Alcoholics Anonymous is a self-help organization made up of men and women, young and old, who come together to share their experiences with alcohol, and to express their hope and strength with one another so that they can overcome the illness of alcoholism and then help others to recover. A.A. was first started by two men in 1935. One man from New York, Bill W., who was a stockbroker and another man from Ohio, Dr. Bob who was a surgeon. At one point Bill had wondered how one of his friends had achieved his abstinence, and his friend told him that he achieved it through religion. His friend explained that it was based on the principles laid down in a movement known as the Oxford Movement. ?This movement advised people to live according to certain principles, and these were related to Bill by his friend.? (Block, page 150). His friend gave him a set of steps to follow, but he could not follow them because he had lost religion in his life long ago. After Bill had been through many trips to the hospital he had finally admitted that alcohol had defeated him. He began to devote more time to these steps and began to feel better and better. Bill had tried to help others and even though his attempts were unsuccessful, his efforts seemed to improve his own outlooks. After his improvements in life, his improvements in work came along. He took a business trip to Ohio, after about a year of being sober, but what he had desired to do had failed. He then had a great desire to drink again, so he decided to come up with the alternative to seeking out and speaking with another alcoholic to prevent him from taking that first drink. He managed to come into contact with Dr. Bob and so A.A. began. They founded A.A. to help others who suffered from the disease of alcoholism and to help and maintain their own sobriety. This idea of alcoholics helping each other spread slowly throughout until 1939. At this point, a group of a hundred sober members wrote and published the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which they refer to now as the ?Big Book.? In 1941, A.A. become widely known because of an article printed in a national magazine that was widely read, The Saturday Evening Post. (Kinney & Leaton, page 268).
In A.A. there are no dues or fees, the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking. ?One of the basic tenets of this group is that the alcoholic is biologically different from the nonalcoholic person and therefore can never safely drink any alcohol at all.? (Ray & Ksir, page 253). Alcoholics Anonymous includes a creed which is made up of twelve steps and twelve traditions. The Twelve steps are briefly: 1) admitting that one is powerless over alcohol, 2) to believe in a power greater than themselves, 3) a decision to turn their will and life over to God ?as they understand him,? 4) making a moral inventory of themselves, 5) admitting the exact nature of their wrongs, 6) ready to have God remove all defects of character, 7) humility, 8) making amends to those they have harmed, 9) making amends to those wherever it is possible, 10) admitting to taking personal inventory when wrong, 11) praying for a better contact with God, and 12) spreading the message of what has been learned to others with the problem. (Hayman, page 171). These steps must be followed and understand thoroughly in order to understand how and why A.A. operates. It is crucial that people meet these requirements in order to succeed in Alcoholics Anonymous. The twelve traditions are also extremely important in the strength and viability of Alcoholics Anonymous. If these are also understood than Alcoholics Anonymous will continue to be successful, since personal ambition, individual enterprise, and material benefits are all incorporated by the twelve traditions.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, there are four primary types of contact which the group has developed. These types of contact are: 1) There are large meetings, which may sometimes have hundreds of members, at which several will tell their personal stories and experiences, 2) After the meeting there is a social period where there is more social contact and intimacy, 3) There are social gatherings where convivial and personal relationships are possible, and 4) There is a system of sponsorship, where the sponsors carry out the message to others. Included in this is a neophyte, which is called ?the baby,? a person who is a newcomer. The sponsor introduces the person to the organization, encourages him, answers his doubts and is always there for the neophyte. In A.A. the newcomer is taught that alcoholism is an obsession of the mind, and that they should in time accept the disease concept of alcohol. They are advised to live twenty four hours at a time (the ?24-hour plan) without a drink, and if they then feel the urge for a drink, they neither yield nor resist, they merely put off taking that particular drink until tomorrow. There are different types of meetings, there are open meetings and closed meetings. In open meetings spouses, relatives, friends, alcoholics, non-alcoholics etc. are all welcome, and closed meetings are restricted to alcoholics only. The meetings can have speakers or discussions. Meetings with speakers usually have one to three speakers who tell their experiences and what their life is like now in their sobriety. A discussion meeting is smaller than a meeting with speakers and there is usually a facilitator. Alcoholics Anonymous can be found in almost every town across the United States. Alcoholism is one of the major health problems in America and more and more men and women are estimated to suffer from this illness. In order to help decrease this increase of people suffering from alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous continues and increases in helping others recover.
The meeting I attended was in Hicksville. It was held inside of a basement of a Catholic School (Our Lady of Mercy). I attended this meeting on Friday, November 20th, at 8:00 p.m. The approximate number of people who attended the meeting was about 25 people. There was a fairly equal amount of men and women in the room. Most of those who attended the meeting were Caucasian, and there were some minorities, which were of Spanish descent. There were no African-Americans attending the meeting, and the people seemed to all come from the middle-class. I believe that these characteristics do reflect the demographic make-up of the surrounding community. It is a community of mostly Caucasian, middle-class people.
One of my first impressions of the meeting was that there was not as many people as I presumed there would be. I have watched movies and t.v. shows where there were 80 or more people attending the meeting, so this came as a little bit of a surprise. As I entered the room, one woman smiled and greeted me by saying, ?Hi, welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous.? This remark made me feel a little more comfortable. I examined the room thoroughly and found that there was table and a podium in the front of the room where apparently the speaker would stand. There were rows of chairs set up so that they were facing the front and people had already seated themselves. One thing that I noticed that interested me was this enormous paper on the board, which I later found out was a preamble or constitution that they read about their illness.
The meeting began with one man, a host, who made announcements of anniversaries and times of different meetings. He specified that it was an open meeting, and that there were two speakers from a different town coming to speak that night. He also said, ?Hi, my name is for example, Bill, and I?m an alcoholic,? the audience responded by saying ?Hi, Bill.? Each time a person went up they would say this and the audience would respond in the same manner. The people then read this preamble and the man announced the first person to go up and speak. This woman had just celebrated an anniversary and she made a few announcements herself. The man then introduced the sponsor of the two men who were going to speak that night. The sponsor introduced himself and then went on to introduce the first speaker. The first speaker was about 40 years old and he told his story. After he had finished speaking they took a five minute break for coffee, snacks, or cigarettes. The meeting was in session again and the second speaker was introduced. The second speaker who was about 70 years old then told his story. While he was speaking a basket was being passed around for donations. In the end everyone rose from their seats, said the ?Our Father,? said a few other words about alcoholism and then the meeting came to an end.
The stories told at the meeting made a lasting impression on me. At one point I felt as if I was going to cry. Although I could never fully understand what the speakers were going through or had already been through, I felt as if I almost could sympathize with their situations. Both speakers referred to the notion that they now have a higher power in their lives and that before there was nothing. They also referred to reading and using the ?Big Book,? for guidance. Overall I was completely impressed with everything about the meeting. A couple of things that surprised me were that in the back of the room there was coffee and snacks for the break, and I was not quite sure what the basket being passed around for donations was for. I am still quite unsure of what the donation was for because A.A. does not require dues or fee of any type. It may have been a donation of some sort to the church. I believe that if I were to go to this meeting for help, I would most likely feel comfortable. The only factor that would cause me some uneasiness would be the fact that I would be the youngest at the meeting. That would probably not be much a problem because when I attended the meeting in actuality no one looked at me any differently or strangely than anyone else attending the meeting.
A.A. has proven to be the most effective method of helping alcoholics stay sober according to many people and in my opinion also. The members learn that once they have reached their sobriety, they must try to continue it by observing and following the experiences of successfulness of those who have preceded them in A.A. Once the members come to the point where sobriety is the most important thing in their lives, following the patterns of those who have demonstrated that A.A. has proven to really work is crucial and wise. Another reason that A.A. has been the most effective method is that, this is one place where the individual finds acceptance and tolerance where on the other hand, society rejects them. This may make the person feel more comfortable. The alcoholic also feels comfort since they know that he is among people who are suffering from the same disease and that these people will not judge him.
Every person can be helped by Alcoholics Anonymous but they have to have the desire to want to stop drinking. A person is most likely to be helped by A.A. when an alcoholic has heard stories of A.A., if he has lost his long-time drinking friends, and if there is no one in his past who has been cured by will power. Some findings stated that 78 percent of Alcoholics Anonymous members who have more than a high school education and 50 percent of those who have not completed high school are helped. Also, wives of alcoholics with more education are more likely to be helped by A.A. These findings stated: 74 percent of college educated wives, 60 percent of high school graduates, and 51 percent of those having less than high school education. (Hayman, page 177). Alcoholism is an illness which cannot be cured but which can be arrested. Although it is difficult, more research should be done to determine under what circumstances and what types of alcoholics will benefit from Alcoholics Anonymous. Once more research is done defining the gap of men and women, and young and old alcoholics will be more clear.
Kinney, Jean; Leaton, Gwen. Loosening The Grip. Mosby-Year Book, Inc., St. Louis, 1995. (Page 268).
Book Inc., St. Louis, 1996. (Page 253).
Block, Marvin A. Alcoholism: Its Facets and Phases. The John Day Company, New York, 1962, 1965. (Pages 145-153)