When Was Alcoholics Anonymous Founded?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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What Is the History of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Many Americans struggle with crippling alcohol use disorder (AUD). Fortunately, if you are dealing with alcohol addiction, help is available. One option is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), an organization that is known all around the world for providing much-needed support to people dealing with alcohol addiction. Following is what you need to know about how AA was founded, its history and how it works.

When Was Alcoholics Anonymous Founded?

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in Akron, Ohio, in 1935 by surgeon Bob S. and stockbroker Bill W. They were two alcoholics who met when they were both members of the Oxford Group, a fellowship that promoted spiritual values for those struggling with alcohol addiction. After meeting the minds, the duo decided to form their own organization.

What Is the History of Alcoholics Anonymous?

Bill was taught by a New York physician, Dr. William D. Silkworth, that alcoholism was a disease and explained that to Bob. This inspired Bob to recover from his addiction, and he was successful — he remained sober for the rest of his life.

The two started Alcoholics Anonymous at Akron’s City Hospital, where they aimed to help others like them. One member became sober over a short time and remained so. From its beginnings in the United States, AA expanded into Canada and, ultimately, much of the world. There are now AA chapters in over 180 countries. 

The organization welcomes people from all walks of life to its free meetings regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, or socioeconomic status. Anyone who wants to quit drinking and work toward a sober lifestyle may join. Family members of AA members are welcome to attend certain meetings that are open to the public, and they are given the tools that they need to help their loved ones cope and succeed.

How Is Alcoholics Anonymous Run?

Today, Alcoholics Anonymous is not run by any particular leader; instead, meeting members who have successfully regained their sobriety run it to help others in the same situation. The way that AA is operated is one of the biggest reasons for its success over the years. The organization continues to increase its numbers and has over 100,000 groups worldwide.

All AA groups run on donations to pay for expenses. In some groups, members serve on committees for a set length of time, usually up to two years. When those terms end, then the rest of the members vote for new people to fill those roles. Anyone who belongs to Alcoholics Anonymous is eligible to run to sit on committees as long as they are active members.

How Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work?

Alcoholics Anonymous is based on 12 steps that all members must go through on their journey to sobriety. As a result, each member is urged to read the Big Book, which is considered the organization’s bible. It has stories from people who have gone through the program and overcome their addictions. Members can find inspiration in such stories and learn about the 12 steps and AA’s traditions.

The 12 steps aim to help each AA member during their recovery. They acknowledge that those struggling with alcohol use disorder are powerless over alcohol, have lost control over their lives, and need a higher power, “God as you understand Him,” to help. Your higher power does not have to be a deity worshipped by any religion. It can also be the universe, nature, love, friendship, or whatever resonates most deeply with you. 

Some of the 12 steps include soul searching and creating moral inventories, admitting wrongdoings, and making amends to people that members have wronged. AA asks members to continue taking moral inventories even as they reach sobriety and to meditate, pray, and have faith that they will be saved through spiritual awakenings.

Alcoholics Anonymous also has 12 traditions, which are the backbone of the organization. They assure all members that whatever they share during meetings is confidential and that they have a safe space to share their personal experiences, fears, and anything else while getting support.

What Are the Different Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings?

There are two different types of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings: open and closed. Open AA meetings are exactly as they sound; anyone is free to attend them, but they are in the minority. Closed AA meetings are the most common; only AA members may attend and participate.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are structured in four different categories. They include:

  • Beginners: AA newcomers are welcome to beginner meetings. Led by members who have regained sobriety and maintained it, they involve discussions that explain how things work. Meeting leaders discuss the 12 steps so that new members can become acclimated.
  • Discussion: During this type of meeting, a leader decides the topics to be discussed. This may include the 12 steps, 12 traditions, or daily reflections.
  • Speaker: Speaker meetings are open for anyone to attend. A speaker who has regained sober living for a certain length of time leads the meeting.
  • Steps, Traditions, or Big Book: These AA meetings involve reading helpful resources aloud to participants.

No matter what format an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting takes, all members have the chance to share their stories. This can help others gain inspiration so that they can find the strength to move forward and find ways to live a healthier, happier life. Everyone has the same goal: to stop drinking alcohol and maintain their newfound sobriety.

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings can occur in person, online, or even via phone. All meetings are unique as members can choose the particulars, including when they meet, where they meet, how often they meet, and whether the meetings are in person or otherwise.

If a meeting takes place in person, it can occur in any number of places. Members rent out rooms in churches, office buildings, community centers, recreation centers, treatment facilities, and other buildings that help recovery groups hold AA meetings. Some meetings even occur in outdoor settings like parks.

Statistics on Alcohol Use Disorder

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, approximately 6.7% of all American adults develop alcohol use disorder. As of 2020, 29.5 million Americans — 10.5 % of those aged 12 and older — struggled with alcohol addiction. Individuals 18 and older accounted for 24% of those who said they binge drink.

Men are three times more likely than women to die as a result of alcohol use disorder. About 84% of people who die from alcohol abuse are 35 and over. However, 13.5% of deaths stemming from alcoholism fall into the 20- to 39-year-old age group.

According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 30 million people aged 12 and over suffered from alcohol use disorder that year. Breaking down the numbers, 17.4 million of them were males aged 12 and older, and 12.2 million were females aged 12 and over.

The largest group of Americans battling alcohol use disorder were white; they account for 18.6 million and nearly 11% of people aged 12 and older. The next largest group to struggle with alcohol abuse are Americans of Hispanic or Latino descent aged 12 and over. They account for 5.5 million individuals in the United States with AUD and makeup 10.3% of the total.

Adults aged 18 and over accounted for nearly 29 million Americans who battled alcohol use disorder in 2022. Youths between the ages of 12 and 17 made up nearly 3% of all Americans with alcohol use disorder. Specifically, 753,000 young people admitted to abusing alcohol.

How Effective Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

According to a study conducted by Stanford University, Alcoholics Anonymous is the best option for individuals overcoming alcohol use disorder. Keith Humphreys, Ph.D., a researcher at Stanford, along with collaborators, evaluated 35 studies to come to that conclusion. AA was found to be even more effective than psychotherapy at helping people with AUD stop drinking and remain sober.

The Stanford University study team concluded that Alcoholics Anonymous is effective because of the way it encourages social interactions. Longtime AA members who have successfully reached and maintained their sobriety can share their stories with newer members and give them insight into what’s helped them avoid alcohol. All members can provide one another with support to help them reach their goals.

Many of the studies the researchers looked at revealed that Alcoholics Anonymous was better than other interventions. One showed that AA was 60% better, and not a single study found that AA was ineffective or less effective than other measures. 

One of the biggest reasons why the study found Alcoholics Anonymous to be so effective is the use of the 12 steps. Studies revealed that the 12 steps reduced the costs of mental health counseling typically associated with alcohol rehab treatment by around $10,000 per person.

During the study, only Alcoholics Anonymous was explored; other, similar treatment options like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) were excluded. However, Dr. Humphreys stated that the effectiveness of AA indicated that NA would work for individuals battling other substance use disorders.

The study showed that participants came from a wide variety of groups, including young people, elderly individuals, males, females, civilians, and veterans. Participants were also from five different countries, adding to the findings that Alcoholics Anonymous can work everywhere and for all groups.

Alcohol addiction can absolutely cripple your life and prevent you from functioning normally. Your job, studies, and relationships can suffer. If you are at your wit’s end and have concluded that you have a serious problem and need help, our team at Defining Wellness Centers is there for you. Call (855) 790-9303 today to start on your path to sobriety.

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