Alcoholics Anonymous

Otherwise known as “AA,” Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, and remains the largest of the 12-Step fellowships.

Its numbers are quite remarkable. “AA has a presence in over 170 countries, with an estimated total of 114,070 groups and more than 2 million members worldwide. Alcoholics Anonymous, now in its fourth edition, has sold over 30 million copies and has been translated into 67 languages.” (AA Media Release, Aug. 27, 2012)

In simplest form, AA is a fellowship. It works when a recovering alcoholic shares the story of his or her own problem drinking and describes the sobriety he or she has found in AA. “One alcoholic taking to another” is often cited as the essence of AA.

The “suggested” program of personal recovery is contained in the Twelve Steps, as they were written by Bill Wilson, and first published in Alcoholics Anonymous, otherwise known as the “Big Book,” in 1939.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

People who are new to AA are not asked to accept or follow these Twelve Steps in their entirety if they feel unwilling or unable to do so. They will usually be asked to keep an open mind and to “keep coming back,” to attend meetings at which recovered alcoholics describe their personal experiences in achieving sobriety.

There is an excellent essay on the history of the 12 Steps at AA Agnostica: The Origins of the 12 Steps.