Brief Guide to Alcoholics Anonymous

What is alcoholism?
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.

What are the symptoms?
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fail to eat and become malnourished; get cirrhosis of the liver; shake violently, hallucinate, or have convulsions when withdrawn from liquor.

What is A.A.?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a worldwide fellowship of men and women who help each other to stay sober. They offer the same help to anyone who has a drinking problem and wants to do something about it. Since they are all alcoholics themselves, they have a special understanding of each other. They know what the illness feels like — and they have learned how to recover from it in A.A. A.A. members say that they are alcoholics today — even when they have not had a drink for many years. They do not say that they are “cured.” Once people have lost their ability to control their drinking, they can never again be sure of drinking safely — or, in other words, they can never become “former alcoholics” or “ex-alcoholics.” But in A.A., they can become sober alcoholics, recovered alcoholics.

What are A.A. meetings?

Alcoholics Anonymous is established in approximately 170 countries. The people in each group get together, usually once or twice a week, to hold A.A. meetings, of two main types:

  1.  At “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.”
  2. “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.