A Brief History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcohol is an integral part of every culture in the world. It has different influences in the societies throughout the world, from the absolute prohibition in the Islamic world to the absolute tolerance in the Western countries and Europe. Is it good or bad to consume alcohol? Alcohol is not a bad thing if its consumption is rather moderate. However, after a few drinks people just cannot stop. Thus, alcohol abuse became a real problem of the American society.

The majority of social problems like criminal acts, traffic accidents, child abuse and others are related to alcohol or drugs abuse. Alcohol is legal, so people believe that there is nothing wrong in the consumption of alcoholic beverages like beer, wine and others. According to the National Institute of Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse (2000), “over 50% of adult Americans drink regularly.” Such situation should not be a surprise for people since billions of dollars are spent every year to produce seductive advertisements that show the attractive and glamorous side of drinking.

The influence of various commercial tricks on young people cannot be overestimated. When a beautiful girl smiles with a glass of martini or a bottle of beer in her hand, how can one resist? A young man or a girl sees a party on a TV screen where good friends are all together, drinking and feeling great. Such commercials bring a lot of harm to the American society, because young people got used to such state of things and believe that alcohol abuse is not bad.

The current situation with alcohol abuse in the American society is the reason of economic wastes and human loses. Every year people die from temulence, car accidents caused by drinking, work injuries, suicides and other factors related to drinking. Alcohol abuse is the problem on a national scale that affects every aspect of the society’s wellbeing. In order to help alcoholics in their everlasting battle with terrible addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous organization was founded.

Alcoholic Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholism is a terrible social, medical, and interpersonal condition of an individual who suffers from addiction to alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded as a mutual aid for people who suffer from alcoholism and want to change something in their lives. “We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented, as well as many political, economic, social, and religious backgrounds.” (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001).

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The movement was founded in 1935. The initiators and founders were Bill Wilson (also known as Bill W.) and Dr. Bob Smith (Dr. Bob) (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). It happened in Akron, Ohio. The idea was to stay sober and help others achieve such state, as well and keep staying in it. Communicating with AA members, Bill and Bob developed a specialized program that consisted of 12 steps aimed to help alcoholics develop spiritually and strengthen their character. Since 1946, the program has been the key feature of AA’s success throughout the world (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001).

AA tries to avoid the discussions of the medical issues related to alcoholism and its nature. This is done out of consideration for the members and their problem. However, AA is known as an organization that popularizes the disease theory of alcoholism. Even the American Psychiatric Association recommends considering the program of AA, because alcoholics do not respond to short-time treatments procedures (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). The results of AA work show that about 65% of its members leave AA during the first year of their treatment process. Regardless of such statistics, many people get help and maintain sobriety only because of AA program (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). Now, AA has about 2 million members throughout the world, according to Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2001).

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Bill Wilson

William Griffith Wilson is the full name of Bill Wilson, mostly known by his followers as Bill or Bill W. according to the policy of anonymity, broadly accepted by AA from the very beginning of its functioning. He was born on November 26, 1895 in the U.S. One of the small towns of East Dorset, Vermont, became his home from the day he was born. Gilman Wilson and Emily Griffith Wilson (the parents) had two children. Bill was the older one. His father was a real drinker. Such state of things led to the eventual divorce initiated by Emily. The father’s condition scared the young boy rather seriously from his early years of life.

Parents abandoned Bill, and he and his sister were raised by their grandparents. Bill was determined and aimed at success; however, after he failed to enter MIT in 1917, Wilson joined the army and was shipped to Europe in 1918. During this period, he took a drink for the first time. Bill married Lois Burnham the same year and they were together until his death in 1971. In 1919, he was shipped back to the U.S. and discharged, never trying the actual combat. Wilson stayed in New York City.

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As many other veterans, Bill had issues with finding a regular job, so his drinking issue only got worse. During the 1920s, his problem grew even more serious. By 1935, Bill had depression issues than even put him into hospital for several times. In 1935, he and Dr. Bob Smith established an organization aimed to help people stay away from alcohol and be sober: “While I lay in the hospital the thought came that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others.”(Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). He never had another drink in his life.

By 1938, about 100 alcoholics recovered from alcoholism due to the help of Wilson and other members of AA. The book Alcoholics Anonymous was published as a promotion of AA program. The AA became Alcoholics Anonymous by taking the book’s title as the name of organization. Wilson, still suffering from depression and being hospitalized for several times during the period from 1944 to 1955, decided to turn down the control of AA and gave  it to a trustees’ board (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). Wilson was a heavy smoker until his last days and it was the reason of his emphysema that led to pneumonia. In 1971, he died suffering from pneumonia, still smoking even while using oxygen tank. Bill Wilson never drank for 37 years up until his death.

The Twelve-Step Program

Wilson developed a special program facilitating the process of recovery from alcoholic disease: the Twelve-Step Program (Kurtz, 2001). However, the emphasis in the program was on the spiritual concepts, allowing an alcoholic to become sober and maintain this condition. “The book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions says little about the disease concept of alcoholism; it offers much on all aspects of the spiritual dimensions of the alcoholic condition.” (Kurtz, 2001).

The steps are aimed towards the following goals:

  • It is utterly important to admit that it is not possible to control the addiction
  • It is necessary to recognize the fact that a higher power can provide strength to fight addiction
  • The past experience of a sponsor is a valuable information for further examination of his/her errors in order to avoid them in the future
  • The evaluation of the above-mentioned experience is worthless without making the appropriate amendments for these errors in the personal life of the alcoholic
  • It is necessary to live a different, new life based on the improved, new code of actions
  • Finally, helping the others, who have the same issues, is the path to salvation and strength to continue staying sober by providing the personal example (Kurtz, 2001; Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001).

These principles are the summary of the actual twelve steps formulated by Bill Wilson. It is utterly important to follow them in every aspect of the new, sober life. This is the only path to salvation and changes in life of every alcoholic attending the AA meetings. It is a voluntary program, so no one has the right to demand strict following of these rules. However, if an alcoholic has a desire to change and to heal, these rules are mandatory (Kurtz, 2001).


Alcoholism is one of the most dangerous issues of the modern society. Alcohol is legal; there are no strict limitations regarding its consumption; people have access to it without any substantial reasons, and life always provides a series of chances to give up and drown all problems in the bottle. Those who cannot resist and become alcoholics have always needed and still need serious help from outside. Alcoholics Anonymous became such a help. Bill Wilson created an opportunity to reach a hand of help for anyone who has the strength to admit the problem and ask for help. Wilson was put on the list of the 100 most important people of the century by Times (Alcoholic Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001). His twelve-step program is the road to salvation and better life for any alcoholic in the world. Everything one needs to do is join AA and follow the program.



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