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Happy Anniversary A.A.


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship with the stated purpose of enabling its members to "stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety." AA is nonprofessional, self-supporting, and apolitical. Its only membership requirement is a desire to stop drinking.

AA was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio when one alcoholic, Bill Wilson, talked to another alcoholic, Bob Smith, about the nature of alcoholism and a possible solution. With the help of other early members, the book Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism was written in 1939. Its title became the name of the organization and is now usually referred to as "The Big Book". AA's initial Twelve Traditions were introduced in 1946 to help the fellowship be stable and unified while disengaged from "outside issues" and influences.

The Traditions recommend that members remain anonymous in public media, altruistically help other alcoholics, and that AA groups avoid official affiliations with other organizations. They also advise against dogma and coercive hierarchies. They seek guidance and strength through prayer and meditation from God or a Higher Power of their own understanding; take a moral inventory with care to include resentments; list and become ready to remove character defects; list and make amends to those harmed; continue to take a moral inventory, pray, meditate, and try to help other alcoholics recover. The second half of the book, "Personal Stories" (subject to additions, removal and retitling in subsequent editions), is made of AA members' redemptive autobiographical sketches. Subsequent fellowships such as Narcotics Anonymous have adapted the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions to their respective primary purposes.

AA membership has since spread internationally across diverse cultures holding different beliefs and values, including geopolitical areas resistant to grassroots movements. Close to two million people worldwide are estimated to be members of AA as of 2016.

AA sprang from The Oxford Group, a non-denominational movement modeled after first-century Christianity. Some members founded the Group to help in maintaining sobriety. "Grouper" Ebby Thacher was Wilson's former drinking buddy who approached Wilson saying that he had "got religion", was sober, and that Wilson could do the same if he set aside objections to religion and instead formed a personal idea of God, "another power" or "higher power".

Feeling a "kinship of common suffering" and, though drunk, Wilson attended his first Group gathering. Within days, Wilson admitted himself to the Charles B. Towns Hospital after drinking four beers on the way—the last alcohol he ever drank. Under the care of William Duncan Silkworth (an early benefactor of AA), Wilson's detox included the deliriant belladonna. At the hospital, a despairing Wilson experienced a bright flash of light, which he felt to be God revealing himself. Following his hospital discharge, Wilson joined the Oxford Group and recruited other alcoholics to the Group. Wilson's early efforts to help others become sober were ineffective, prompting Silkworth to suggest that Wilson place less stress on religion and more on "the science" of treating alcoholism. Wilson's first success came during a business trip to Akron, Ohio, where he was introduced to Robert Smith, a surgeon and Oxford Group member who was unable to stay sober. After thirty days of working with Wilson, Smith drank his last drink on June 10, 1935, the date marked by AA for its anniversaries.

AA's Big Book calls alcoholism "an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer." Ernest Kurtz says this is "The closest the book Alcoholics Anonymous comes to a definition of alcoholism." Somewhat divergently in his introduction to The Big Book, non-member and early benefactor William Silkworth said those unable to moderate their drinking suffer from an allergy. In presenting the doctor's postulate AA said "The doctor's theory that we have an allergy to alcohol interests us. As laymen, our opinion as to its soundness may, of course, mean little. But as ex-problem drinkers, we can say that his explanation makes good sense. It explains many things for which we cannot otherwise account." AA later acknowledged that "alcoholism is not a true allergy, the experts now inform us." Wilson explained in 1960 why AA had refrained from using the term "disease":

“We AAs have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity. For example, there is no such thing as heart disease. Instead there are many separate heart ailments or combinations of them. It is something like that with alcoholism. Therefore, we did not wish to get in wrong with the medical profession by pronouncing alcoholism a disease entity. Hence, we have always called it an illness or a malady—a far safer term for us to use.”

Since then medical and scientific communities have generally concluded that alcoholism is an "addictive disease" (aka Alcohol Use Disorder, Severe, Moderate, or Mild). The ten criteria are: alcoholism is a Primary Illness not caused by other illnesses nor by personality or character defects; second, an addiction gene is part of its etiology; third, alcoholism has predictable symptoms; fourth, it is progressive, becoming more severe even after long periods of abstinence; fifth, it is chronic and incurable; sixth, alcoholic drinking or other drug use persists in spite of negative consequences and efforts to quit; seventh, brain chemistry and neural functions change so alcohol is perceived as necessary for survival; eighth, it produces physical dependence and life-threatening withdrawal; ninth, it is a terminal illness; tenth, alcoholism can be treated and can be kept in remission.

Need help with a drinking problem? Visit https://www.aa.org/, or www.poconointergroupaa.org, or call (570)424-8532.

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