You may not know that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) started as the result of a meeting between a stockbroker and a surgeon in Akron, Ohio. In 1935, Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. (both alcoholics) had found little success with previous treatment methods. When their paths crossed in the Akron medical community, they found immediate relief in sharing one another’s common burden of alcoholism. Bill’s doctor in New York taught him that it was a mental, physical, and emotional disease. In turn, Bill’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and friendship helped Dr. Bob to become sober, which allowed the two to get to work helping local patients of alcohol use disorder (also known as alcoholism or AUD) in Akron.
Just four years later, their newfound program helped three groups totaling 100 alcoholics to get sober. The membership expanded quickly from there, gaining traction nationwide. In New York, it caught the attention of businessman John D. Rockefeller, who was recruited as a board member. A few key newspaper articles in the late 1930s and early 1940s helped the program expand further, and by 1950, there were 100,000 recovered alcoholics all over the world. Today, more than 70 years later, A.A. groups have been established in 180 countries.
The ultimate goal of A.A. is to help people with AUD achieve sobriety. A.A. is a fellowship of alcoholics of all ages and backgrounds. It does not cost anything to attend meetings, and as its name alludes, anonymity and confidentiality are of the utmost importance to its members. A.A. follows 12 steps or principles that are encouraged as a way of life for members to learn how to live without alcohol and achieve sobriety. A.A.’s book Twelve Steps & Twelve Traditions, also referred to as The Big Book, expounds on these principles. The book was written by co-founder Bill W. and is considered A.A.’s core manual.
Part of A.A.’s ingenuity is that local groups are encouraged to operate autonomously. Early on in the 1930s, one A.A. group took its autonomy too far and tried to set up a fancy, elaborate center with a laundry list of 61 rules. Yes, 61 rules. The group mailed their list to the A.A. office in New York City in an effort to help volunteers understand the operations. Naturally, the volunteers were overwhelmed by so many rules. And so, someone responded to the group with a simple answer: Rule #62: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously.
While this was clearly meant as a half-joking, half-serious, tongue-in-cheek reaction, its wisdom has resonated with members for decades. The tale became an informal rule to live by, and it speaks to the simplicity and straightforwardness of the program.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, AUD is a medical condition that demonstrates an “impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences”. This brain disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe, according to the person’s symptoms, which include the following:
If you or someone you know may need help, click here to read more about the signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder.