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Alcoholics Anonymous answer to PHE about common myths regarding AA

30 January 2020

Public Health England (PHE) asked Alcoholics Anonymous to clarify their view on the most commonly held myths about AA. AA replied with the letter to Tony Mercer, Programme Manager, PHE, below.

Tony Mercer.
Programme Manager,
Public Health England,
West Midlands Centre.

Dear Tony

12 step recovery myths

Thank you for your request for the opinions of Alcoholics Anonymous in relation to what we would consider to be misinformation about Twelve Step programmes. We share your concern about exploding myths, not least because we believe that they inhibit people from joining the supportive networks that can support their recovery. I'll take your first two questions first and provide answers to these.

  1. What are the common myths and misunderstandings among professionals that you have come across about 12 step recovery?
  2. What have been your responses to these?

First of all, there may be a misconception that people have to be sober and to remain sober, or they will be not allowed or excluded from meetings. This is not correct. AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Secondly, there may be a perception that AA is in some way a religious organisation.  This is also not true. AA members may practise different kinds of religions, be agnostic or atheist. What they do share in common is a belief that there is a power bigger than each of us as individuals. That's what God means in the AA context. The greater power may lie within someone's religious belief or it may be completely separate. For example, someone might look at the sea and acknowledge that it is a greater power. By accepting this, we find the ability to draw on that source of power to support the individual's recovery.

Thirdly, there may be a belief that by taking a position of not allying with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution; not wishing to engage in any controversy; and neither endorsing nor opposing any causes, AA is somehow separating itself from the world. This is not the case. Members are very much in the world, but their primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.  While holding to those traditions, we actively seek to engage with public institutions and professionals so that they know about the support we can offer and promote it and also so that they have an awareness of the lived experience of AA members so that they can develop effective strategies to support their recovery.

Fourthly, there may be a sense that 12 step fellowships think that they have a privileged position in supporting and maintaining recovery. This is not the case. Although they support others, AA members can only take responsibility for their own individual recovery and if others find other routes, that's fine and not AA members' business. However, investment in one's own personal recovery comes about by providing service to others. This includes becoming a sponsor, working alongside people to help them build and maintain recovery, practical actions like taking people to meetings and also being available by telephone if people need that.

As a final point, we are sometimes aware that sometimes when people have had unhelpful experiences with AA members, whether or not in meetings, they can make judgements about the movement as a whole. For example, perhaps some women have experienced some male members as sexist? Perhaps some groups did feel more religious than people were comfortable with? Some groups might feel challenging for some young people as they are dominated by older members?  Without suggesting that these experiences are not sincere and real, I think that it's a mistake to label a whole movement based on these. I can assure you that, in line with our traditions and interpreting these in the contemporary context, we are working constantly to ensure that our movement is as opening and welcoming to all people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, religious or non-religious affinity and/or any other matter that can make people feel stigmatised.  We take the issue of promoting equality and inclusivity as a core value.

I hope that's helpful and I will now address your other two questions.

  1. Do you have links to any official literature on this that can be included in the final document?

The best source of information about any of these matters is the AA website, https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk . I would draw attention to these specific sections:

About AA


Frequently asked questions


Public Information 


Home page. About AA. What is AA?


We also have a large number of leaflets and books that are listed on our AA Great Britain website www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk


The God Word - aimed at members?

Message to Professionals - wordy but covers many of the topics but not all 

  1. Any other thoughts on this issue

As individuals and as an organisation, we are constantly learning, constantly reviewing and hopefully improving. We welcome all input and suggestions to support that improvement and we are very grateful to you for asking us these important questions.

I hope that's helpful.

Best wishes

Peter F.

Board Trustee and Chair of Public Information Sub Committee

General Service Board, Alcoholics Anonymous Great Britain.

29th January 2020


Note to desk

Alcoholics Anonymous Awareness month is November each year, coinciding with Alcohol Change's Alcohol Awareness Week 11-17th Nov 2020

The national free number is 0800 9177 650, manned by AA members and covers the whole of Great Britain.

There is also help by email at help@aamail.org 

Information about AA and where to find AA meetings is at  www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk 

All AA meetings are free, confidential, non-judgemental and there is an AA meeting every day of the week. 

There is also a Chat Now facility on the website.

We can supply local recovery stories and contacts and local meetings lists are online.

Please contact media@aamail.org