• abstinence;
  • Alcoholics Anonymous;
  • alcoholism;
  • longitudinal study;
  • spirituality

Objective: To discuss the mechanism of action, the efficacy and the safety of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the treatment of alcoholism.

Method: The published works on effective treatments for alcoholism is briefly reviewed and a prospective multidisciplinary follow-up of recovery from alcoholism in two community cohorts of adolescent males followed from 1940 until the present day is reviewed.

Conclusions: The suggested mechanism of action of AA is that it employs four factors widely shown to be effective in relapse prevention in addictions: external supervision, substitute dependency, new caring relationships and increased spirituality. In addition, AA serendipitously follows the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy in relapse prevention. Alcoholics Anonymous appears equal to or superior to conventional treatments for alcoholism, and the skepticism of some professionals regarding AA as a first rank treatment for alcoholism would appear to be unwarranted. Alcoholics Anonymous is probably without serious side-effects.