Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the fellowship that has given millions of people a way to recover from alcohol. Its philosophy, principles, and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions provide the model and prototype of many self-help groups today. Those who call themselves anonymous fellowships or Twelve-Step programs can look to AA as their original founding father.

Bill W.

There were many factors that influenced AA in the early days, and we will mention a few of the significant ones. Bill Wilson, AA’s cofounder, after struggling with alcohol for years was visited by a former drinking buddy, Ebby T., who said he had gotten sober by using religion. Ebby had been helped by Rowland H., who had been told he was a hopeless alcoholic by Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist. Dr. Jung, however, said he had occasionally seen such men saved by a miraculous religious conversion.

Oxford Group

Rowland H. joined the Oxford Group, a nondenominational evangelical group that sought the spirit of first century Christianity. He got sober and tried to help other alcoholics by using Oxford Group principles, which became a foundation for the development of AA’s Twelve-Step recovery plan. Those principles involved a self-survey, confession, restitution, and the giving of oneself in service to others. See the module on History of Twelve-Step groups for more historical perspective.

Dr. Bob

Bill Wilson stayed sober several months, attending Oxford Group meetings and trying to help other alcoholics sober up. It was in Akron, Ohio, in May 1935, that he met Dr. Robert H. Smith, known fondly to AA members as Dr. Bob, AA’s cofounder. Bill, that night in May, wanting to drink, called a clergyman looking for another alcoholic to help and. was led to Dr. Bob. What was supposed to be a fifteen-minute meeting lasted over four hours. What impressed Dr. Bob was sensing that Bill had suffered just as he had, and more important, that Bill needed him as much as he needed Bill. Dr. Bob had his last drink on June 10, 1935, which is celebrated today as AA’s birthday.

Carrying the Message

The key to the success of AA is that an alcoholic who has found a solution to the malady carries the message of recovery to another suffering alcoholic. From that time in Ohio in 1935, the message of recovery has spread to millions of alcoholics throughout the world.

The Big Book

Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939 and known as the Big Book, is the textbook of recovery for alcoholics. An individual learns about AA’s Twelve Steps of recovery by reading the Big Book, attending AA meetings, and talking to other alcoholics. The program is a spiritual one, where a person finds a Higher Power to help with their life, and learns to live a life based on spiritual principles. A basic premise is the powerlessness to quit drinking on one’s will power. Since alcoholism affects one’s whole being, AA says recovery must be physical, mental, and spiritual.

Steps & Traditions

AA spent its early years struggling to make the program and fellowship most effective. Out of the struggles evolved the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the Preamble that states what AA is. The Steps tell how individual members get and stay sober, and the Traditions describe how the fellowship stays healthy. These are explained in greater detail in other modules in this manual.

Today AA has over a hundred thousand groups and about 2 million members (in 2006), a World Service Office, and a publishing company. Individual members participate for one reason: to stay sober and to carry the message of recovery to those who still suffer. In doing so they put aside personal desire for power and control, prejudice, individual preferences and annoyances, all to share in the gift of the great joy of recovery.

A.A. World Services, Inc.
P.O. Box 459
Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10163
(212) 870-3400

Alcoholics Anonymous, see also: Adolescents, Al-Anon & Alateen, Alcoholism, Community, History of Twelve-Step groups, Meetings, Other support groups, Steps of AA, Traditions of AA.

Updated 12 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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