Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an organization dedicated to helping people end addiction to alcohol. The organization is loosely structured and though there is an overhead group that focuses on things like printing literature, there are over 100,000 groups that operate under the guidelines of AA’s principals. These groups give about half their donations to the main organization and keep the other half to pay for things like room rental and basic needs of the group. People attending meetings donate what they can at each meeting, but are under no obligation to donate if they lack funds.
The idea of Alcoholics Anonymous can be traced to the Oxford Group, an American Christian group that was established in the 1920s by Dr. Frank Buchman. One attendee of Oxford Group meetings was Bill Wilson, who suffered from alcoholism. He thought the principals of the Oxford Group, especially the idea that God could accomplish what humans couldn’t, helped him stop drinking. In 1935, Dr. Bob Smith and Wilson established a meeting group specific to the needs of alcoholics wishing to recover, and a few years later, Wilson penned Alcoholics Anonymous-The Big Book, a book that helped to define the steps toward recovering from addiction.
The Big Book introduced the Twelve Step Program, which people wishing to drink would work through in order to gain freedom from continuing to drink. These steps include admitting a problem exists, turning the problem over to a Higher Power (not necessarily a Christian god), making a moral inventory of character defects, and making amends to people the person has hurt. The key to remaining sober was that people had a spiritual awakening at the end of these steps that allowed them to help other alcoholics and to continue to use the steps in daily living. Bill Wilson felt the reason he was able to resist drinking again was this spiritual awakening as he experienced it in the Oxford Group, and the steps in AA are meant to achieve this awakening.
Despite the emphasis on a higher power, or God in Alcoholics Anonymous literature, there are plenty of groups that overtly resist a Christian or Judaic approach. Instead a higher power can be defined as anything a person wishes. While many meetings close with prayers like the “Our Father,” some groups will simply end holding hands and will skip prayers. Still there is plenty of focus on the idea of a higher power making changes in people’s lives, and some people may resist this concept if they are specifically anti-religious or atheistic.
When people enter Alcoholics Anonymous, they need to find a sponsor. In addition to regularly attending meetings, people will meet with their sponsor to help discuss and work the steps. These sponsors are people who have successfully worked through the twelve steps. These steps have been applied to other programs like Narcotics Anonymous, and they do prove useful for some in ending addiction.
Alcoholics Anonymous is most successful in being able to end drinking when meetings are attended regularly. According to AA surveys, fairly high drop out rate occurs during the first few months. When people stay in the program over a year or more, they are often able to maintain sobriety. Currently the AA has close to two million members and operates meetings in many locations around the world.