Common Misconceptions of 12 Step Programs

Written by a Long Time AA Member and MSU Employee
Alcoholics Anonymous is a program that has helped countless people since its inception in the 1930s.· However, many people have different ideas about what happens at an AA meeting, what kinds of people attend these meetings, and even how bad off you have to be to even think about going to one.· Most of those perceptions are just plain wrong.· If you want to know more about AA and what it’s actually all about, keep reading.

Misconception:   You need to believe in God to be a member.
Truth:  The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.  “God” is mentioned at meetings and in AA literature, but it is defined as a “God of your understanding” or “a higher power.”  A common statement about God that you might here at a meeting is “all you need to know is that you aren’t it.”  The higher power can be as simple as “Good Orderly Direction.” AA is not a religious organization nor affiliated with any religious organization.

Misconception: Recovering alcoholics who attend AA meetings are mostly down and out older men. 
Truth: People of all sorts belong:  young people and old, women and men, the well off and the poor, professionals and workers, people of many races and ethnicities.  As one AA expression has it, “Everyone’s here, from Yale to jail, from Park Avenue to park bench.”  Most meetings are attended by people of many sorts, but there are also special meetings for young people, women only, men only, lawyers, doctors and others.

Misconception:  One needs to “hit bottom” by experiencing some sort of trauma such as being arrested or fired or asked to leave a relationship before going to AA.
Truth: Many people come to AA while their lives are still in decent shape.  They have money in the  bank, significant others, successful school and employment involvement. “You can get off the downward elevator at any floor and don’t have to wait to go to the bottom.”  AA is for all kinds of people who want help to stop drinking when they have found it difficult or impossible to do it alone.

Misconception:  AA is to help people with the craving that will last a lifetime.
Truth: AA participation usually leads to early relief from the craving and then goes on to help people improve their relationships with others, especially family members, friends, and co-workers, so that life can be happily enjoyed.

Misconception: Meetings focus on the grim side of life.
Truth:   Meetings focus on the truth which often leads to laughter, kindness, and joy.  Newcomers are often surprised by the light-heartedness they encounter at their early meetings.

Misconception:  You’ll be put on the spot.
Truth:  No one has to give a name.  No one has to speak.  No one asks why you’re there.  No one will tell anyone you have been there.  No one will ask you for money.  No one will ask you to do anything.

To find out the truth for yourself, think about going to a meeting.  If you aren’t sure if you want to quit, or if you aren’t sure if AA is for you, start by going to a few “open” meetings.  If you do want to stop drinking, attend a couple “closed” and/or “open” meetings

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