The History of Alcoholics Anonymous

The substance abuse recovery and support group, Alcoholics Anonymous, is responsible for more successful rehabilitations than any other treatment organization in the world. From its birth in 1935 in Akron, Ohio to the thousands of chapters around the world today, AA has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that sobriety can be mass produced, even in the most hopeless-seeming cases, by following the Twelve Steps. Find out more about the incredible success of Alcoholics Anonymous and learn how AA, combined with inpatient rehabilitation, can provide a path to freedom from the damage caused by alcoholism.

Early History

Bill W., a stockbroker in New York, and Dr. Bob S., a surgeon in Akron Ohio, were “hopeless alcoholics,” according to AA. They met one another through the Oxford Group, a fellowship that eschewed alcohol and emphasized sound values. Bill W. achieved and maintained sobriety by working with the Oxford Group and other people working to achieve sobriety. Dr. Bob, although committed to sobriety, had not yet achieved it when he met Bill W — but when they began working together, the effect was instantaneous. Bill W. told Dr. Bob that alcoholism was a “malady of mind, emotions and body.” Although the men had not yet realized it, the foundation of AA was born.

The City Hospital of Akron

Once Dr. Bob became sober, the two men began working with alcoholics in the City Hospital of Akron, Ohio. The first man they helped achieve sobriety joined them in their quest to produce a solution for the scourge of alcoholism. They launched a second support group in New York, and a third in Cleveland. Over the first four years, these three AA groups gave 100 people the strength to stop drinking and commit to a lifetime of abstinence. In 1939, Bill W. wrote the textbook Alcoholics Anonymous, which explained the core philosophy of the group, the now-famous Twelve Steps, and provided evidence by detailing the case histories of once-hopeless alcoholics who achieved sobriety by joining AA. Although the group attempted to seek outside funding, the effort failed and group members paid for the printing and distribution of the book themselves.

Spreading the Word

The success of Alcoholics Anonymous began to spread like wildfire. The Cleveland Plain Dealer provided support by publishing numerous articles about the success of the program as well as positive editorials. People addicted to alcohol, desperate for help, flooded AA with requests for information and assistance. AA leadership assigned newly sober members the task of helping people just beginning their recoveries — a revolutionary change for the group — and the results were extraordinary. It turned out that helping others stay sober helped the mentors stay sober, too — and for the first time, according to AA, results demonstrated that the group’s early success could be repeated again and again, a first for addiction treatment.

AA opened an office in New York with the assistance of the Alcoholic Foundation, a trusteeship that helped manage the affairs of the small-but-growing organization. The office staff fielded inquiries and helped distribute the book. The trustees — who were friends of the legendary John D. Rockefeller — spread the word and soon hundreds of people seeking help flooded the office with requests. Everyone who asked for help received a personal letter and a pamphlet that described the AA philosophy and program. Membership exploded to 2,000 people, drawing the attention of the Saturday Evening Post, which published another AA story in 1941. The number of people in AA tripled and spread to Canada. In only 6 years, Alcoholics Anonymous grew from a conversation between two men into a multinational fellowship with more than 6,000 active members.

Tests of Size and Strength

The 10-year period from 1940 to 1950 saw the Alcoholics Anonymous fellowship grow from 6,000 members to 100,000 people worldwide. Despite the obvious interest in the AA recovery philosophy, the trustees wondered: would the Twelve Steps hold up across the thousands of people who were counting on achieving a complete recovery? The New York office, now the headquarters, began coordinating efforts among the chapters to assure cohesion and effective leadership. The original Twelve Steps were modified to form the Twelve Traditions, and the leaders were able to put into place a united and functional formula for sobriety, according to AA.

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous form the basis of the AA recovery program. AA members achieve sobriety by following each step, in order, with the goal being a commitment to abstinence that lasts a lifetime. The Twelve Steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

These Twelve Steps have helped millions of people get sober, have inspired other recovery and support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, and form the basis of healing for numerous alcohol and drug treatment centers, including 12 Keys Rehab.

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

The Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous define the guiding principles of leadership for each chapter and assure cohesiveness among the thousands of programs worldwide.

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon AA unity.
  2. 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.
  3. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or AA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.
  6. An AA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the AA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. AA ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the AA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. 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.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, even reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Alcoholics Anonymous Today

Bill W. died from pneumonia in January 1971 after co-founding, leading and advising Alcoholics Anonymous through decades of successful growth. Today, AA is a global fellowship with active members as far away as Colombia, New Zealand, Finland and Guatemala. AA has remained true to its principles since the day of its founding and welcomes members of every race, religion, sexual orientation and background. The only requirement is a desire to quit drinking.

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