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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the most well-known treatment approaches to recovering from alcohol abuse. AA started in 1935 in Akron, Ohio. Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, both alcoholics themselves, were determined to help others quit drinking. They published what has become known as “The Big Book,” spelling out their (now well-known) 12 steps that would lead drinkers to sobriety.

In AA, members meet to help motivate and keep one another accountable for their alcohol use. The meetings are free and open to anyone who wants to stop drinking. Meetings vary but often include reading from The Big Book along with sharing stories, celebrating sobriety, and intense discussions about themes relating to drinking.

Participants in AA are encouraged to work the steps as outlined by Wilson and Smith. However, the success rate of the program is difficult to ascertain, since the group is, by its very nature, anonymous.1

There are approximately 2 million members around the world. To date, more than 130 programs have been modeled on Wilson and Smith’s original 12 steps. Though scientific evidence might be lacking, nonetheless attending AA meetings may help you on your path to sobriety.

One of the reasons for its success is that AA encourages members to look beyond their drinking problems and address underlying character defects. By adopting a new way of life, the members of AA truly attempt to begin again.


Statistics Based on AA’s Ongoing Study

Statistics are available on the viability and success of the program. The organization has conducted studies every 3 years since 1968 that include findings based on answers from a collective pool of members.

Since there is no standard definition of “success” in this area, AA uses ongoing sobriety percentages among members, according to the years they have been active, as a measure of the success of the program

In the Big Book, AA states its approximate success rate is 50%, plus 25%. This means that 50% of members stay sober, 25% of members relapse but come back, and 25% fail to use AA effectively and do not remain sober.

Overall, AA is something that offers support, direction, and comfort for those striving to remain sober. As with most approaches to sobriety, what works for you might not work for others. That’s why it’s important to define what success will mean for you as you work the 12 steps. Success as defined statistically by AA supports the motto, “Keep coming back.”

Long-Term AA Success Statistics

AA success statistics are often hard to gauge because of different variables, but statistics released in 2007 by AA reported on the success of AA members and the length of sobriety:2

  • 31% of members were sober for less than a year’s time.
  • 24% were sober for between 1 and 5 years.
  • 12% were sober for between 5 and 10 years.
  • 33% were sober for 10 or more years.

These statistics do not show a failure rate, but they indicate how AA members succeed in long-term sobriety. The average sobriety time of members that were surveyed was 8 years.

One of the most common mottos in AA is, “It works if you work it,” meaning that members are encouraged to keep coming to meetings. AA prides itself on fostering a sense of community for alcoholics. If a person is committed to sobriety and follows the AA program, there’s an improved chance they will succeed. Many people find strength and hope with AA and statistics support this sentiment.

  • About 63% of members continued recovery after initial treatment with AA.
  • Approximately 85% were members of a home group or a regularly attended group.
  • The average number of attended meetings per week was 2.5.
  • About 79% of members have a sponsor or a fellow member who provides individual support.
  • About 74% of members reported that AA was an important part of their recovery.

Many times, addicts participate in an inpatient addiction recovery program to intensely address their addiction issues, and then augment their recovery with aftercare in the form of AA meetings.


Sources

  1. Kaskutas, LA. (2009). Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets ScienceJ Addict Dis, 28(2), 145-157.
  2. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2014). Alcoholics Anonymous: 2014 Membership Survey.

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