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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): The 12 Steps of AA Recovery Program

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-Step recovery program that supports people struggling with alcohol addiction and alcohol misuse. The 12 Steps of AA involve a process whereby AA members follow a set of steps and attend meetings to support them in their recovery from alcoholism.

What Is AA?

Alcoholics Anonymous is an international organization of individuals who have struggled with drinking at some point in their lives. AA is supported and organized by its members and operates independently of any outside funding. It is not affiliated with any religious or political group.1

The organization’s goal is to promote sobriety by “carrying its message” of hope to others struggling with alcohol addiction and misuse or binge drinking. All AA members remain anonymous. The principle of anonymity can help remove the stigma associated with alcohol addiction and can create a more welcoming environment for members to receive alcohol treatment.1

The 12 Steps of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous are a set of guiding principles that help to form the foundation for a life of sobriety.1

AA is open to all people regardless of age, gender, religion, or ethnicity. The only requirement to become a member is the desire to stop drinking.1

What Are the 12 Steps of AA?

In the Big Book – the primary text of Alcoholics Anonymous, which outlines the program and the 12 Steps – the AA 12 Steps are defined as a “set of principles, spiritual in nature, which, when practiced as a way of life, can expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully whole”.1

AA Step 1

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable”.7

Admitting one’s struggle with alcohol use is the first step of AA and can be challenging, but once you do acknowledge your struggle, the recovery process can begin. Learn more about Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 2

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”.7

Alcoholics Anonymous believes that people struggling with alcohol misuse or addiction can benefit from believing in a power greater than themselves to recover. However, a higher power does not have to be associated with any particular religion or referred to as “God”. Learn more about Step 2 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 3

“Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God”.7

In the 3rd step of AA, a person consciously decides to turn their will over to a higher power of their understanding. Learn more about Step 3 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 4

“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”.7

The 4th AA Step requires self-examination, which can sometimes feel uncomfortable. Honesty about how a person’s struggle has affected themselves and others is necessary for helping maintain recovery. Learn more about Step 4 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 5

“Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”.7

The 5th Step of AA involves telling another person about their behavior, which may involve sharing with their sponsor or another trusted person. Doing so can help a person stop living alone with their past experiences and learn to live honestly. Learn more about Step 5 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 6

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character”.7

In the 6th Step, the person struggling admits that they are ready to have their higher power remove those aspects of their character that has led them to misuse alcohol and hurt themselves and others. Learn more about Step 6 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 7

“Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings”.7

The 7th Step of AA is about humility. When a person is humble, they have the opportunity to gain new perspectives that support their recovery journey. Learn more about Step 7 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 8

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all”.7

In the 8th Step, a person writes down all of the people they have wronged through their drinking. This is not a step to make amends, but to help a person understand what they are ready to make amends for in Step 9. Learn more about Step 8 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 9

“Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure themselves or others”.7

People often work with their AA sponsor to figure out the most appropriate way to complete the 9th Step of AA. Making amends could include writing a letter to a person or sitting down face-to-face with them. For some people, making amends is simply writing them down and sharing them with a sponsor if it is not possible or safe to share them with a person directly – either because they have passed away or it is unsafe to do so. Learn more about Step 9 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 10

“Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it”.7

The 10th AA Step helps teach a person to remain committed to their program regardless of what they encounter in life. Using the 12 Steps of AA and the practice of taking personal inventory helps keep people present in their recovery process. Learn more about Step 10 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 11

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out”.7

The 11th Step of AA involves creating some kind of spiritual practice or routine that helps a person stay connected to their higher power to support their recovery. Learn more about Step 11 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

AA Step 12

“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs”.7

The 12th Step encourages members to help others in their recovery. Some may choose to sponsor others as a way to help them work their own program and share their message. Learn more about Step 12 of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Religious?

Alcoholics Anonymous welcomes people of all faiths, even atheists and agnostics, but the program takes a spiritual approach to recovery. The spiritual aspect relates to accepting the existence and support of a higher power.

The 12 Steps of AA acknowledge that people may conceptualize a higher power in different ways and clarify this with the addition of “as we understood God [higher power]” with almost every reference to God.

People who do not identify with a higher power may find more comfort in a secular 12-Step support group or a non-12-Step addiction recovery program.

What Happens at 12-Step AA Meetings?

12-Step AA meetings are often held in public, accessible buildings with lots of parking, such as churches, schools, coffee shops, and restaurants. There is no fee to attend.

Types of AA 12-Step Meetings

The basic meeting format and rules depend on the type of AA meeting.

  • Speaker meetings. AA members share their experiences with alcohol misuse, how they found the program and their recovery through the program. This type of meeting focuses more on one person sharing while the rest of the group listens.
  • Discussion meetings. One member speaks briefly about their own struggles with alcohol and then leads a discussion about recovery with AA and any drinking-related issue that another person brings up. This type of meeting is much more interactive than a speaker meeting.
  • Step studies. A small, committed group goes through the 12 AA Steps and 12 Traditions in detail during regular meetings outside of their normal group Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

Open vs. Closed AA Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings can be open or closed.

  • Open meetings mean that anyone is welcome: AA members and non-members. This is one way to learn more about AA or for a loved one to come to learn more about the AA recovery process. Speaker meetings are often open and discussion meetings are sometimes open.
  • Closed meetings are only for members of AA or prospective AA members. Discussion meetings are sometimes closed and AA Step studies are closed. Closed meetings can help foster a sense of safety during recovery.

Rules of AA Programs

Nobody is ever required to participate, give their name or identify themselves as “alcoholics” (though many do). AA programs want members to feel comfortable with sharing and growing together, but they also recognize that everyone does this at their own pace.

12-Step programs focus on working the Steps in order to live a full life without drinking alcohol. Some people, however, may still take prescribed drugs such as antidepressants and other medications to support their overall physical and mental wellbeing.

A sponsor is a fellow AA member who often has significant recovery time. The sponsor typically works the 12 Steps of AA along with their sponsee and provides support when a person needs it.

The sponsorship aspect of the program can provide continuous, individual support for both the sponsor and the person being sponsored. This person is your personal connection to the program. They can offer phone support outside of meetings for any questions or concerns about relapse.

How to Join AA

Joining AA is as simple as acknowledging that you have a drinking problem and deciding that you want to be a member. If you have checked out the meetings and found the program to be helpful, you can simply consider yourself a member.

However, Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization specifically for people struggling with alcohol use. There are a number of other 12-Step programs for people struggling with other types of substance misuse problems and compulsive behaviors.

Other 12-Step Support Groups

Some of the other 12-Step support groups mentioned above include:

What Should I Know Before Attending an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting?

  • Try to find out more about your local AA groups. Age, gender, and socioeconomic background are all factors that can provide comfortable common ground for new members.
  • Keep an open mind. Everyone is there for the same reason: to stop drinking. You may find that this shared struggle unites the group in a unique and powerful way.
  • Don’t give up. If you go to a meeting and have a negative experience, try another meeting. Each gathering is different and just because one meeting didn’t work out for you doesn’t mean AA can’t help you.

What Does AA Do to Help People Struggling with Alcohol Addiction?

You may be wondering, ‘does AA work?’ Evidence on the effectiveness of AA is mixed. Some studies show positive effects of the program while others show neutral effects.2

What Is the AA Success Rate?

  • One study found that 67% of the people who attended at least 27 weeks of AA meetings during their first year of treatment remained abstinent at the 16-year follow-up. Only 34% of those who did not participate in the AA program remained abstinent.3
  • Another study suggests that AA can have a positive impact on a person’s transition into sobriety. It found that participation in AA predicted abstinence from alcohol.4
  • One hypothesis is that AA may help people accept and stay in treatment, but this theory requires more evidence before it can be widely accepted.5
  • AA has been found to be the most effective for people without other psychiatric problems and it seems to do a better job than other forms of therapy of inspiring total abstinence, rather than simply decreased drinking.6

Alternatives to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

A variety of types of treatment programs are available. For people who are not comfortable with the spiritual aspect of the program or the AA 12 Steps of recovery, there are alternative programs that are also free to attend.

Many non-12-Step programs are not religious. They use a self-help group approach but incorporate scientific research and focus on self-reliance. Some people who attend non-12-Step groups also may go to AA or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings.

How Do I Find 12-Step AA Meetings Near Me?

To find Alcoholics Anonymous meetings near you, contact your local AA group. A list of local meetings can also be found on the AA website. is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous or any of its subsidiaries. This information is provided as a resource for those seeking third-party information.

You can contact American Addiction Centers for free at for help finding the rehab help you need.

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