Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A simple approach to public information in AA

There are lots of materials on public information in AA, and in other Twelve-Step fellowships. The volume of materials can be daunting. Here's a simple overview:

The aim of public information is to ensure that any still-suffering alcoholic and any professional or concerned other whose formal or informal role is to help the still-suffering alcoholic has an adequate basic understanding of alcoholism, how AA can help, and how an individual can contact or be directed towards AA.

In both cases, the vast majority of the work is directed at professionals, as it is only through professionals, typically, that we can gain access to alcoholics.

The simple approach is therefore this: make a list of the types of organisation that may encounter alcoholics, either through the nature of their work (e.g. medical establishments) or through the simple fact they encounter people and a lot of people are alcoholics (e.g. the police, the probation services, homeless charities, etc.). Then make a list of the examples of such organisations within the geographical area in question. This might be the area surrounding your home group, or it could be the Intergroup, Region, Area, or District (depending on the structure of AA in the territory in which you live). This is your master list.

You then contact these organisations, agencies, and institutions one by one. This might be in person, by letter, by telephone, by website contact form, or by email. The method is guided by what is most likely to be effective, which is more a matter of trial and error than of principle. Police stations are great to contact in person, as they have a reception desk for the public. With some organisations, you have to call first to find out who the most appropriate person to talk to is. With others, the contact page on the website lets you know who to contact. One advantage of email is that it is easier to forward and harder to lose; also, attachments or the email itself can easily be widely distributed.

The content of the communication: we tell the addressee or interlocutor that we are carrying out routine public information work to raise awareness of how AA can help alcoholics. We provide all of the basic information in the introductory communication but also offer follow-up in the form of off-the-shelf or tailored written materials, personal visits to individuals or groups, or more public presentations to larger numbers of people. We also offer Twelfth-Stepping, if relevant.

Only a small proportion or organisations thus approached will respond with a further request for information, a presentation, or help, but the ones that do not respond will often file or publicise the information internally in such a way that the message reaches further than you, as the PI officer, realise.

The exercise can be repeated with all organisations every two or three years, as a new person rotates into the role, the occasion of the further communication being the rotation, namely the necessity of communicating to the organisation the contact details of the new officer. This is a way of legitimately continuing to contact organisations without hounding.

Here is an example of a letter that I have sent out in my capacity as an Armed Services Liaison Officer:

Sample letter

My role as a volunteer within Alcoholics Anonymous is to reach out to the armed forces, public sector bodies, and charities in the services and ex-services sector.

The aim of reaching out is to ensure that anyone dealing in their professional capacity with people who may have a drinking problem is fully armed with the facts about Alcoholics Anonymous and how it can help problem drinkers.

Some general points about AA:
  • AA attendance and membership can complement other programmes of recovery or assistance accessed by problem drinkers. Meetings are generally held in the evenings, and there is typically no conflict between attending day programmes etc. and attending AA.
  • Access to and attendance of AA is very flexible; the problem drinker can investigate or join AA at any point in the process and is under no obligation at any point to continue if he or she does not wish to.
  • AA can provide a structured recovery programme—if the individual so wishes—or can simply be a place the individual sometimes attends for additional support. AA welcomes anyone provided he or she meets the only requirement for membership, which is a desire to stop drinking.
  • AA has no opinion on what other substances or addictive patterns or problems the individual has in the mix; if alcohol has been a problem and the individual seeks sobriety, he or she is welcome.
  • AA does not promise to solve anyone's drinking problem. What we do say is that, if 'drinking is costing you more than money, we may be able to help'. This modesty aside, AA does have more than 75 years of experience helping alcoholics of every imaginable description. There is surely no standard profile of an AA member. For this reason, we encourage the net to be cast wide and to suggest to anyone with a drinking problem—whatever the apparent cause—to consider AA.
  • One aim of the Armed Services Liaison discipline is to ensure that any professional helping or encountering problem drinkers and alcoholics in the course of his or her work is able adequately to explain what AA has to offer and facilitate the individual accessing AA.
  • AA cooperates and coordinates closely with outside agencies but does not formally affiliate with other programmes.
I'd like to set out specifically what the Armed Services Liaison discipline in AA can offer—essentially, written materials and people.

Written materials:
  • Existing AA pamphlets and fliers aimed (a) at professionals who encounter or help alcoholics and (b) at problem drinkers interested in the possibility AA may be able to help them. The latter category includes general materials aimed at any problem drinkers and materials tailored for problem drinkers with current or past armed services experience. These materials are available for distribution in hard copy. 
  • New materials in soft copy that are more easily distributable. These can be drawn up based on existing materials and can be tailored to the needs of the organisation through which they are being distributed or based on the specific target audience.

  • Armed Services Liaison Officers ('ASLOs') able to present to professionals to explain what AA can offer and how problem drinkers can access AA.
  • In areas where there are no local ASLOs in role, Public Information/Health Liaison Officers equally equipped to provide the above service.
  • Volunteers coordinated by ASLOs to hold informal AA meetings in facilities or settings where problem drinkers are seeking help (either on an inpatient or an outpatient/drop-in basis) or to hold brief, informal presentations or to talk one-to-one to problem drinkers.
  • 12th-steppers (experienced AA members practising the '12th step' of AA's 12-step programme, which is to attempt to carry AA's message of recovery to alcoholics), who can introduce problem drinkers to AA and ensure they are given a firm foundation.

Access pathways:
  • The AA website (see annex for a screenshot) provides instant access to details of AA meetings nationally (and English-speaking meetings in continental Europe). Anyone wishing to attend a meeting may simply look up a location and attend. Whilst this suits some people, we generally find it more effective for an individual's first encounter with AA to be a little more structured.
  • The individual can call the main telephone number (0800 9177 650) or email the main email address ( to discuss his or her problem with another alcoholic. Based on this conversation, the individual can be provided details of local AA meetings over the phone and/or by post. For many, this provides a sufficient introduction.
  • AA also offers a 12th-stepping service (see above). This can be accessed through the telephone number or email address above. Typically, this will be offered during the first contact. A '12th-step call' is where a couple of experienced AA members visit or meet the problem drinker and take him or her to the first AA meeting. 12th-steppers can introduce the individual to local AA members, explain how AA works, answer questions, address reservations or fears, and often provide longer-term experience and counsel.
  • AA has a relatively recently established 12th-stepping service specifically for the armed services. This service uses a database of experienced AA members who also have armed services experience. We have found that similar biographical experience can help to overcome apparent obstacles to joining AA. Many problem drinkers believe that some complicating aspect of their personal histories will mean AA will not work because, as they see it, they are 'different'. A talk with someone whose experiences closely mirror their own can reduce or overcome entirely this sense of difference.
  • This service can be accessed as follows: it can be requested directly from the telephone or email service by asking for a 12th-step call from someone on the 'armed services 12th-steppers list'; it can also be requested through the local armed services liaison officer, who will have a copy of the database, too. There is a good chance that the volunteer answering the phone will offer this spontaneously, but if the caller knows the service is available, this can help where the volunteer is not aware of this relatively new service.

To sum up, I would be happy to meet you or any of your colleagues to discuss further, or to answer any questions you may have.

Yours sincerely,


Annex: Alcoholics Anonymous website—finding AA meetings

The main page of the website shows the following:

By entering a location, e.g. ‘Whitechapel’, results are displayed as follows:
If an individual then clicks on the AA symbol, details of when and where specifically the AA group in question meets are displayed.

Annex 2. Contacting your local armed services liaison officer

If you go to, this will give you the numbers and email addresses of the various AA offices around the country (the numbers are not reproduced here, so that this information remains up-to-date even if the numbers change in the future). Simply call and ask for the name and number or email address of the armed services liaison officer ('ASLO') for the county, city, or region in question. All ASLOs are volunteers (and AA members themselves), and rotation takes place every two–three years, in a staggered fashion, so hard-copy lists of officers can rapidly become outdated. This is why we suggest this method of identifying your current local officer.

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