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What is AA, and how does it work?

AA, or Alcoholics Anonymous, grew out of the Christian temperance movements in the 19th century. These movements were connected to local churches, and self- professed alcoholics who pledged abstinence formed them. A drinking buddy introduced the eventual founder of AA, Bill W., to one of these church groups. The buddy falsely claimed that he had been treated by Dr. Jung, who told him that he was a lost cause unless he experienced a religious epiphany. AA grew slowly out of the roots of the Christian temperance movement, and in 1938, the Big Book was written and published. The AA name was first used along with the 12 steps that Bill W. developed.

The 12-step approach works on developing strong social support networks and the use of role models. Thus, obtaining a sponsor is an important component toward successful sobriety. The sponsor should be older, sober, and the same gender in order to provide a mentoring role. The concept of a higher power deters people because they attribute a higher power to "God" and assume it is "faith based"; however, the required faith is in the 12-step process. The concept of faith is generic. For example, faith in a variety of authority figures is required in order to depend on their guidance, including doctors, other professionals, even mechanics, spouses, parents, and so forth. The type of faith that AA seeks to instill in its members has to do with the AA community and should not be mistaken for any specific religious faith. The important concept is that one cannot recover on one's own. Thus, the "higher power" is the power that comes from faith in the community and the recovery process. It is important for the recovering alcoholic to understand his or her own personal limits in order to enlist the support of a community of members and have faith in the recovery process to achieve and maintain sobriety. The higher power is different for each person because everyone has unique challenges to achieve and maintain sobriety.

The 12-step approach works on developing strong social support networks and the use of role models.

It is important for the recovering alcoholic to understand his or her own personal limits in order to enlist the support of a community of members and have faith in the recovery process to achieve and maintain sobriety.

The first several AA meetings may be uncomfortable and may seem foreign. The usual response is this: "I am not like these people." They are too old, too young, too ethnic, too white, too rich, or too poor. To address the initial reaction, there are a variety of meetings that comprise individuals of similar demographic backgrounds so that one can feel “more at home.” Although this may temper the initial discomfort, it is often the people that initially seem the most different that inevitably have the greatest impact in helping to maintain sobriety. The important lesson is to stick with it through the initial discomfort. Studies have shown that patients who attend regularly, as little as once a week, have better success rates than those who drop out (Tables 8 and 9).

Table 8 The 12 Steps

1.

We admit we are powerless over alcohol — that our lives have become unmanageable.

2.

We believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.

3.

We have made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

4.

We have made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5.

We have admitted to our God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6.

We are entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character.

7.

We humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings.

8.

We have made a list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make amends to them all.

9.

We have made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10.

We have continued to take a personal inventory and when we are wrong promptly admit it.

11.

We have sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understand Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12.

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we have tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Table 9 The 12 Traditions

1.

Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on AA unity.

2.

For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.

3.

The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

4.

Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.

5.

Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

6.

An AA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

7.

Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

8.

AA should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

9.

AA, as such, ought never be organized, but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

10.

AA has no opinion on outside issues; hence, the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

11.

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.

12.

Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

 
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