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Alcoholics Anonymous has become THE household name, the go-to place, for anyone who wants to become sober. Does its 12-step program work for everyone, though? The answer is no, and we're here to explore why.

Ask anyone whether they or someone they know has successfully sobered up without the help of medical professionals, and the answer you'll inevitably get is "yes, by attending AA meetings". 

Alcoholics Anonymous counts around 114,070 different groups in 170 countries all over the world today, with more than two million members in total. The global anti-addiction empire had humble beginnings, however. It was started by two alcoholics known as Bill W and Dr Bob in 1935. Bill W got sober after being inspired by the Christian movement he was part of, and Dr Bob in turn gained his inspiration from Bill W. Together, they decided to help other alcoholics. A whole program — called the 12-step program — resulted, along with various books, the most famous of which is simply referred to as "The Big Book" now.

Today, it's impossible to even talk about recovering from alcoholism without mentioning AA. Indeed, it's nearly impossible to set about quitting drinking without friends, relatives, medical professionals, and even courts recommending (and in some cases ordering) that you attend AA meetings. You only have to talk to one person who successfully got sober with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous to learn that AA can truly be invaluable to a recovering alcoholic.

Is AA suitable for everyone, however? The answer is a resounding "no". Why?

What Are The 12 Steps?

 First things first, what are the famous 12 steps of recovery? In most groups, they are formulated like this:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  1. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  2. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  3. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The AA website itself notes that "newcomers are not asked to accept or follow these Twelve Steps in their entirety if they feel unwilling or unable to do so". They are instead asked to keep an open mind. It is also important to note that, though many points in the 12-step program refer to God, secular groups in which no reference to God is made also exist, and of course in the case of groups tackling addictions other than those to alcohol, the wording is changed to reflect the particular addiction being dealt with. 

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