These AA Cliches Seem Harmless — Until They Aren’t

The insidious lexicon of Alcoholics Anonymous

Dave Tieff


“Keep Coming Back”

Each meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous ends with the group gathering in a circle, clasping hands, reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and then exclaiming in unison “Keep coming back — it works if you work it!”

I understand the spirit of this saying. It means not to give up. Not to throw in the towel, and not to attend just one AA meeting and think that’s all there is to the program. That part I makes sense.

The problem arises when people keep coming back — for months or even years — when AA clearly isn’t working for them.

Newcomers to the program (or oldcomers for that matter) are never advised to try something besides AA when it’s not helping them stay sober — at least not within the fellowship.

They are only told to keep coming back to AA, and in many cases, told to keep coming back more frequently.

They’re even told that if they leave AA — they will die.

Why is this?

Because of the second part of the saying…

“It Works If You Work It”

It aims to encourage, but…

This is my least favorite AA saying.

It implies that only YOU can fail the program — and that the program can never fail you.

If it’s not working, it must be because you aren’t “working it” properly — or not hard enough.

You may be told to re-read the Big Book, re-work your 4th step, pray more, or go to more meetings.

Or maybe you need to find another sponsor, a new meeting, or another “higher power.” They might even tell you that you are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with yourself.”

That’s an actual saying — right out of the AA Big Book.

Whatever it is — it’s your fault.



Dave Tieff

Alcohol Free (AF) singer-songwriter & cyber journalist. Here to discuss everything sex, drugs, rock, and culture🤘🍄🎙💋