Newcomer Frequently Asked Questions
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. 1
As A.A. sees it, alcoholism is an illness. Alcoholics cannot control their drinking, because they are ill in their bodies and in their minds (or emotions), A.A. believes. If they do not stop drinking, their alcoholism almost always gets worse and worse. Both the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, chief organizations of doctors in those countries, also have said that alcoholism is an illness.5
Not all alcoholics have the same symptoms, but many — at different stages in the illness — show these signs: They find that only alcohol can make them feel self-confident and at ease with other people; often want “just one more” at the end of a party; look forward to drinking occasions and think about them a lot; get drunk when they had not planned to; try to control their drinking by changing types of liquor, going on the wagon, or taking pledges; sneak drinks; lie about their drinking; hide bottles; drink at work (or in school); drink alone; have blackouts (that is, cannot remember the next day what they said or did the night before); drink in the morning, to relieve severe hangovers, guilty feelings and fears; fail to eat and become malnourished; get cirrhosis of the liver; shake violently, hallucinate, or have convulsions when withdrawn from liquor. 5
We in A.A. know what it is like to be addicted to alcohol, and to be unable to keep promises made to others and ourselves that we will stop drinking. We are not professional therapists. Our only qualification for helping others to recover from alcoholism is that we have stopped drinking ourselves, but problem drinkers coming to us know that recovery is possible because they see people who have done it. 2
Through the example and friendship of the recovered alcoholics in A.A., new members are encouraged to stay away from a drink “one day at a time,” as the A.A.'s do. Instead of “swearing off forever” or worrying about whether they will be sober tomorrow, A.A.'s concentrate on not drinking right now — today. By keeping alcohol out of their systems, newcomers take care of one part of their illness —their bodies have a chance to get well. But remember, there is another part. If they are going to stay sober, they need healthy minds and healthy emotions, too. So they begin to straighten out their confused thinking and unhappy feelings by following A.A.’s “Twelve Steps” to recovery.
These Steps suggest ideas and actions that can guide alcoholics toward happy and useful lives. To be in touch with other members and to learn about the recovery program, new members go to A.A. meetings regularly. 5
Like other illnesses, alcoholism strikes all sorts of people. So the men and women in A.A. are of all races and nationalities, all religions and no religion at all. They are rich and poor and just average. They work at all occupations, as lawyers and housewives, teachers and truck drivers, waitresses and members of the clergy. A.A. does not keep a list of members, but groups do report how many people belong to each one. From these reports, total A.A. membership is estimated at over 2,000,000. 5
- Make medical or psychiatric diagnoses or prognoses, or offer advice.
- Provide drying-out or nursing services, hospitalization, drugs, housing, jobs, money or other welfare services.
- Accept any money for its services or contributions from outside sources.
- Provide letters of reference to parole boards, lawyers, court officials, social agencies, employers, etc.
- Engage in or support education, research, or professional treatment. 3
You are an A.A. member if and when you say so. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking, and many of us were not very wholehearted about that when we first approached A.A. 2
- Stay away from the first drink.
- Attend A.A. meetings regularly.
- Seek out the people in A.A. who have successfully stayed sober for some time.
- Try to put into practice the A.A. program of recovery. 2
At the personal level, anonymity assures privacy for all members, a safeguard often of special significance to newcomers who may hesitate to seek help in A.A. if they have any reason to believe their alcoholism may be exposed publicly. 4
- “Open Meetings” speakers tell how they drank, how they discovered A.A., and how its program has helped them. Members may bring relatives or friends, and usually anyone interested in A.A. is also welcome to attend “open meetings.”
- “Closed Meetings” are for alcoholics only. These are group discussions, and any members who want to may speak up, to ask questions and to share their thoughts with fellow members. At “closed meetings,” A.A.s can get help with personal problems in staying sober and in everyday living. Some other A.A.s can explain how they have already handled the same problems — often by using one or more of the Twelve Steps. 5
No. A.A. does not keep membership files, or attendance records. You do not have to reveal anything about yourself. No one will bother you if you don’t want to come back. 2
A.A. has no real government. Each group is free to work out its own customs and ways of holding meetings, as long as it does not hurt other groups or A.A. as a whole. The members elect a chairperson, a secretary, and other group officers. These officers do not give orders to anybody; mostly, their job is to see that the meetings run smoothly. 5
There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership. An A.A. group will usually have a collection during the meeting to cover expenses, such as rent, coffee, etc., and to this all members are free to contribute as much or as little as they wish. 2
The purpose of all A.A. group meetings, as the Preamble states, is for A.A. members to “share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” Toward this end, A.A. groups have both open and closed meetings. Closed meetings are for A.A. members only, or for those who have a drinking problem and “have a desire to stop drinking. “Open meetings are available to anyone interested in Alcoholics Anonymous’ program of recovery from alcoholism. 4
A.A. is just for the alcoholics, but two other fellowships can help their relatives. One is Al-Anon Family Groups. The other is Alateen, for teenagers who have alcoholic parents. 5
Family members or close friends are welcome at “Open” A.A. meetings.
Discuss this with your local contact. 2
As the long form of Tradition Three clearly states, “Our membership ought to include all who suffer from alcoholism. Hence we may refuse none who wish to recover. Nor ought A.A. membership ever depend upon money or conformity. Any two or three alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an A.A. group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation.” 4
In addition to the meetings described above, groups also hold the following kinds of meetings:
- “Discussion” Whether closed or open, an A.A. member serving as “leader” or “chair” opens the meeting in the usual way and selects a topic for discussion. Background for many topic meetings derives from our Big Book, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, As Bill Sees It and the A.A. Grapevine. A few specific topic suggestions would include: acceptance versus admission, freedom through sobriety, principles versus personalities, fear (or the nameless fears), surrender, gratitude, anger, willingness, honesty, attitude, resentments, making amends, humility and tolerance.
- “Speaker” One or more members selected beforehand “share,” as described in the Big Book, telling what they were like, what happened and what they are like now. Depending upon the group conscience for general guidelines, some groups prefer that members who speak have a minimum period of continuous sobriety. Speaker meetings often are “open” meetings.
- “Beginners” Usually led by a group member who has been sober awhile, these are often question- and-answer sessions to help newcomers. (A Guide for Leading Beginners Meetings is available from G.S.O.)
- “Step” Tradition or Big Book. Because the Twelve Steps are the basis of personal recovery in A.A., many groups devote one or more meetings a week to the study of each Step in rotation; some discuss two or three Steps at a time. These same formats may be applied to group meetings on the Big Book or the Twelve Traditions. Many groups make it a practice to read aloud pertinent material from the Big Book or the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions at the onset of the meeting.
- “Business” Some groups schedule special sessions throughout the year, apart from regular meetings, for reports from group officers to discuss group affairs. Group officers usually are elected at such meetings. (See section on Business Meetings, p. 36.)
- “Group Inventory” These are meetings at which members work toward understanding how well aspects defining an A.A. group, they may call themselves an A.A. group. A.A. groups are encouraged to register at G.S.O., as well as with their area, district, intergroup or central office. 4
“Traditionally, most A.A. members through the years have found it important to belong to one group which they call ‘Home Group.’ This is the group where they accept responsibilities and try to sustain friendships. And although all A.A. members are usually welcome at all groups and feel at home at any of these meetings, the concept of the ‘Home Group’ has still remained the strongest bond between the A.A. member and the Fellowship.” (from The A.A. Service Manual).
With membership comes the right to vote upon issues that might affect the group and might also affect A.A. as a whole—a process that forms the very cornerstone of A.A.’s service structure. As with all group-conscience matters, each A.A. member has one vote; and this, ideally, is voiced through the home group. Over the years, the very essence of A.A. strength has remained with the home group, which, for many members, becomes their extended family. Once isolated by their drinking, they find in the home group a solid, continuing support system, friends and, very often, a sponsor. They also learn firsthand, through the group’s workings, how to place “principles before personalities” in the interest of carrying the A.A. message.
Talking about her own group, a member says: “Part of my commitment is to show up at my home-group meetings, greet newcomers at the door, and be available to them—not only for them but for me. My fellow group members are the people who know me, listen to me, and steer me straight when I am off in left field. They give me their experience, strength and A.A. love, enabling me to ‘pass it on’ to the alcoholic who still suffers.” 4
“The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” (Tradition Three) Thus, group membership requires no formal application. Just as we are members of A.A. if we say we are, so are we members of a group if we say we are—and we keep coming back. 4