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Armed services

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) - special focus on service personnel and veterans

Introduction

Within the armed services, alcoholism can have a negative impact on unit readiness and morale. AA may be able to help if there is such a problem in your organisation or among others you may know. Alcoholism can strike anywhere regardless of profession, rank, age, or background. This information is as relevant to service families as to the serving personnel themselves.

The purpose of this section is to introduce AA to professionals within the armed services or MOD who may encounter problem drinkers during the course of their work, and to present how AA might be able to help. You may be a commanding officer, a chaplain, a medical officer, a counsellor, or a welfare worker - or may simply have observed a drinking problem in a friend or colleague. Whatever your relationship to the problem drinker, this information may help.

This information applies equally to:

  • Public sector organisations, including NHS England, Clinical Commissioning Groups, other NHS entities, public health departments within local authorities, the Ministry of Defence, and other public sector agencies concerned with the health and welfare of veterans and their families.
  • Services charities.
  • Other charities providing services to veterans and their families as part of a broader remit.

For information about accessing meetings or about AA in general, please see the banner at the top of the page.. Some additional information about AA specifically for members of the armed services:

  • AA is a global organisation with meetings in scores of countries, meaning that, wherever an individual is stationed, there may well be an AA presence;
  • on occasion there are groups that meet 'inside the wire', but groups typically meet in the local community;
  • there is a network of AA members who live in remote areas where there is no local group to attend, who have their own newsletter entitled Loners International;
  • anonymity - as AA's name suggests - is a prized tradition of the fellowship, and this is no less true for serving personnel;
  • there are many established AA members who are current or former service personnel, and current or former service do not present a barrier to entry; we are also able to put newcomers in touch with such members.

We are aware that there are many other structures and agencies - both within the armed services and in the local community - that assist problem drinkers. We are not in competition with any such groups; we merely offer a resource that has been invaluable to us as ex-problem drinkers. AA groups tend to meet in the evenings (although early morning, lunchtime, and afternoon meetings are held in certain locations), and AA attendance does not preclude participation in any other programmes aimed at assisting the problem drinker.

How AA can further assist professionals

(1) Written materials

  • Existing AA pamphlets and fliers aimed at (a) professionals who encounter or help alcoholics and (b) problem drinkers interested in the possibility that AA may be able to help them. The latter category includes general materials aimed at any problem drinkers and materials tailored for problem drinkers who are service personnel or veterans. These materials are available for distribution in hard copy.
  • New materials in soft copy that are more easily distributable. These can be drawn up based on existing materials and can be tailored to the needs of the organisation through which they are being distributed or based on the specific target audience.

(2) People

  • Armed Services Liaison Officers ('ASLOs') able to present to professionals to explain what AA can offer and how problem drinkers can access AA.
  • In areas where there are no local ASLOs in role, Public Information/Health Liaison Officers equally equipped to provide the above service.
  • Volunteers coordinated by ASLOs to hold informal AA meetings in facilities or settings where problem drinkers are seeking help (either on an inpatient or an outpatient/drop-in basis), to hold brief, informal presentations, or to talk one-to-one to problem drinkers.
  • 12th-steppers (experienced AA members practising the '12th step' of AA's 12-step programme, which is to attempt to carry AA's message of recovery to alcoholics). These individuals can introduce problem drinkers to AA and ensure they are given a firm foundation.

How professionals can access this help

Call the General Service Office on 01904 644026 or email gso@alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk requesting the assistance of your nearest Armed Services Liaison Officer.

How individual problem drinkers can access AA

Access pathways:

  • Attending an AA meeting can be a good way of identifying whether AA might be able to help. Many meetings are open to visitors or those who have not yet committed to AA but would like to find out more about it for themselves.
  • This website offers instant access to up-to-date details of AA meetings nationally (and English-speaking meetings in continental Europe). Anyone wishing to attend a meeting may simply look up a location and attend. Whilst this suits some people, we generally find it more effective for an individual’s first encounter with AA to be a little more structured.
  • The individual can call the main telephone number 0800 9177 650 or email the main email address help@alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk to discuss his or her problem with another alcoholic. Based on this conversation, the individual can be provided with details of local AA meetings over the phone and/or by post. For many, this provides a sufficient introduction.
  • AA also offers a 12th-stepping service (see above). This can be accessed through the telephone number or email address given above. Typically, this will be offered during the first contact. A '12th-step call' is where a couple of established AA members visit or meet the problem drinker and take him or her to their first AA meeting. 12th-steppers can introduce the individual to local AA members, explain how AA works, answer questions, address reservations or fears, and often provide longer-term experience and counsel.
  • AA has a 12th-stepping service specifically for the armed services. This service uses a database of established AA members who also have armed services experience. We have found that similar biographical experience can help to overcome apparent obstacles to joining AA. Many problem drinkers believe that some complicating aspect of their personal histories will mean AA will not work because, as they see it, they are ‘different’. A talk with someone whose experiences closely mirror their own can reduce or overcome entirely this sense of difference.
  • This service can be accessed as follows: it can be requested directly from the telephone or email service by asking for a 12th-step call from someone on the ‘armed services 12th-steppers list’; it can also be requested through the local armed services liaison officer, who will have a copy of the database, too. There is a good chance that the volunteer answering the phone will offer this spontaneously, but if the caller knows the service is available, this can help where the volunteer is not aware of this relatively new service.
For more information about accessing meetings or about AA in general, please see the banner at the top of the page.