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Alcoholics Anonymous
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Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (known commonly as "A.A.") is a 12-step program designed to support alcoholics in their struggle to control their addiction to alcohol.

The single purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is "to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." An earlier group, the Washingtonians, fell apart when it tried to branch out to different goals, which A.A. has tried to avoid. (This is among the principles in A.A.'s Twelve Traditions.)

There is some controversy over the A.A. approach of complete abstinence as a goal as opposed to other programs which aim for moderation[1].

Although phrases and ideas drawn from Protestant Christianity are often used in A.A. literature and at A.A. meetings, the organisation doesn't promote any particular religion, and it has worked for adherents of many faiths. Nevertheless, since it suggests that the recovering alcoholic should ask for help from a "Higher Power", some atheists find themselves unable to accept the Twelve Steps and instead seek out secular alternatives like Rational Recovery. That said, the notion of "Higher Power" is left vague enough that other atheists comfortably follow A.A.'s approach to recovery.

A.A. was started by two alcoholics who first met on June 10, 1935. One was Bill Wilson (William Griffith Wilson), a New York stockbroker; the other was fellow Oxford Group (later, Moral Rearmament) member Dr. Bob Smith (Robert Holbrook Smith), a medical doctor and surgeon from Akron, Ohio.

Wilson had been sober for some months when he met Smith, although he had struggled with sobriety for years. In that time he had made several important discoveries about his own alcoholism.

Firstly he had learned from a New York alcoholism specialist, Dr. William Duncan Silkworth, that alcoholism was not simply a moral weakness. Silkworth told Wilson, during one of Wilson's admissions to his drying-out clinic, that alcoholism had a pathological disease-like character. He told Wilson that, in his view, alcoholism was akin to an allergy, in the sense that it produced abnormal reactions to alcohol that were not observed in non-alcoholic drinkers; he called these reactions a "phenomenon of craving" -- once started drinking, the alcoholic could not stop. In addition, Dr. Silkworth told Wilson that alcoholics had a mental obsession that gave them reasons to return to alcohol after periods of sobriety, even knowing that they would then develop overwhelming cravings. This "double whammy" (as he called it) meant that the alcoholic could not stop once started, and could not stop from starting again. This explained the enormous recidivism rate of alcoholics.

Wilson also discovered that some alcoholics had been able to recover on a spiritual basis. This approach had been advocated to a friend of one of Wilson's drinking buddies by the famous Swiss psychoanalyst Dr. Carl Jung. This friend had discovered a means to a spiritual awakening through the Oxford Groups, a self-styled first-Century Christian movement who advocated finding God through moral inventory, confession of defects, restitution, reliance upon their God, and helping others. It appeared that a spiritual awakening would relieve alcoholics of the mental obsession that kept sending them back to alcoholism after periods of sobriety.

Finally, Wilson found that by sharing his personal alcoholic experience with other alcoholics, his own sobriety seemed to grow stronger and it helped the other person as well.

These were the ideas that he presented to Smith, who had been struggling with his own chronic drinking addiction. The two struck up a solid friendship and together they put Wilson's discoveries into practice. Their first publication in 1939, Alcoholics Anonymous, the first 164 pages of which have remained virtually unchanged since then, has been a perennial best-seller.

Although some members of Alcoholics Anonymous might believe that its success lies in the sense of support and community its members gain from attending regular meetings, the vast majority of members, and the literature, hold that the essence of Alcoholics Anonymous is the Twelve Steps, which incorporate Dr. Silkworth's description of the two-fold problem of physical allergy and mental obsession in Step One, Dr. Jung's description of the spiritual solution in Step Two, the Oxford Groups' method of reaching a spiritual awakening in Steps Three through Eleven, and Wilson's experience in helping others in Step Twelve.

It is sometimes suggested that those in the earliest days of sobriety attend at least one meeting every day for 90 days. There is no minimum number or frequency of meetings, however, that members are required to attend.

A.A. does not charge membership dues to attend meetings, but instead relies on whatever donations members choose to give.

The growth of A.A., especially in its early decades, was striking. In 2002, the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous reported that there were more than 100,000 A.A. groups worldwide, with a combined membership of approximately two million alcoholics.

A.A. uses the famous Serenity Prayer.

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