Frequently Asked Questions

These are personal reflections only,
and are not official positions statements from Alchoholics Anonymous
nor The Alano Squads of Willmar.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous about?

Alcoholics Anonymous is a group of recovering alcoholics helping other alcoholics with their addiction. No one knows the power of alcoholism like other alcoholics, and we come together to help each other maintain sobriety. Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the founders of AA, found that the key to maintaining their sobriety was to help other alcoholics. So, we help others with their addiction in order to help ourselves with our own addiction. Top

How do I know if I'm an alcoholic?

Step 1 says, "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol." This is an admission that the person has to make to themselves. Any number of people can tell you they think you are alcoholic, but until you admit it to yourself, nothing is really going to happen. If you are concerned about your drinking, or if you accept that others are concerned about your drinking, you may be an alcoholic.

Try this--Go here and take the AA quiz, or if you are more comfortable, go to WebMD and review the symptoms. Be honest with yourself. Come to a meeting--what's it going to hurt? There is no committment and no pressure. Top

What are meetings like?

There are different types of meetings, but regardless of which ones you go to, most start in similar ways. At the beginning, we recite the "Serenity Prayer" (upper right of this page), then there will be such things as introductions ("I'm Bill and I'm an alcoholic"), readings from the Big Book and others, announcements, passing the basket, and so on. After that, depending on the type of group, different things could happen:

  • for a "topic" meeting, a topic is introduced then each person take a few minutes to comment on the topic.
  • for a "Big Book" meeting, a few pages are read out of the AA Big Book, then discussed.
  • for a "step" meeting, each meeting focuses on one of the 12 steps, discussing it and helping people understand what the step is about.

We end with the Lord's Prayer. Most meetings in the Willmar area run about 1 hour. Sometimes they may run a little longer as we want to allow time to provide the help and support that people come seeking at AA. Top

What is the difference between an "open" meeting and a "closed" meeting?

Most AA meetings are "closed" meetings in that they are for people who want to be members of AA--that is, for alcoholics/addicts who want to quit using. If you are coming to AA to seek support in not drinking or using, you qualify for closed meetings--that's all it takes. Open meetings are those where non-alcoholics are welcome--family, friends, or even people who just want to check it out. So the big difference is that closed meetings are for alcoholics seeking help, and open meetings are for anyone. Top

What does it cost?

Nothing. There are no dues or fees. According the 7th Tradition, AA is self supporting. We deliberately don't want to be funded by outside sources because of the danger of becoming obligated to others. So, you will see a basket go around at the meeting and people will toss in a couple of bucks--if they can. We all know and respect that there are times you just don't have any money to throw in--and that's fine. You are still most welcome. The money tossed in helps offset the cost of the coffee, the building, utilities, books, and so on. If you can donate, a guideline to use can be "how much does your drink of choice cost at a bar?" Can you donate the cost of 1 drink? Again, you donate what you can IF you can. Don't ever let the lack of money keep you from AA. Top

Why do people introduce themselves by saying "I'm an alcoholic"?

Step 1 says "we admitted we were powerless over alcohol." By introducing ourselves as alcoholics, we continue to remind ourselves and reaffirm that powerlessness. If we ever forget that we are powerless over alcohol, we're in big trouble. Top

If I'm powerless over alcohol, how can I quit?

This is a common question, and it does seem contradictory. When we say we are powerless over alcohol, we mean that when we start drinking, we can't stop. We don't have the same mechanisms inside us to moderate our drinking, to tell us when to stop. We aren't social drinkers--we lose our power to make decisions about alcohol once we start using it. So by admitting we are powerless over alcohol, we are admitting we have to find a way to deal with that drive to drink--and that's what AA does. Like any chronic disease, before it can be managed, it has to be diagnosed and the patient has to accept that diagnosis. Once we admit we are sick, we then seek out treatment for that illness. Top

What is the "Big Book"?

The "Big Book" is the "bible" of AA. It is the book that lays out this "simple program of recovery." It lays out the 12 steps, and overall addresses what it is like to be an alcoholic, the problems our alcoholism cause, and how to stay sober by focusing on helping other alcoholics maintain their sobriety. You can read the book online, or you can buy it at meetings, bookstores, or from online sources. It is the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous. Top

What does it mean to "work your program"?

What does it mean to "work your program"? Working your program means making a conscious effort to work at staying sober. It means going to meetings, reading the Big Book, doing what the steps tell you to do, and thoughtfully learning how to use the AA tools to stay sober. The "program" is the AA program of recovery, and "to work it" simply means to follow what it tells you to do, but diligently, honestly, and thoroughly. Top

What are the 12 Steps?

The 12 steps were developed by the founders of AA as a program to follow to manage one's alcoholism. So when AAer's speak of "working the program," it means to actively follow the steps and do as they recommend. Top

How difficult a program is it?

It is actually quite simple and straightfoward, except we alcoholics like to overcomplicate it. In a nutshell, the simplicity of AA is "Don't drink. Go to meetings. Work the program." However, many people want to rush the program (recovery is time-consuming); over-analyze the program (it really is simple and straightforward); or otherwise make it more difficult than it is. Yes, it is work--sobriety is not automatic--we have to work to get it, and we have to work to maintain it. But if we just take time, read the materials, listen to those more experienced in the program, and commit to working an ongoing program of recovery, we can enter a time of prolonged sobriety.

This is not to say that quitting drinking is easy. If anyone knows that, AAers do. After all, if quitting drinking was easy, we wouldn't need AA. Let the people at AA help you quit and teach you how to live without the need for alcohol. Top

I haven't gone to a formal treatment program, so I can I still come?

Absolutely. Many members have used AA as their "treatment" program without going to rehab. In fact, AA started because there was no "treatment" for alcoholics, and alcohol recovery programs--at least most of them--are built on the AA approach. Treatment can be the kick in the butt we need to get into AA, but going to meetings and working the AA program is what keeps us sober. Top

How many meetings do I need to go to?

As many as it takes. As one AAer put is, "Meeting makers make it." Especially early in sobriety, the more meetings you attend, the better off you are going to be. It helps offset the urge to drink, and you can really learn a lot about how the program works. You make connections, start to build sober friendships, and generally start to shift your life from a drinking life to a sober life. Many people follow the "30 days 30 meetings" guideline--in your first 30 days, you hit a meeting every single day. You may say, "I don't have time for that." Yet we certainly found time to drink, and that was a lot more than 1 hour a day! Top

What if I don't feel comfortable at the meeting?

You probably won't feel comfortable at the first meeting. It is all new and most of us don't feel comfortable in new situations. Give it some time, try different meetings, and don't rush it. In the end, you will find a "home group" (a group you feel most comfortable with and feel it is your 'base' group), and you will find other groups you enjoy going to. But keep in mind too, that you have to be open-minded and willing to try to fit in. If you don't make an effort yourself, it won't work. Top

This whole "higher power" thing bothers me--I'm not very religious.

The issue of the "higher power" is probably the biggest sticking point for people new to AA. Usually outsiders and newcomers assume it means a specific religious viewpoint, yet it does not. First, AA is not a religious organization and has no affiliation with ANY religion. At most AA meetings--unless they are identified as coming from a specific religious viewpoint--the issue of "higher power" is considered to be what YOU find it to be.

Believing in a higher power means believing in the power of something greater than yourself. For many, that is a classic sense of God. For some their higher power may be the AA group, or a belief in the power of the greater good. Remember, though, that AA is world-wide in dozens of different cultures and religions, so clearly there's a lot of different ways of looking at the idea of the higher power. Your sponsor and group can help you get a sense of what a "higher power" is, but you need to find your higher power that works for you. Top

What is a "sponsor"?

A sponsor is a person with some significant sobriety (at least more than 1 year) who helps you one-on-one in AA. This is a person you can visit with and discuss your specific situation. He/she will help you understand the program, how to work it, what sobriety is about, and generally serve as a guide in AA. Sponsors can range from fairly gentle and "hands off" ("call me if you need to talk or have problem") to fairly strict and specific in their expectations ("call me every day;" "go to a meeting 4 times a week;" "we meet for coffee 2 times a week," etc.). To find a sponsor, first go to a few meetings. At these meetings, you will quickly start to get a feel for others there. Once you find someone that seems they know what they are doing, approach them and ask. Getting a sponsor is a standard part of AA, so don't be afraid to ask. Even if you are turned down, don't take it personally.

One last thought about sponsors--your sponsor should be same sex. You want this to be about staying sober, and nothing more. Also, the issues facing men and the issues facing women can be different, so a same sex sponsor may be able to relate to your situation better. Top

When do the urges go away?

It takes time. Keep in mind your body and mind are so used to using alcohol (or other drugs) to deal with life issues that it will take a bit to "retrain" yourself to consider other ways of coping. There are no standard rules about how long you will feel urges--there are too many variables. However, if you go to meetings, work your program, stay away from triggers to drink (like, staying out of the bars), you will find your urges becoming less frequent. Remember, it took time to become an alcoholic, and it takes time to become sober. Top

How long does it take to be cured?

Until you die. Alcoholism is a life-time illness. We can manage it and live with it, using tools like AA, but we will never be cured until we are dead. That's overwhelming for someone new in sobriety, so in AA we focus on "One Day At A Time." We're only concerned about being sober right now, today. If we can get through today without drinking, we're doing great. We don't know what tomorrow will bring, so we don't worry about.

However, as you move further into your sobriety, you will learn that life is wonderful without alcohol. The urges and "white knuckling" you feel early on will fade, if you work at it, and you will begin to live sober. Sobriety is so much more than just not drinking; it is a way of living, looking at the world, and coping with life's issues. AA teaches you how to do that.

Do all of our lives become perfect and problems go away when we quit drinking and live sober? Of course not. But two things: we create fewer problems since we are not drinking; and the problems that do come up seem far, far more manageable. As one AAer puts it, "There is no problem that can't be made worse by drinking." AA is a place we go to for help in managing life. Top

Is alcoholism a disease?

Yes. The Journal of the American Medical Association defines alcoholism as "a primary, chronic disease characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking." The DSM-IV (the standard for diagnosis in psychiatry and psychology) defines alcohol abuse as repeated use despite recurrent adverse consequences. Good overviews of the disease of alcoholism can be found at WebMD or at The Mayo Clinic. Top


Valid CSS!