A society, commonly referred to as AA, established to help victims of alcoholism. AA describes itself as a "fellowship of men and women who share their common wisdom, strength and hope." It assumes that alcoholism is an addiction having three dimensions—physical, emotion, and spiritual—all of which require attention. It accepts the premise that alcoholism is disease that, though basically incurable, can nevertheless be arrested, but only by total abstinence from alcohol.
AA was established in 1935 in consequence of a fortuitous conversation between two alcoholics in Akron, Ohio: Bill Wilson, a failed stock broker from New York, and Bob Smith, an Akron physician. The first AA group consisted of these two men, and they were shortly joined by a third, who gave up drinking as a result of meeting with them. A second small group quickly took shape in New York, and a third was begun in 1936 in Cleveland, Ohio. By late 1937, the number of members having a substantial record of sobriety was sufficient to convince the membership that their program offered new hope to the alcoholic.
To bring the message of the group to those who needed it, in 1939 pioneers in the movement published Alcoholics Anonymous known popularly as "The Big Book." They borrowed principles from a number of sources. From the Oxford Group, an evangelical sect founded by Frank Buckman, a Lutheran minister, they learned the importance of taking responsibility for past ill behavior and invocation of a Higher Power. They borrowed from William James's Variety of Religious Experience to describe the phenomenon of conversion, and they corresponded with Carl Jung to gain an understanding of the spiritual dimension of recovery. The Big Book codified the spiritual ideas in the Twelve Steps, and applied them to the alcoholic's situation. The message of the society came to the attention of many through this book, which was given wide and continuous publicity by magazines and newspapers throughout the world. Clergymen and physicians alike rallied to the movement, giving it strong support and endorsement beyond the United States and North America.
The experience of the members of AA is that the Twelve Steps, if practiced as a way of life, expel the obsession to drink and enable the sufferer to become happily and usefully integrated. The Twelve Suggested Steps of Recovery are the following:
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.
- We made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.
- We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.
- We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- We made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- We 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.
AA also has its Twelve Traditions. These succinctly explain the organizational operation of the society and its means of achieving unity and of relating itself to the world about it. Attendance at regular meetings is one of the most cherished traditions of the movement. Each major city has a central AA office that directs callers to appropriate meetings in the area.
When husbands and wives of AA members found themselves dealing with the effects of the behaviors of their addicted spouses, a group organized Al-Anon. Al-Anon is completely separate from AA, but it follows the Twelve Steps and other AA principles. Over time the principles have been adapted to other addictions. The Twelve Steps have been adapted to deal with problematic behaviors such as overeating, out-of-control sexual behaviors, and smoking.
Bibliography: b. wilson, Alcoholics Anonymous (3d ed.; 1976). e. kurtz, Not God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous (exp. ed.; Center City, Minn. 1991). g. valiant, The Natural History of Alcoholism (Cambridge, Mass. 1983). f. hartigan, Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson (New York 2000). The Al-Anon Family Groups: A Guide for the Families of Problem Drinkers (New York 1955).
[e. m. rogers/