Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps

Alcoholics Anonymous history begins in 1935 in Ohio, USA.  Two men, both alcoholics, started what was to become a viable treatment for alcoholism worldwide.

Bill W, a New York stockbroker, had messed up his college education, ruined a promising career on Wall Street and caused many problems in his marriage due to his drinking. Dr Bob S., a surgeon from Ohio who was also suffering from alcoholism.

Both had attended the Oxford Group, a fellow ship that was run by a minster and based on spiritual principles. Bill found sobriety through the Oxford Group, and helped him remain sober by working with and supporting other alcoholics in their own quests to become sober. The Oxford Group had not been enough for Dr Bob to achieve sobriety.

Meeting Bill had a massive effect on Dr Bob. Here was someone who could understand fully what he was going through, Bill explained to Dr.  Bob that the common view of the times – that alcoholism was a moral failing and weakness in character but was a real illness affecting the body, soul and spirit.   (When Bill himself had first been told this by his Doctor he was so happy he managed to stay off the drink for a month.) Through Bill’s revelations, Dr Bob managed to get sober and stay that way.

The beginning of AA was founded then and there. Both men got to work in the local hospital, and very quickly they had their first success story.  Groups grew in New York and Ohio, and within 4 years Bob and Bill had helped over 100 people get sober.

A.A. has evolved over the years but has remained true to its principles. The twelfth step encourages reaching out and helping other alcoholics, in order to spread the organisations message and hopefully help more people with an addiction to alcohol become and stay sober. This is the backbone of the organisation and has helped it grow into the support network it has today.

Alcoholics Anonymous has grown into a multinational, non-profit making organisation with millions of members worldwide. The fellowship is fully self-supporting and does not accept contributions from non-members. There is a limit set on how much a sole member may donate in any one year, and legacies are limited to (at the time of writing) £10,000. Donations sent to their UK headquarters are returned with a polite note explaining the organisations stance on donations from those who are not members. This position was set in the early days when a refusal for outside funding prompted the founders to decide that external means would devalue the principles of the group.

IT is thought a recovering alcoholic is one of the best mentors someone starting the road to sobriety can have. Through the 12 step program and its unique peer support network, AA has become one of the most well-known and effective ways of helping beat alcohol addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous have provided the framework for many self-help groups – the twelve steps useful in beating all sorts of addiction, not just alcohol. There are support groups for narcotics and gambling amongst many others based on the twelve steps.

An alcoholic who has achieved sobriety will be able to help someone further back on the same road better than someone who has not experienced the battle against addiction.

Local Meetings
AA members are encouraged to attend regular local meetings.  In principal no one is in charge of these meetings, but there is a set of principles in place for how the meeting s should be run. These are referred to as the Twelve Traditions. There are over 4000 groups in the UK alone.  Meetings are held all over the country. The groups are autonomous apart from matters pertaining to other groups and the organisation as a whole.

Group meetings follow a similar structure – we’ve all seen the “My name is…. And I am an alcoholic” opening lines of members talking in films and TV shows, but no member HAS to talk and may simply pass if they do not want or feel able to.

Alcoholics anonymous may seem of no use then to those in isolated communities or where there may be no groups available, as in the case particularly of those in the military. AA has over 300 “Loner” members like these and some have managed to achieve sobriety by using the organisations literature.
The running costs of group meetings are traditionally paid by “passing the hat.” AA does not have a membership fee and does not charge its members. All contributions are entirely voluntary. One of the best things about AA is that is accessible to everybody. The only requirement for membership of Alcoholics anonymous is a desire to stop drinking. Getting and staying sober is a long term commitment.

One of the key factors that helps ensure success is the code of Anonymity observed by most members.

Originally the anonymity was designed to help prevent members being tarnished with the stigma of alcoholism, but through time it has been shown to bring many other benefits. People are less likely to seek help if they think people will find out. New members are able to seek help without the worry of others knowing their private business.

Anonymity is also encouraged to protect the organisation as a whole. If a member fell off the wagon publicly, it would threaten the integrity of the group. Although some members have been known to break this codicil at very public levels, in media, on television and the internet, it is largely frowned upon by members of A.A.

Weekly meetings may provide helpful for some people with an alcohol addiction but what suits one person may not suit another and individual needs should always be assessed by a health professional. There are many options available to help alcohol addiction and problem drinking that can be effective.