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5 Misconceptions About AA

Two million. That’s the estimated number of people who actively participate in AA worldwide. Clearly, the organization is well-known.

Despite its noteriety, the facts about AA certainly aren’t as well-known – many misconceptions persist about the program. Myths about the structure, meetings, and expectations of members are widespread.

These false beliefs can prevent people from getting help, so how about we debunk some of the most prevalent?

Setting the Record Straight

  • Myth #1 – AA has a low success rate. It simply doesn’t work.

    Truth: When it comes to substance abuse, no treatment method offers a one-size-fits-all solution. What works for some may not be appropriate for others. Are there people who have attended AA and walked away? Yes. Has everyone who attended a meeting stayed sober for life? Of course not. But, researchers have studied the effectiveness of AA extensively and there’s evidence that the programs are “among the most effective and best-studied treatments for addictive behavior change.” Its effectiveness is backed by recommendations from the National Institute of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the American Psychiatric Association and the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

  • Myth #2 – AA is just like any other non-profit organization.

    Truth: Due to its anonymous nature, AA simply can’t be set up the same way as other organizations. There are no formal membership lists. There’s no president. AA doesn’t require dues or fees from participants. It doesn’t actively fundraise. AA has a central office in New York with roughly 85 workers. Its general services board consists of 14 AA members and seven “non-alcoholic friends of the Fellowship.” These bodies keep in touch with groups worldwide and publish literature about alcoholism. That’s pretty much it. Pretty simple, and quite different from many other organizations.

  • Myth #3 – You must get a sponsor, who will then control your life.

    Truth: The idea behind sponsorship isn’t to surrender your identity or free will. A sponsor isn’t supposed to strap you on a leash and guide your every step. The goal is support. Again and again, the Big Book references alcoholics working with other alcoholics. It’s integral to the program. About sponsorship, AA notes, “…one alcoholic could affect another as no nonalcoholic (non-addict) could. It also indicated that strenuous work, one alcoholic (recovered member) with another (newcomer), was vital to permanent recovery.” (Alcoholics Anonymous. 3rd ed. xvi)

    It’s also about sharing with others as you grow stronger in your own recovery. AA explains, “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail. This is our twelfth suggestion: Carry this message to other alcoholics! You can help when no one else can. You can secure their confidence when others fail.” (Alcoholics Anonymous. 89)

  • Myth #4 – They make you do things you don’t want to do.

    Truth: For those who choose to go to AA meetings, participation is voluntary and you won’t be forced to do anything. Will you encounter bossy people or those who don’t have your best interests at heart? It’s possible…maybe even likely. But you can be involved in AA without them. Seek those who do have your best interests in mind and use the parts of the program that benefit you.

  • Myth #5 – AA members are rock-bottom, hopeless drunks.

    Truth: AA is filled with a full spectrum of members. Some have been sober for decades and others just minutes. Many have hit rock bottom. Others found AA before they had a full meltdown. All nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ages attend. Common threads are present, but life experiences vary as much as hairstyles. AA meetings aren’t rooms of hopeless drunks. Representing a full gamut of experiences, Alcoholics Anonymous is “a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.”

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