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organization of ex-drinkers known as Alcoholics Anonymous
last week was rounding out its twelfth year. Taking stock,
it found that it had 35,000 members and 1,200 chapters (including
outposts in Canada and Latin America). It was picking up
new members at the rate of 1,000 a month. In the last few
months, A.A.'s stock among doctors and an estimated 750,000
U.S. alcoholics had climbed fast.
was founded twelve years ago by a still-anonymous Manhattan
stockbroker, known only as Bill, and an alcoholic Akron
doctor. The organization has no officers, no dues, no big
funds (its small Manhattan headquarters last year spent
only $35,000, donated by members). Pledged to help other
alcoholics, members do little proselytizing, help only when
they are called on. Before A.A., all but 5% of alcoholics
were considered hopeless. Of A.A.'s regular members, some
50% never touch a drop after they join; 25% get on the wagon
after one or two slips.
Wind. A.A.'s method (inspired by William James’s
Varieties of Religious Experience) rests on an appeal to
a Higher Power (God, or whatever Force the member prefers)
for strength to resist the compulsion to drink. Founder
Bill, describing his “spiritual awakening,”
said: “I felt lifted up, as though the great clean
wind of a mountaintop blew through and through.” Psychiatrists,
who use much fancier words, describe the process as the
“use of a religious or spiritual force to attack the
fundamental narcissism of the alcoholic.”
A.A. member’s self-treatment has twelve well-defined
steps. Among other things, he must admit that he cannot
take it or leave it; he has got to quit cold. Members are
ready, day or
night, to answer a desperate call for help from a backsliding
member. Secret of the A.A. help: fellow alcoholics do not
scold nor misunderstand an alcoholic who wants to quit;
they know exactly what hurdles he has to be helped over.
to Talk. One of A.A.'s worries is preserving its
members’ anonymity. Members have a marked tendency
to gossip and declare themselves. A.A. insists on anonymity
as a reassurance to prospective members. Women members (who
comprise about a third of AA.) are another problem. A large
proportion of women alcoholics drop out after a few months.
As every Alcoholics Anonymous knows, “twelfth-step
work” (helping other alcoholics) is one of the most
important single factors in keeping members on the wagon.
No cure, the A.A. method is effective only as long as a
member keeps it up. An A.A. member is in for life. Those
who quit usually go back to the bottle.
Time, February 26, 1947)