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Flashback Friday: Alcoholics Anonymous 1935

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Alcoholics Anonymous Wikipedia Image
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Author: John Leffman

Eighty-seven years ago, today, Robert Smith drank his last drink, the date marked by AA for its anniversaries.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship dedicated to abstinence based recovery from alcoholism through its spiritually inclined Twelve Step program. Following its Twelve Traditions, AA and autonomous AA groups are self-supporting through the strictly voluntary contributions from members only. The Traditions also establish AA as non-professional, non-denominational and apolitical, with an avowed desire to stop drinking as its sole requirement for membership. Though AA has not endorsed the disease model of alcoholism, to which its program is nonetheless sympathetic, its wider acceptance is partly due to many members independently promulgating it. A recent scientific review shows that by many measures AA does as well or better than other clinical interventions or no treatment. In particular, AA produces better abstinence rates with lower medical costs. As of 2020, having spread to diverse cultures, including geopolitical areas normally resistant to grassroots movements, AA has estimated its worldwide membership to be over two million with 75% of those in the U.S. and Canada.

AA marks 1935 for its founding when Wall Street analyst and newly recovering alcoholic Bill Wilson, then reeling from a failed proxy fight, sought to stay sober by commiserating with detoxing surgeon Bob Smith. After leaving the Oxford Group to form a fellowship of alcoholics only, Wilson and Smith, along with other early members, wrote Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism, from which AA acquired its name. Published in 1939 and commonly called “the Big Book”, it contains AA’s Twelve Step recovery program. Later editions included the Twelve Traditions, first adopted in 1946 to formalize and unify the fellowship as a “benign anarchy”.

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