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Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a mutual help organization for people who want to stop drinking and stay sober. The AA approach is based on a set of principles that emphasizes personal responsibility and honesty, known as the "12 steps."

AA group members are encouraged to choose a more senior member as a sponsor. Sponsors and experienced members provide practical advice and support, sometimes making themselves available on evenings and weekends. A close bond often develops between group members.

Membership can be lifelong, making AA important for relapse prevention.

Open AA meetings can be attended by the general public. Closed meetings are for group members only.

Effectiveness of AA

It is difficult to prove a causal link, but people who attend AA meetings have a higher abstinence rate (Ferri et al., 2006; Gossop et al., 2003).

AA offers its members various kinds of support:

  • practical advice: AA members share ideas about how to avoid relapse and maintain a healthy lifestyle. One piece of commonly shared advice is to avoid "HALT" states (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) because they often trigger relapse.
  • social support: A close bond often develops between group members. This helps them overcome the social isolation and loneliness that puts them at risk for relapse.
  • mentoring: The sponsor often plays a crucial role in the member's recovery, providing support, advice and assistance.
  • accessibility and long-term support: No formal assessment is required to attend AA. Membership and meetings are provided without cost. Meetings are held once a week or more in many communities in Canada and around the world. Members can attend indefinitely.
  • support for family and friends: AA's related organizations, Al-Anon and Alateen, provide a forum for people whose lives are affected by someone with an alcohol problem. Members share their experiences and help one another to learn a better way of life, regardless of whether their family member continues to drink. They discuss difficult issues, such as how to stop "enabling" their family member and how to stop trying to control that person's drinking.

Encouraging patients to attend AA

  • Explain how AA helps many people.
  • Tell patients that the only requirement for AA membership is a desire to quit drinking. Despite the "spiritual" approach that is often identified with AA, members do not have to believe in God.
  • Invite patients to call from your office and arrange to have an AA contact accompany them (with mutual consent) to their first AA meeting.
  • In areas where more than one AA group is available, encourage patients to try several groups and to choose the one they think they would feel most comfortable attending.
  • Check your local phone book or the AA website to find a local AA contact number, and encourage patients to call for meeting times and locations.