The group originated in 1935 when Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith formed a group in Akron, Ohio, for those suffering from alcoholism.1 The concept of the group revolves around the fact that alcoholism is an illness that can’t be controlled but can be managed. Additionally, the group centers on spirituality and its impact on recovering from alcoholism.2
Alcoholics Anonymous uses the 12-step approach. Members complete each step on their path to recovery, often with the help of a sponsor.
Members can revisit the steps at any point. Some people work them multiple times.
Per the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 51.7% of people age 12 and older reported drinking in the past month while 24.5% of people age 12 and older binge drank in the past month (5 or more drinks on one occasion for men, 4 or more drinks for women). In addition, 6.1% stated they engaged in heavy alcohol use over the past month (binge drinking on 5 or more days over the past 30 days).3
In 2015, only 4.4% of people age 12 and older with alcoholism received treatment.4
With the prevalence of alcohol abuse and addiction in the U.S. and around the world, the widespread presence of AA is not a surprise. Alcoholics Anonymous has more than 115,000 groups worldwide.5
A survey conducted by AA in 2014 showed that:5
Success is a vague term to describe the prognosis of the program. Some people never relapse while others relapse and never relapse again after that initial bump in the road.
There isn’t an exact success rate available since many of the results are published by AA and vary based on several factors. Because AA is anonymous, some members of the group don’t participate in studies since it could breach the anonymity of the group. Many want their participation in AA to remain unidentified, in line with the group’s original intention. Additionally, participants might not want to admit to relapse.
Moreover, the people who attend meetings change constantly since people drop out. In fact, 40% of people drop out of AA during the first year, according to some studies.6
Although AA has been criticized by some sources for having a low success rate, the rate likely isn’t 5% like some say it is.7
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism featured results on a long-term study on AA members. The study consisted of formally treated, informally treated (AA), and untreated individuals who suffered from an alcohol problem.10
A study conducted on males from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs showed abstinence rates of those recovering from alcohol abuse at one year and 18 months. Approximately, 20-25% of those who didn’t attend a 12-step program, such as AA, or another aftercare program were abstinent from alcohol and drugs after one year. On the other hand, the abstinence rate was nearly twice as high for those who attended AA or another similar 12-step program without any aftercare. The results were evident that the more meetings people attended and the longer they were in the program, the greater the chances of alcohol and drug abstinence.11
Another study mentioned in the same publication observed a smaller outpatient sample. The results concluded that over 70% of those who attended a 12-step program weekly for 6 months before the two-year follow-up point were abstinent from alcohol. Another study conducted on those with an untreated drinking problem showed 70% of those with 27 weeks or more in AA were abstinent from alcohol at the 16-year follow-up mark. Moreover, the study revealed those with a shorter duration of time in AA had lower rates of abstinence.11
Those looking for a recovery support group after they’ve already sought out addiction treatment may benefit greatly from a 12-step approach. However, people should research their options and determine if a spiritual approach to recovery is ideal for their needs. An effective addiction aftercare program fits a person’s specific needs, and in some cases, a more secular approach to recovery may be preferable.
Lack of participation appears to hinder the results of the program. If people don’t adhere to the structure and attend regular meetings, they won’t receive the full benefit of the program, so it’s important that people are committed to AA to succeed.
. Alcoholics Anonymous. Historical Data: The Birth of A.A. and Its Growth in the U.S./Canada.
. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2017). This is A.A. An introduction to the A.A. Recovery Program.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Behavioral Health Barometer, United States, Volume 4.
. Alcoholics Anonymous. 2014 Membership Survey.
. Lilienfeld, S. and Arkowitz, H. (2011). Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work? Scientific American.
. Stein, J. and Forgione, M. (2011). Charlie Sheen claims AA has a 5% success rate – is he right? Los Angeles Times.
. Friedman, R. (2014). Taking Aim at 12-Step Programs. The New York Times.
. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2001).Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered From Alcoholism.
. Kelly, J. and Yeterian, J. The Role of Mutual-Help Groups in Extending the Framework of Treatment. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
. Kaskutas, L.A. (2009). Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 28(2), 145–157.