James Haggerty Recovery
Relapse Prevention

Principles and Lessons Learned in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

April 17, 2024
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Lessons Learned in Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as AA, is a group where people come together to discuss alcoholism and participate in steps designed to help each other stop drinking alcohol. There are 12 steps to follow to help people stay sober and continue on their road to recovery, and while active step work may not occur during the meeting itself, in AA, people share their stories and support each other. It is a community created to help people feel encouraged and understood as others share similar experiences.

Through AA, I’ve learned a lot about myself and gained many of the tools I needed to stay sober. While the road isn’t always easy, the community really does make a difference. That’s because when the group is involved, AA isn’t just about quitting drinking. It’s about reclaiming our lives and finding joy in our lives without substance use. The lessons and principles I’ve learned in the process have helped me through my life.

What Is The Main Goal of AA?

As mentioned, the main goal of Alcoholics Anonymous is to help individuals achieve and maintain sobriety from alcohol addiction. This is achieved through the community of supporters in AA, where all participants adhere to the 12 steps and assist other members. AA strives to achieve this by providing a safe environment full of understanding so no one feels alone. They can also discuss and develop coping strategies to live fulfilling lives without alcohol.

What Does AA Teach People?

Alcoholics Anonymous takes its group members through 12 steps, which were created to facilitate self-discovery and healing. While the main point is to achieve sobriety from alcohol, the intent truly goes deeper than managing symptoms and teaches participants how to recognize and navigate triggers. It also teaches self-awareness and encourages internal reflection while accepting help and assistance from other people.

One of the main teachings of AA is service. This act of service goes both ways, where members receive help from others while also being available to be a place of help for other people on their recovery journey.

AA teaches individuals how to maintain lasting sobriety throughout our lives as well as how to help others. It shows us how to engage in our personal growth journey, which is continuous.

What Are Some Important Lessons From AA?

While there are plenty of lessons that can be learned from AA, I’ve identified several that are especially important for continued growth and healing.

Thriving Is Best Achieved Through Companionship and Mutual Support

In AA, members mutually support each other. The encouragement is reciprocal, so everyone is on the road to sobriety together, no matter the circumstances that may have led them there. This lesson helps extend beyond the AA community, where we can help provide the same support on community, national, and global levels. This support should also extend beyond the issue of alcoholism and also help people address the underlying issues that contribute to its presence.

On a more individual level, marriages can be renewed, people can lean on each other for strength, and we can combat anxiety with understanding and support.

Second Chances Should Be Available to Everyone

Everyone makes mistakes. While all mistakes have their own set of consequences, AA teaches that everyone deserves the opportunity to address those mistakes and move on. AA advocates for its members to reconcile with those they may have harmed. It also encourages us to engage in ongoing self-reflection through personal inventory.

Self-reflection Is an Important Part of Living

As you can see, AA emphasizes accountability and personal growth, encouraging us to take responsibility for our actions and confront our fears and resentments. Self-reflection is key to this journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

What Does the Phrase “One Day at a Time” Mean?
This leads to a more compassionate and fulfilling existence while also encouraging a judgment-free mindset. This mindset brings us to the realization of our passions and potential.

AA encourages participants to reflect daily and to live life one day at a time. We acknowledge that our pasts shape us, our present defines us, and our future inspires us. This gives us peace in the middle of turmoil. While life can sometimes become overwhelming, we focus on the present. This allows us to tackle challenges with resilience, one step at a time.

There Are Plenty of Others Who Share in Our Struggles

We learn in AA that we are not alone. While many of us are alcoholics, addiction can take many different forms. For example, there are people who are addicted to alcohol, pornography, sex, gambling, eating, not eating, and technology, just to name a few. Despite how prevalent addiction is in our society today, it still comes with a stigma, which enforces shame, hiding, and loneliness.

Rather than succumbing to loneliness, AA encourages us to share our imperfections and fears. This is a powerful catalyst for building community and support via connections with others who experience similar struggles. These connections, often forgotten amidst addiction, cultivate empathy and understanding. We embrace our collective vulnerabilities, breaking down the false necessity of isolation and allowing others to know that we are not alone.

Other Lessons in AA

Other lessons learned in AA include :

  • Setting boundaries – Setting boundaries involves clearly communicating personal limits, such as avoiding certain situations that may contribute to alcohol consumption or temptation and refraining from environments that could jeopardize recovery. These boundaries protect us from potential relapse and create an environment conducive to the journey of sobriety.
  • Understanding your vulnerability to alcohol – This involves recognizing our personal triggers, particularly stressful situations that can lead to alcohol use. With insight into these vulnerabilities, we can help develop strategies to manage cravings and avoid relapse.
  • Understanding vulnerabilities around your own character defects – This lesson includes acknowledging and addressing personal traits that contribute to alcohol misuse. This could be anything from low self-esteem to trouble managing emotions.

What Are Some of the Principles of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Hope in AA

Alcoholics Anonymous has multiple principles, just as it has multiple steps. These principles serve as the guiding force on the journey to recovery, emphasizing community, acceptance, and personal growth, fostering a journey of spiritual and emotional healing.


In the twelve steps of AA, hope is the belief that you can overcome any addiction that has a hold on your life. This step comes naturally for those who have already learned to rely on a higher power for help, but even those who don’t are able to find hope in their own version of that higher power. Hope acknowledges that there may be bad days, but there is a higher power that can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Forgiveness is essential in the recovery process, which is why there are two steps that cover forgiveness in the AA Big Book. First, we forgive those who have wronged us. Second, we forgive ourselves. We release ourselves from the bitterness that others have caused us or that we may have caused ourselves through our actions towards others. This cultivates a sense of inner peace and reconciliation.


Acceptance is knowing that it’s ok to make mistakes. Acceptance is not passive, but is an active choice to confront the truth of one’s situation and move toward sobriety. This means we can accept the reality of the situation with no denial or resistance, letting go of past regrets and living in the present moment. Through acceptance, AA members find liberation from addiction and move toward healing.


Humility comes from knowing our strengths and weaknesses. It is not about self-deprecation but the recognition of our limitations and how we can learn from others. This allows us to have openness to new perspectives and understand the importance of support and guidance.


One of the main philosophies of AA is being aware that we are powerless against alcohol. This is a pivotal step on the road to recovery. This allows the individual to confront the reality of their situation, which brings self-awareness and accountability and opens the door for sobriety to take place. Sobriety, in turn, enables people to develop healthy habits and hobbies to replace alcohol.


It’s important for us as AA members to focus on ourselves and not get consumed in other people’s lives and issues in a way that distracts us from our own progress. While this does not mean being self-centered, as AA is a community of people who mutually support each other, it is important not to get lost in what the next person is going through. This prevents us from intentionally or unintentionally being distracted from the work we need to do to improve.

Coping Strategies

Many coping strategies used in alcohol addiction treatment can reduce problems in the short term but create more problems in the long term. These include avoidance, alcohol consumption, denial, isolation, self-medication, escapism, and risky behavior such as driving under the influence, unprotected sex, and instigating confrontations with others. These can put people at risk of further legal, financial, and personal consequences.

AA helps us develop healthier methods of coping. These coping strategies include:

  • Avoiding triggers
  • Seeking support (building a network of friends, peers, and support groups)
  • Healthy distractions (engaging in healthier activities such as exercising, hobbies, and creative outlets)
  • Stress management (learning healthy stress relief ways such as meditation and deep breathing)
  • Therapy (individual or group)
  • Medication (sometimes can be prescribed to assist with withdrawal symptoms or help diminish cravings)
  • Lifestyle changes (including healthy sleep habits and eating a balanced diet)
AA encourages healthier methods of coping while assisting with helping us recognize unhealthy ways of coping. Perhaps most importantly, AA encourages practicing these skills, both in and out of AA meetings.

So, What Is The Best Lesson from AA?

I receive this question quite a bit, but I think it’s important to stress that all lessons from AA are important and essential to our journey to recovery. Each person gains insight into their own life as well as the lives of others and embarks on a journey to a more fulfilling existence. The lessons they learn and the ones that are most significant to them are dependent on their individual experience.

In my own opinion, however, one of the greatest lessons AA has to teach is the transformative power of community and mutual support and their ability to facilitate healing in those who are willing to work the steps. Recovery is not a solitary effort, but people come together to share their experiences as well as offer their support.

Because we have this shared bond, it opens the meeting space up for understanding, acceptance, and encouragement. Together, we can learn the importance of connection, empathy, and accountability in overcoming adversity. Ultimately, this is how AA proves to us that no one is alone in their journey.

There’s Always Hope

AA Lessons for those in Recovery

The road to recovery is never an easy one. However, the beautiful thing is that there is new hope available each day. When I reflect on my journey with Alcoholics Anonymous, I am filled with gratitude for the support and guidance I have received from this incredible community. AA has not only helped me on my road to recovery, but it has helped me find a newfound purpose and connection. I have learned valuable lessons about resilience, self-awareness, and human connection, and I am grateful to be able to share these insights with others.

If you or someone you know has struggled with alcohol addiction, let me be the first to remind you that you are not alone. There is hope for a brighter future, and taking the first step can be truly life-changing. That first step can be reaching out to a loved one for help, attending your first AA meeting, or seeking therapy.

To stay connected and receive ongoing support and inspiration on your journey to sobriety, I invite you to sign up for my email list and subscribe to Daily AA Reflections here.

Together, we can support each other and walk this road of healing and recovery together. Remember, recovery is possible, and you are worthy of a life filled with joy, fulfillment, and sobriety.

Yours in Recovery,


James Haggerty

A Time to Heal: Family Interventions offers personalized SUD Interventions, Addiction Recovery Planning, Case Management, Sober Companionship and Family Support. Call 310-450-6627 to connect with us.

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