The Twelve-Step Recovery Model of AA: A Voluntary Mutual Help Association

  • Thomasina Borkman
Part of the Recent Developments in Alcoholism book series (RDIA, volume 18)


Alcoholism treatment has evolved to mean professionalized, scientifically based rehabilitation. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is not a treatment method; it is far better understood as a Twelve-Step Recovery Program within a voluntary self-help/mutual aid organization of self-defined alcoholics.

The Twelve-Step Recovery Model is elaborated in three sections, patterned on the AA logo (a triangle within a circle): The triangle’s legs represent recovery, service, and unity; the circle represents the reinforcing effect of the three legs upon each other as well as the “technology” of the sharing circle and the fellowship. The first leg of the triangle, recovery, refers to the journey of individuals to abstinence and a new “way of living.” The second leg, service, refers to helping other alcoholics which also connects the participants into a fellowship. The third leg, unity, refers to the fellowship of recovering alcoholics, their groups, and organizations. The distinctive AA organizational structure of an inverted pyramid is one in which the members in autonomous local groups direct input to the national service bodies creating a democratic, egalitarian organization maximizing recovery. Analysts describe the AA recovery program as complex, implicitly grounded in sound psychological principles, and more sophisticated than is typically understood. AA provides a nonmedicalized and anonymous “way of living” in the community and should probably be referred to as the Twelve-Step/Twelve Tradition Recovery Model in order to clearly differentiate it from professionally based twelve-step treatments. There are additional self-help/mutual aid groups for alcoholics who prefer philosophies other than AA.


Local Group Friendship Network Voluntary Association Identity Change Alcoholic Anonymous 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Professor of SociologyEmerita George Mason UniversityFairfax, Virginia, Silver SpringUSA

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