Alcoholics Anonymous

Otherwise known as “AA,” Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, and remains the largest of the 12-Step fellowships.

AA reports that it has a presence in over 170 countries, with an estimated total of 114,070 groups and roughly two million members worldwide. The book, Alcoholics Anonymous, published in 1939, has sold over 30 million copies and has been translated into 67 languages.

However, AA’s growth over the last years has stagnated, and is actually in decline when compared to population growth. To quote Joe C, author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life, “AA’s membership… peaked at 2.2 million in 2001. We’ve never relived that past glory.”

AA’s “suggested” program of recovery is contained in the 12 Steps. Here is the original 1939 version:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Is AA religious?

The above Steps contain the word God (or “Him” or “Power”) six times. The main 164 pages of the “Big Book” (otherwise known as Alcoholics Anonymous) refers to “God”, in one form or another, 281 times. “Traditional” AA meetings regularly end with the Lord’s Prayer, which is found in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew (6:9-13) with a shorter version in the Gospel of Luke (11:1-4) and is understood to have been taught by Jesus to his disciples and is considered the essential “summary” of the religion of Christianity.

Still, in simplest form, AA is a fellowship. It works when a recovering alcoholic shares the story of his or her own problem drinking and describes the sobriety he or she has found in AA.

“One alcoholic talking to another” may very well be the essence of Alcoholics Anonymous.