For those suffering from the disease of alcoholism, there is hope in the form of Alcoholics Anonymous. This organization has helped people around the world struggling with alcoholism to find clarity, peace, and a positive framework for sobriety. Originally founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, A.A. defines itself as an international fellowship of men and women whose stated purpose is to enable its members to “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. Support groups are available across the world, attendance and participation is free, and upwards of 2 million people are members.
What is AA?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a 501c3 that was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. It is fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The central tenets are as follows:
- The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions.
- A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.
- Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
Alcoholics Anonymous is structured as a series of formal meetings wherein recovering alcoholics convene in a predetermined location at a set time and take part in sharing stories as well as reading from the “Big Book” of A.A. These meetings typically last for an hour or more and the structure is based on how the individuals choose to carry out the meeting. The big book of A.A. contains an introduction to the program, the 12 Step Traditions that make up the program, how it can be applied in daily life, and personal stories of people who have gone through the program. Although the text of A.A. has spiritual references to God, the organization is non-denominational and does not require members to believe in God.
What are the 12 Steps?
The 12 Steps of AA make up the foundation of the program and are what members use in order to achieve and maintain sobriety. It is not required that members follow these 12 Steps, but they are encouraged to try and read them as they have helped past members to get sober. The basic idea of the 12 Steps is that it gives alcoholics a process through which they can understand and manage their disease, as well as provide social support for discussing issues related to alcoholism that they find difficult to talk about in daily life. According to the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, cognitive restructuring, wherein people change their behavior patterns, is an important element of substance abuse treatment. The 12 Steps are as follows:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
What are the 12 Traditions?
In addition to the 12 Steps, Alcoholics Anonymous also provides members with the 12 Traditions. These traditions were written down in order to give members a framework for managing and making the most of the Alcoholics Anonymous program. These traditions help provide answers as to how A.A. can best function, how A.A. can continue to thrive, and the purpose behind meetings. The 12 Steps are as follows:
- Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity.
- For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority — a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
- The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.
- Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole.
- Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
- An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
- Every A.A. group ought to be fully self supporting, declining outside contributions.
- Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
- A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
- Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
- Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
- Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.
Where does Alcoholics Anonymous Come From?
Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Akron, Ohio in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Bill and Bob were both alcoholics who met as a result of the Oxford Group, a non-alcoholic fellowship that emphasizes spiritual values for daily sobriety. Both men were successful and intelligent but severe alcoholics who had struggled for years to get sober and stay that way.
Based on the idea that Alcoholism is an insidious disease of the mind, both men started to work together helping patients at Akron’s City Hospital. It was there that the first Alcoholics Anonymous group was formed. After growing the group and spreading, the Fellowship published the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which was largely written by Bill Wilson and helped to explain the group’s philosophy and methods.
Following the publishing of the big book of A.A., the group set to growing their numbers and spreading across the United States. In 1939 in Cleveland, membership swelled to over 500 within one year. In New York, the Alcoholic Foundation was created and restricted to a small office where members could manage, produce, and distribute the big book to the growing number of group members.
By 1950, over 100,000 members of A.A. claimed to have achieved lasting sobriety worldwide. During this time, Bill codified the 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous in order to help the organization grow and maintain cohesiveness. The following year saw the New York headquarters grow their operations and begin to publish a standardized series of books and pamphlets as well as an international magazine called A.A. Grapevine.
In January of 1971, Bill Wilson passed away from pneumonia in Miami Beach, Florida. Since then, A.A. has grown into a global fellowship with over 2 million active members. In his last address to the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous, BIll concluded his speech by saying: “God bless you and Alcoholics Anonymous Forever.”
Who is Alcoholics Anonymous?
The members of Alcoholics Anonymous are the men and women who are struggling with or have admitted they have a problem controlling their relationship with alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous members are not tied to any group, cause, or religion and do not wish to rid the world of alcohol. Members simply wish to reach out and offer help to those who find themselves struggling with alcoholism. Members are men and women who come from all ages and social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. Many arrive at A.A. at the end of their rope, while others recognized early on that they needed help.
The consequences of alcoholic drinking can be different from person to person. For some, drinking had become so severe that they had spent time in jail, lost family, possessions, careers, and self-respect. Others had not lost as much but may have recognized the trajectory of what their alcohol use would culminate in. Members come from all religious sects and do not necessarily have to share what their particular faith is. Members are united by the common problem of alcoholism and find that meeting, talking, and sharing experiences with other alcoholics can help to ease the burden of alcoholism.
Is A.A. For You?
Alcoholics Anonymous members know that alcoholism does not discriminate by social, economic, or cultural background. Here are some questions that can help you determine if Alcoholics Anonymous may be right for you. If you answer yes to four or more questions, you should strongly consider attending meetings. (Answer these questions with either a yes or no, and tally up every yes as one point.)
1. Have you ever decided to stop drinking for a week or so, but only lasted for a couple of days?
Many A.A. members have made promises to themselves or their families to stop drinking. Despite these promises being made in earnest, members found themselves unable to keep them. A.A. teaches members to “just try not to drink today”.
2. Do you wish people would mind their own business about your drinking and stop telling you what to do?
In A.A., members are not required to do anything, but are simply encouraged to talk about their drinking, the trouble it may have caused, and how (or if) it has stopped. If members ask for it, other members can respond and help them to get the answers they need.
3. Have you ever switched from one kind of drink to another in the hope that this would keep you from getting drunk?
Some alcoholics have tried to rationalize and cut back on their addiction by making concessions such as making weaker drinks, drinking beer, or only drinking on the weekends. However, members who have tried this and failed know that it always eventually leads to drunkenness.
4. Have you had to have an eye-opener upon awakening during the past year?
In other words, do you need a drink to get the day started or perhaps to stop from shaking? This is a telltale sign that you have a drinking problem. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms should not be taken lightly.
5. Do you envy people who can drink without getting into trouble?
Do you find your drinking habits different from friends or family members? Alcoholics may wonder why they are not like most people who can have a few drinks and be fine, whereas alcoholics need to continue drinking more and more.
6. Have you had problems connected with drinking during the past year?
This is where you need to look back with a fine comb and be honest with yourself. Has drinking caused problems with your personal, work, or social life? Have you tried using alcohol to solve problems and found that it only made your situation worse?
7. Has your drinking caused trouble at home?
Before arriving at A.A., many members blamed people and problems at home that made them drink. At A.A. however, members realize that drinking began as a decision to deal with some kind of problem and that no one is forcing you to continue drinking.
8. Do you ever try to get "extra" drinks at a party because you do not get enough?
Have you ever had to drink an extra few before a party started? Or if the party ran out of alcohol would you feel awkward or unable to stick around? Some alcoholics use alcohol as a means to feel good around other people.
9. Do you tell yourself you can stop drinking any time you want to, even though you keep getting drunk when you don't mean to?
Many A.A. members have told themselves that they drink because they want to. After coming into A.A., members realize they can’t control themselves when they drink.
10. Have you missed days of work or school because of drinking?
Many members find themselves at A.A. after calling in sick from work in order to recover from the repercussions of heavy drinking, i.e. a hangover or still being drunk.
11. Do you have "blackouts"?
A "blackout" is when you have been drinking hours or days in which you cannot remember everything. Having one or more blackouts is a sure sign that you are binge drinking, and multiple blackouts is an indication that you have little control over your drinking.
12. Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not drink?
Many members felt that drinking made life better for a while, but by the time they arrived in A.A. realized it was a trap. Members feel as though they are drinking to live and living to drink.
If you found yourself answering yes to four or more of the above questions, we strongly recommend checking out your local Alcoholics Anonymous organization or checking into a residential or outpatient treatment center. Seek treatment sooner than later, as alcoholism tends to worsen if left unchecked. At Landmark Recovery, we advocate for any treatment program that shows in success in helping people achieve and maintain sobriety. As such, we advocate for 12 Step recovery solutions as well as agnostic treatment programs such as SMART Recovery.