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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA states that its primary purpose is “to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety”. With other early members Wilson and Smith developed AA’s Twelve Step program of spiritual and character development. AA’s Twelve Traditions introduced in 1946 to help be stable and unified while disengaged from “outside issues” and influences. The Traditions recommend that members and groups remain anonymous in public media, altruistically help other alcoholics, avoiding affiliations with any other organization. The Traditions also recommend that those representing AA steer clear of dogma and coercive hierarchies. Subsequent fellowships such as Narcotics Anonymous have adopted and adapted the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions to their respective primary purposes.
AA has no opinion on the medical nature of alcoholism; nonetheless AA is regarded as a proponent and popularizer of the disease theory of alcoholism. AA is credited with helping many alcoholics achieve and maintain sobriety. The American Psychiatric Association has recommended sustained treatment in conjunction with AA’s program, or similar community resources, for chronic alcoholics unresponsive to brief treatment. AA’s data show that 36% are still attending AA a year after their first meetings.
The first female member, Florence Rankin, joined AA in March 1937, and the first non-Protestant member, a Roman Catholic, joined in 1939. AA membership has since spread “across diverse cultures holding different beliefs and values”, including geopolitical areas resistant to grassroot movements. In the Fourth Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (November 2001) it states “Since the third edition was published in 1976, worldwide membership of AA has just about doubled, to an estimated two million or more…”
AA’s name is derived from its first book, informally called “The Big Book”, originally titled Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism.