Does AA Work? Does it Really Help People Quit Drinking Permanently?

Alcoholics Anonymous works for some people and doesn’t work for other people.

In fact, the majority of people who try AA, don’t quit drinking after the first time they attend.

BUT, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people get and stay sober.

I liken AA to baseball batting.  Getting a hit 300 out 1,000 at bat is a great achievement.  The point is that with many things in the world, success is not an all-or-nothing proposition, but instead is measured in degrees.

Nobody can give you an accurate percentage of people who successfully stop drinking with AA.  It’s impossible.  Percentages are bandied about by some people in meetings, but it’s only speculation.  The reason AA can’t give an accurate percentage of success is because it doesn’t track the contact information of attendees.  AA does not keep track of people who stop drinking and people who don’t stop drinking.  Therefore, there’s no way to give a percentage of success.

That said, the fact AA has millions of members and established groups in almost every country in the world, and groups in pretty much ever town and city in many cities (not to mention many online meetings) with members who have 10 + years of sobriety means that, yes, AA works for a lot of people.

AA worked for me

I did not attend a treatment center.  I probably would have benefited from a treatment center, but I didn’t have the funds at the time.  Moreover, I was in school and had a job.  Ultimately AA worked for me.

Before I attended my first AA meeting, I worked with two people who attended AA.  One of them struggled staying sober, but this other co-worker was a remarkable guy.  In fact, I had no idea he was an alcoholic.  He was so poised, confident, kind and professional.  I really looked up to him as a person.  When I learned he attended AA, it didn’t take me long to talk to him about my drinking.

He wasn’t surprised that I was starting to think that I should stop drinking.  At that point I had made some half-hearted attempts to stop drinking on my own.  He knew I was a heavy drinker, but he never preached to me.  In fact, he never talked to me about AA and alcoholism until I went to him.

Anyway, this co-worker took me to my first meeting.  I didn’t stay sober, but the seed was planted.  It took me about a year of attending meetings and stringing a series of weeks and months together until I finally quit drinking.

In the end, AA worked for me.  I’m forever grateful to that co-worker of mine who took me to my first meeting. He explained to me what to expect and was really cool about everything.  Even when I relapsed during my first year in and out of AA, he never got on my case or preached.  He just made it clear I could attend a meeting with him whenever I wanted to.

Does AA help people cut down their drinking (instead of quitting altogether)?

Yes, but this is not the purpose of AA.  I say yes because many people stop for a few weeks and then drink again, so technically it does help people cut back on their drinking.

However, there’s a fairly substantiated theory in AA, which is often discussed in meetings, and that’s the fact that the disease of alcoholism progresses even when one doesn’t drink.  What this means is that if you stop drinking for a few years and then resume drinking, you’ll quickly end up at the stage of drinking and the disease as if you’ve never quit drinking.  Alcoholism is touted as a progressive disease that can only be successfully handled through total abstinence.

My drinking and sobriety story supports the progressive aspect of the disease.  My first long-term stint of sobriety was 3 years.  After 3 years of sobriety I decided to drink again.  Within 1 weekend I was blacking out worse than ever.  I continued drinking for 2 years and those 2 years were the worst drinking I ever did … and my shame was earth shattering.

Therefore, AA is in the business of helping people cut back on their drinking and/or become a functional alcoholic.  AA’s message is that total abstinence is the only way to address alcoholism.

This does NOT mean that if you don’t stop drinking after attending AA that you aren’t welcome.  Most people who attend, drink again.  Most people take time to finally quit drinking entirely.  I did and many fellow sober alcoholics I know also drank after their first few, several or many meetings.  That’s okay and it’s nothing to beat yourself up over.  If you keep attending, staying sober can stick.

Is AA the only way to get sober?

Some members in AA say AA is the only way.  I disagree.  I’m not a purist member.  I believe there are other ways, treatment centers, programs to get sober and live a happy sober life.

In my view, AA is merely a vessel or means to experiencing the epiphany needed for getting and staying sober.  If AA really turns you off, which it does for some people, look for non-AA treatment center options, consider religion and/or other programs.  If they don’t work you’re always welcome to try AA again.

Many people are sober without AA.  I went the AA route because it was convenient, free and I knew a guy who sobered up through AA.  I stuck with AA, even after I continued drinking for some time because I learned from other members that they too too many meetings and relapses until they got sober.  That was enough for me … and so I just kept going back.

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