June 10, 2015 marks the 80th birthday of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous was formed to aid those struggling with alcoholism by focusing on the simple principle of one alcoholic helping another. This program was the first 12-step based program and it has laid the foundation for several other similar programs that have assisted millions of people who are dealing with a wide spectrum of addictions.
The history behind AA
In 1935, a stockbroker named Bill Wilson was struggling with a severe addiction to alcohol. During that time, alcohol addiction was not considered a disease, rather, it was seen as a lack of willpower and a moral dysfunction. Wilson found himself at Towns Hospital in Akron, Ohio, under the care of Dr. William Silkworth, a physician who had been treating alcoholics for decades. Silkworth believed that alcoholics were people who had an adverse reaction to alcohol and demonstrated an allergy to the substance.
Bill later ran into an old friend and drinking partner, Ebby Thatcher. Thatcher informed Bill that he had been able to stay sober after joining an organization called the Oxford Group. Thatcher advised Bill to find a “God” of his own understanding or some sort of “Higher Power,” which left Bill very skeptical of the program.
During his final stay at Towns Hospital, Bill had what he would later call a “spiritual experience,” in which his obsession with drinking was lifted. In order to maintain this “spiritual connection,” Bill realized that he would have to help other alcoholics establish the same relationship with a higher entity. Although Bill failed many times to ensure other alcoholics’ sobriety, he remained sober himself.
Bill realized that preaching to others about his spiritual experience was ineffective. He found that if he told others about his experience with alcohol and how it nearly took his life, then maybe others would listen. This is how AA’s integral component of sharing experiences, strength and hope was formed.
Later in life, Bill entered a dark period in his life both personally and financially. He craved a drink to cope with the pain. Rather than succumbing to his old habits, Bill contacted Dr. Bob Smith, a fellow alcoholic and member of the Oxford Group. Like Bill, Dr. Smith had tried several times to get sober and was looking for a way to get better. Bill chose not preach to him, but, instead, shared his story. Bill proceeded to stay at Dr. Bob’s house, where they would go on to develop a program aimed at assisting other alcoholics find recovery. Dr. Smith had one more relapse, taking his last drink on June 10th, 1935, which marked the first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The book “Alcoholics Anonymous” was published in 1939, providing the movement with an official name and a set of guidelines. Alcoholics Anonymous utilized the six steps that were originally used by the Oxford Group and adapted them to a 12-step format. The fellowship of AA comprises millions of people around the world and has taught these now sober people a healthier way to live their lives.
Alcoholics Anonymous has become the foundation for millions of alcoholics and drug addicts living in recovery and has grown to be an international movement. There are Alcoholic Anonymous meetings held on a daily basis in a wide range of local institutions. This organization is funded by member contributions and requires no fees to join. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop drinking.
AA has laid the foundation for several other 12-step programs which are now used as an integral part of addiction treatment. Sovereign Health Group is among the leading addiction treatment providers in the country. We offer a variety of inpatient and outpatient treatment programs across the nation for patients who are struggling with addiction, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. If you know someone who is struggling with addiction and is in need of treatment, please do not hesitate to call or talk to a member of our team online through our Live Chat. Our admissions helpline is open 24/7 and our treatment specialist will assist you in finding the right treatment option for you.
Written by Benjamin Creekmore, Sovereign Health Group writer