The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Books

Big Book Reviews

The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Books


Santrock, J.W., Minnett, A.M., Campbell, B.D.

The Guilford Press, N.Y., N.Y., 1994.

**** ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS (3rd ed., 1976). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services

In the national survey, this was the highest rated of the three books published by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Revised twice since the first edition was published in 1939, the book is the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous self-help groups. These groups are open and free to anyone, nonalcoholics as well as alcoholics. The average period of sobriety for A.A. members (who call themselves A.A.'s) is 52 months; 29% stay sober for more than 5 years. Members range from teens to the elderly. Increasing numbers of young people have joined A.A. in recent years. About twice as many men as women belong. The number of A.A. members addicted to substances other than alcohol hasincreased to an estimated 38% overall. The principles of Alcoholics Anonymous have been revised and adapted by a number of self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Al-Anon (for people with a variety of addictions and their families).

Called the "Big Book" by A.A.'s, Alcoholics Anonymous is divided into two basic parts. The first part describes the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program, which relies heavily on confession, group support, and spiritual commitment to God to help individuals cope with alcoholism. Extensive personal testimonies ofA.A. members from different walks of life make up the latter two-thirds of the book. Successive editions of the book have expanded the case histories to describe examples of alcoholics from a variety of backgrounds in hope that alcoholics who read the book can identify with at least one of them. The chapter long stories record the experiences of pioneers of A.A. (such as Dr Bob, a co-founder of A.A ), individuals who stopped in time (such as a housewife who drank at home, hiding her bottles in dresser drawers, but recovered through A.A.), and people who nearly lost all (such as a middle-aged man who began drinking heavily in college and didn't beat the addiction until he joined and stayed with A.A.). Brief appendices include the Twelve A.A. Steps and Traditions and several testimonials to A.A. by ministers and physicians. The book also explains how to join A.A. and attend meetings.

Alcoholics Anonymous was given a 4-star recommended rating by the mental health experts in the national survey. A.A. has helped millions of individuals throughout the world to cope effectively with their addiction to alcohol. The positive and supportive atmosphere created by recovering alcoholics at A.A. meetings - which are held daily -- make a difference in helping many people to become sober.

A.A., however, is not without its critics. A.A. works for many but not all alcoholics. Some agnostic or atheistic alcoholics have difficulty relating to A.A.'s strong spiritual emphasis, although A.A. welcomes these individuals to join its groups. Three self-help groups that have sprung up in recent years as alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous are Rational Recovery (RR), Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS), and Women for Sobriety (WFS). Put off by A.A.'s religious emphasis, the new groups leave God out of their battle with the bottle and rely more on willpower than on higher power. While A.A. calls drinking a disease and urges members to accept their helplessness against it, the newer groups emphasize the importance of taking personal responsibility for recovery.

Several of the mental health professionals in the survey said that A.A. is too "cultish" and that an adequate research base to support the success of A.A. over other treatments has not been established. Another mental health expert commented that in most cases A.A. is not a replacement for therapy but can be useful when it precedes or is combined with therapy. Such qualifications of the A.A. approach by some mental health professionals in the national survey meant a 4-star recommended rating for Alcoholics Anonymous rather than a 5-star, Strongly Recommended rating.


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In practicing our Traditions, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. has neither endorsed nor are they affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous®, AA®, and the Big Book® are registered trademarks of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.