Lets Ask Bill W.
Question & Answer # 33
What is the success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous?
Of those sincerely willing to stop drinking about 50 per cent have done so at once, 25 per cent after a few relapses and most of the remainder have improved. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol. 44, Aug., 1944).
As of 1949 our quantity results are these. The 14 year old society of Alcoholics Anonymous has 80,000 members in about 3,000 groups. We have entered into about 30 foreign countries and U.S. possessions; translations are going forward. By occupation we are an accurate cross section of America. By religious affiliation we are about 40% Catholic, nominal and active Protestants; also many former agnostics, and a sprinkling of Jews comprise the remainder. Ten to 15% are women. Some Negroes are recovering without undue difficulty. Top medical and religious endorsements are almost universal. A.A. membership is pyramiding, chain style, at the rate of 30% a year. During 1949 we expect 20,000 permanent recoveries, at least. Half of them will be medium or mild cases with an average age of 36 – a fairly recent development.
Of alcoholics who stay with us and really try, 50% get sober at once and stay that way, 25% do so after some relapses and the remainder show some improvement. But many problem drinkers do quit A.A. after a brief contact, many, three or four out of five. Some are too psychopathic or damaged. But the majority have powerful rationalizations yet to be broken down. Exactly this does happen, providing they get what A.A. calls a “good exposure,” on first contact. Alcohol then burns such a hot fire under them that they are driven back to us, often years later. They tell us that they had to return; it was A.A. or else. Such cases leave us the agreeable impression that half of our original exposures will eventually return, most of them to recover. (Amer. J. Psychiatry Vol. 106, 1949).
About two thousand recoveries now take place each month. Of those alcoholics who wish to get well and are emotionally capable of trying our method, 50 per cent recover immediately, 25 per cent after a few backslides. The remainder are improved if they continue active in A.A. Of the total who approach us, it is probable that only 25 per cent become A.A. members on the first contact. A list of seventy-five of our early failures today discloses that 70 returned to A.A. after one to ten years. We did not bring them back; they came of their own accord. (N.Y. State J. Med., Vol.50, July 1950).
As we gained in size, we also gained in effectiveness. The recovery rate went up. Of all those who really tried A.A., 50 per cent made it at once, 25 per cent finally made it; and the rest, if they stayed with us, were definitely improved. That percentage has since held, even with those who first wrote their stories in the original edition of “Alcoholics Anonymous.” In fact, 75 per cent of these finally achieved sobriety. Only 25 per cent died or went mad. Most of those still alive have been sober for an average of twenty years.
In our early days and since, we have found that great numbers of alcoholics approach us and then turn away – maybe three out of five, today. But we have happily found out that the majority of them later return, provided they are not too psychopathic or too brain damaged. Once they have learned from the lips of other alcoholics that they are beset by an often fatal malady, their further drinking only turns up the screw. Eventually they are forced back into A.A., they must or die. Sometimes this happens years after the first exposure. The ultimate recovery rate in A.A. is therefore a lot higher than we at first thought it could be.
Yet we must humbly reflect that Alcoholics Anonymous has so far made only a scratch upon the total problem of alcoholism. Here in the United States, we have helped to sober up scarcely five per cent of the total alcoholic population of 4,500,000. (N.Y. Med. Society on Alcoholism, 1958).
A.A. members can soberly ask themselves what became of the 600,000 alcoholics who approached the Fellowship during the past thirty years but who did not stay. How much and how often did we fail all these? When we remember that in the 20 years of A.A. existence we have reached less than 10 per cent of all those who might be willing to approach us, we begin to get an idea of the immensity of our task, and of the responsibilities with which we will always be confronted. (G.S.C. 1958).
I took note of the fact that in the generation which has seen A.A. come alive, this period of twenty-five years, a vast procession of the world’s drunks have passed in front of us and have gone over the precipice. Based on figures I was careful to get, it looks like, worldwide, there was something like 25 million of them and out of that stream of despair, illness, misery and death — we fished out just one in a hundred in the last 25 years. I think we’re fishing somewhat bigger and better.
Our numbers are considerable. We have size. There is great security in numbers. You can’t imagine how it was in the very first two or three years of this thing when nobody was sure that anybody could stay sober…Then we were like the people on Eddie Rickenbacker’s raft. Boy, anybody rock that raft, even a little, and he was sure to be clobbered, that’s all, and then thrown overboard. But today it’s a different story. Along with greater security in numbers, there has come a certain amount of liability. The more people there are to do a job, it often turns out, the less there are. In other words, what is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. So size is bound to bring complacency unless we get increasingly aware of what’s going on. (Transcribed from tape. GSC, 1960)