overcome their addiction. It was established in the US in 1938, and since then expanded to include other countries across the world. To achieve their goal, they employ group meetings and a Twelve-Step Program. As a part of my research, I attended an open AA meeting. This paper will examine the organization, its methods, and some of the research on it.
The open AA meeting that I attended, overall, went well. The people present exchanged stories and expressed a genuine desire to solve their problems, and were generally supportive of one another. Their narratives were encouraging, dealing less with the struggle with alcohol, and more with the positive experiences that overcoming the habit allowed achieving. However, some behaved elusively and tried to draw attention away from their issues by deflecting attention onto other participants. Some people in the group claimed to have been in recovery for over 30 years and to still be struggling to stay sober.
The central driving principle of AA’s approach is its Twelve-Step Program. The organization describes it as “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” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 2019, para. 4). The theme of resigning the removal of one’s defects to a higher power, “God as we understood Him,” is central to the program (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2016). Because of this, AA has often come under criticism for its religious, and, more specifically, Christian, nature. However, the phrasing “as we understood Him” allows for more broad spiritual or secular interpretations, such as “Group of Drunks” (Stone, Conteh, & Francis, 2017, p. 127). Ultimately, since AA groups are meant to be autonomous, interpretations may vary to fit each group.
Group sessions where an exchange of stories, by the Twelve-Step Program, takes place, are at the center of AA’s treatment. Stone et al. (2017) examine the efficacy of this method, pointing out that if one “accepts Steps One and Three, perceptions about what can be accomplished [bring] about ability to change” (p. 129). This ultimately helps increase their self-efficacy, allowing individuals to maintain their recovery better. Similarly, other steps of the program have been linked with other psychological concepts, suggesting their efficacy.
Since the AA’s program is not explicitly based on rigorous scientific principles, its overall efficiency in combating alcohol addiction is often criticized and questioned. In response to such criticism, Emrick and Beresford (2016) note that critical articles tend to include people who only attended one or two sessions, and, therefore, do not represent actual involvement with the organization. Correcting for that, they report a significantly higher success rate over 18 to 24 months after entering treatment: “74.8% for alcohol” (Emrick & Beresford, 2016, p. 469). However, they also admit that it is difficult to measure success objectively due to self-selection bias — that is, people joining the AA are already motivated to stop drinking. Despite those concerns, participation in AA’s Twelve-Step Program offers support and assistance in dealing with alcohol-related issues.
AA, as an organization, has, over the decades of its existence, proven its dedication to helping people with alcoholism recover. Despite the criticism and the difficulty of measuring its success in this endeavor, its methods have been shown to have a basis in psychology, and bring about a positive influence on recovery. It remains a valid means of intervention for alcohol use disorder, along with other forms of treatment.
Alcoholics Anonymous. (2019). Web.
Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2016). The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Web.
Emrick, C. D., & Beresford, T. P. (2016). Contemporary negative assessments of Alcoholics Anonymous: A response. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 34(4), 463-471. Web.
Stone, D. A., Conteh, J. A., & Francis, J. D. (2017). Therapeutic factors and psychological concepts in Alcoholics Anonymous. Journal of Counselor Practice, 8(2), 120-135. Web.