There have been many critiques made about AA over the years, but those who point a finger at the program often only look at its negative aspects. Despite all of its flaws, AA is still widely popular with an active membership of about 2 million people worldwide—and for good reason. Here are just 12 of the positive attributes that AA offers to so many people walking in recovery every day.
1. 24-Hour Access to Other Members
AA members readily offer their phone numbers to other members and encourage struggling members to contact them at any time. This is different from seeing a psychotherapist or psychiatrist in which you’d be hard-pressed to reach someone at 12:30 am if you had a relapse or just needed to talk to someone immediately. AA also offers a 24-hour hotline for this very purpose and anyone can call and speak to a real person at any time.
2. Tolerant Atmosphere
Despite the issues regarding the clinical utility of many of AA’s principles such as the 12 steps, AA’s adherence to demanding total abstinence, etc., the program does provide a very positive support group situation that allows members to talk to each other, discuss their problems and learn from each other. AA members are open to talking to a person in need following a meeting and sharing their experience with their struggles. Attending support groups can be very important in helping struggling individuals with addiction issues.
There is essentially no cost for you to attend AA meetings. You can donate money if you wish when the basket is passed around but no one forces anyone to do anything.
4. Easy Availability
Meetings are held at all hours of the day, seven days a week and in most urban areas. You are free to attend as many or as few as you like unless of course you're mandated to attend a specific number by the courts. No other major addiction treatment program is as widely available.
5. Worldwide Locations
A person who travels frequently can attend an AA meeting nearly anywhere in the country or even in the world. Very few programs have this type of diversity.
6. Supportive Social Network
An issue many people in recovery face is that their social networks often encourage them to continue their addictive behavior. It becomes very difficult to deal with alcoholism when all your friends are heavy drinkers. As a support group, AA actually allows people to rearrange their social networks to let them deal with their addiction. Moreover, members do not blame other members for relapsing and, despite the criticisms of the 12 step doctrine, AA members are very accepting and forgiving. Failure is often considered a step closer to success by seasoned members. This support factor cannot be overstated and is one of the reasons that many people attend AA meetings.
7. Organized Structure
Many people in recovery need structure and direction in order to deal with their issues. A person who believes that their existence has a higher meaning is concerned with spiritual or deeper values or is motivated by religion will find AA quite attractive. The tenants of AA are very clear and the program offers quite a bit of reading material to assist its members.
8. Positive Reinforcement
AA offers a reinforcement program for its members in the way of recognition and praise. Positive reinforcement is a hallmark of many successful therapeutic programs for changing many different types of behaviors and dealing with mental illness. This is extremely important and often overlooked by AA critics.
9. Complement to Other Treatments
Although AA is not psychotherapy, many people who are involved in other types of treatment such as psychotherapy for their addiction attend 12 step meetings as an accompaniment to their formal treatment. AA is designed not to interfere with other formal treatment protocols for addiction and often works best as a supplement or accompaniment to them.
10. Guided Self-Awareness
AA emphasizes taking responsibility for your actions and feelings as well as being honest with yourself and others. This is actually an important step in the treatment of addiction because many people with addiction prefer to blame others for their behaviors, especially their addictive behaviors. This attitude is counterproductive to change. The notion of accepting responsibility and being honest is a major tenet of many empirically-based programs for change.
AA emphasizes confidentiality and total anonymity among its members. The program’s formal policy is that whatever is said at the tables stays at the tables and members are not allowed to talk about these issues outside of the meetings. This encourages honesty and self-examination in its members. Members only identify themselves by their first name and are free to disclose as much or as little about their situation as they wish.
12. Motivator of Change
AA inadvertently focuses on many empirically-validated mechanisms of change. A popular psychological theory of motivation is known as self-determination theory. In this theory there are three major concepts that fuel the motivation to change: 1) a feeling of confidence, 2) personal autonomy and 3) psychological relatedness. AA actually satisfies these three conditions by instilling confidence in its members through support, developing coping skills, and giving examples of how to be successful at conquering one's issues with addiction. The program is extremely focused on having its members make the right choices and being responsible for themselves and offers support as well as the ability to connect with other members with similar problems and goals.