The Language of Alcoholics Anonymous

When people first attend Alcoholics Anonymous they can be bit confused by the terminology used. It can even seem like the regular members are speaking a different language. There are a lot of words that have special meaning for this group. Luckily, it does not usually take long to become familiar with the terminology used. The most common words used in these meetings include:

AA Meetings

An important aspect of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is regular attendance at meetings. This is where members can discuss their concerns and get support. It is also where they learn how to apply the 12 program to their lives. Nobody graduates from AA, so lifelong attendance is recommended.

AA Member

There is no application process or membership fee associated with joining AA. It is up to the individual to decide if they are a member or not.


Abstinence means not doing something that is considered pleasurable. In AA, it means never going near alcohol again.


This is the date when people stop drinking. Many members like to celebrate this date each year. It is also referred to as their AA birthday.


AA is based on a foundation that puts an emphasis on anonymity. This is not only to protect the privacy of the individual members but also the organization itself. No member is allowed to speak on behalf of the group in the media.

Big Book

The Big Book is the most important piece of literature used by the group. It contains full details of the 12 Step program. It is common to hear readings from the book at meetings. Some members can recite passages without even looking at the text.

Big Book Study Meeting

These are meetings where the focus is on studying the Big Book.

Big Book Thumpers

This is an unflattering term for those members who seem to be always quoting from the Big Book. They tend to be quite outspoken in their views of how other people should be ‘working the program’. The evangelical approach of big book thumpers can be off putting to some people.

Bill W.

Bill Wilson is one of the founding members of AA. Alcoholism almost destroyed his sanity, but he managed to quit with the help of a Christian group. He was on the verge of relapsing, but instead he tried to help another alcoholic. This meeting with Dr Bob is considered to be the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous. Asking other people if they are a friend of Bill W. is a subtle way of finding out if they are a member of the fellowship.


One of the most worrying symptoms of alcohol abuse is the blackout. This is where excessive alcohol intake leads to memory loss. Many alcoholics will have done things they deeply regret while in the midst of one of these blackouts. Not every alcoholic will experience this type of amnesia. Some will even forget that they experienced it.

Breaking Anonymity

Most members will tell close friends and family that they are a member of the fellowship. They might also break their anonymity in other to help a struggling alcoholic. It is never acceptable to break anonymity if it is going to harm another member or the group as a whole.

Carry the Message

The primary purpose of AA meetings is to carry the message to suffering alcoholics. Those who have completed the 12 Steps are also encouraged to do all they can to help those who are still struggling with their addiction.

Character Defects

Giving up alcohol does not mean that people will become perfect overnight. They are certain to still have a number of character defects. These are imperfections in their personality and behavior that get in the way of finding complete happiness. People are not expected to completely eradicate their character defects. However, they should work towards eliminating those that interfere with their sobriety and relationships the most.


Chips are a type of medal that is given to people for achieving a certain length of sobriety. Newcomers who have not yet managed to get sober may be awarded a desire chip if they express the wish to stay sober for the next 24 hours. There are also usually chips for achieving sobriety for 1 day, 1 month, ninety days, six months, 1 year, and every year after that. These chips have no real monetary value but they can be a prize possession for many members.

Closed meetings

Some AA meetings are open to the public while some are not. The closed meeting is only open to individuals who are trying to recover from an alcohol addiction. Those individuals who are worried about their privacy may prefer to stick to this type of meeting.

Conference Approved Literature

This refers to books, pamphlets, audio, and video material that has been approved by the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office. There are many resources available that are not GSO approved. This does not mean that such resources are deficient. It only means that they should not be taken as representing the views of the organization.

Conscious Contact

This refers to how members will try to come in closer contact with their higher power. The hope is that such contact will mean that they will be able to manage life far more successfully. It means living a more spiritual life.

Controlled Drinking

This is something that is not recommended in Alcoholics Anonymous. Once the individual has lost control they can never get it back. Most members will have attempted to control their drinking before coming to AA. The insanity that they can regain this control is a common excuse for relapse.

Cross Talk

Cross talk is where one member speaks directly to another member during the middle of a meeting – usually to offer advice. This type of communication is not encouraged. The purpose of sharing at meetings is to discuss things from a personal point of view and not to lecture other people.

Daily Inventory

Members never complete the Twelve Steps. Instead they are expected to make the program a part of their life from that point on. Part of this involves looking back at the end of the day to see how things could be improved.

Daily Reprieve

AA does not believe that it is possible to cure alcoholics. All that is possible is a daily reprieve dependent on the individual doing the right things. If people fail to follow the program, they may be at risk of returning to their addiction.


Denial is a common defense mechanism. People will use it when they do not wish to face reality. Denial is common in addiction. If people begin to use this coping mechanism in recovery, it may be a sign that they are on the slippery slope to relapse.

Discussion Meeting

This is a type of meeting where members discuss a specific topic. When members are sharing, they need to avoid rambling too far away from the theme of the meeting.

Disease model

The Disease Model of Alcoholism is favored by AA. It views the condition as a progressive disease and not a moral failing. It is also seen as an incurable condition.

Dr Bob

Dr Bob Smith is another of the founding members of AA.

Drunk Dream

Sometimes members will have dreams where they are back drinking alcohol again. This is considered perfectly normal. It is occurring too regularly it may be a sign that people need to put more effort into their recovery.

Dry Drunk Syndrome

Sometimes people will give up their alcohol addiction but not make any other changes to their life. In the meetings they talk about people who haven’t touched alcohol in years but have not yet managed to become sober. Dry drunks tend to be full of negativity and resentment. Their family and friends may find them as hard to be around as when they were in the midst of addiction. Some people will experience this syndrome for a short period while others will remain like this for the long term.


Enabling is when loved ones try to protect the alcoholic from the damage they are causing. Such efforts are done out of compassion, but they may be damaging if they prevent the individual from hitting rock bottom. If they individual is allowed to experience the full brunt of their actions then this can help them see beyond denial.