Change across the world: Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous | November 2018 | 7 minutes

If you are drinking too much, there is support available to help you to cut down. For some people, their relationship with alcohol is such that they need to cut out alcohol completely. If this is you, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one option for support.

Not everyone likes or identifies with the word ‘alcoholic’, preferring alternatives, for example ‘alcohol dependent’. Others find the label useful, and choose to self-identify as ‘an alcoholic’. The blog post below was written by a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous National Committee, and so uses the word ‘alcoholic’.

AA is a secular, non-profit, mutual-aid organization. We provide confidential 365 days-a-year help to people who have a drinking problem and wish to get and stay sober. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are 208 million alcoholics worldwide. Approximately two million are members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Who joins AA?

Within our membership may be found men and women of varying age groups and many different social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Some of us drank for many years before coming to the realisation we could not handle alcohol. Others were fortunate enough to appreciate, early in life or in our drinking careers, that alcohol had become unmanageable.

The consequences of our alcoholic drinking (and thinking) have also varied. Some of our members have become destitute before turning to AA for help. They had lost family, possessions and self-respect. They had been hospitalised and jailed. They had committed offences against society, their families, their employers and themselves.

Others among us have never been jailed or hospitalised. Nor have they lost jobs through drinking. But even those men and women finally came to the point where they realised that alcohol was interfering with normal living. They discovered that they could not seem to live without alcohol and sought help through AA.

We are united by a common problem: alcohol. We cannot control how much we drink and we repeat the same destructive drinking behaviour, even though good sense should tell us that we shouldn’t drink at all.

How did AA begin?

AA began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, following a meeting between Bill W, a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob S, an Akron surgeon. Both had been hopeless alcoholics.

Bill got sober during a stay in hospital and had maintained his recovery by sharing his experience with other alcoholics. Both had been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly non-alcoholic fellowship that emphasised universal spiritual values in daily living, but had not helped them to achieve sobriety. When Bill and Dr. Bob met, the effect on the doctor was immediate. He found himself face to face with a fellow sufferer who had managed to stay sober. Bill emphasised that alcoholism was a condition of mind, spirit and body. Responding to Bill's ideas, Dr Bob. got sober and never drank again. The founding spark of Alcoholics Anonymous had been struck.

In 1939, the Fellowship published the first edition of its core literature, the ‘Big Book’ of Alcoholics Anonymous. This was written by Bill and explained AA's philosophy and methods, the core of which are the now well-known Twelve Steps of recovery, similar to the principals of the Oxford Group.

Over the past 80 years, Alcoholics Anonymous has expanded all over the world with meetings happening in over 180 countries. The venue for AA's first meeting in Great Britain was London's Dorchester Hotel on 31 March 1947 when Grace O arranged a meeting during her visit from New York.

How does AA work?

We in AA are men and women who have discovered, and admitted, that we cannot control alcohol. Through going to meetings and talking with other alcoholics we learn how to stay sober. We lose the compulsion to drink which was once the dominant force in our lives.

AA advocates total abstinence. While moderating drinking is possible for many people, we have found that once we have developed alcoholism, it is not possible to drink moderately again.

We attend weekly meetings which are usually one-hour long. A speaker opens the meeting by sharing their experience, strength and hope with the group, after which the group shares back. Many alcoholics feel isolated and lonely during their drinking days and meetings are a great way to connect with people who really understand alcoholism. There is great camaraderie among AA members and, unlike a lot of representations in film and TV, AA meetings are often full of positivity, gratitude and fun.

AA also encourages sponsorship. Sponsorship in AA is where one member who has experience with the 12 steps shares this with another member. Only the first step, ‘We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable,’ mentions the word ‘alcohol’. The other 11 steps are a set of guiding principles outlining a course of action for recovery from addiction.

Attending AA

You can contact Alcoholics Anonymous by calling our free helpline on 0800 9177 650, email help@aamail.org or visit our website where you can also use the live chat to correspond in confidence with a member of the fellowship.

If you want to change your drinking there are many options available.

Find out more.