Chapter 35. The History of Alcoholics Anonymous and the Experiences of Patients

Edgar P. Nace, M.D.
DOI: 10.1176/appi.books.9781585623440.354487



On June 10, 1935, an Akron, Ohio, surgeon named Bob Smith took his last drink, a beer, to steady his nerves prior to performing surgery. This date is considered the founding date of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA; White 1998).

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TABLE 35–1. Estimated Alcoholics Anonymous membership and group information
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TABLE 35–2. Alcoholics Anonymous membership demographics
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TABLE 35–3. The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
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TABLE 35–4. The 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
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The founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the culmination of decades of effort to help alcoholic persons by religious organizations, secular groups, and physicians.

The integrity of the AA organization has been sustained by avoiding any affiliation with outside entities and by remaining faithful to its mission to help alcoholic individuals.

The fellowship of AA provides a structure for daily living through appreciation of the 12 steps and 12 traditions that foster sobriety and personal maturity.

The efficacy of AA is reflected by its growth, its influence on substance abuse treatment programs, and the increasing referral to AA by health care providers.


Alcoholics Anonymous: Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1978
Alcoholics Anonymous: Grapevine. New York, The AA Grapevine, 1992
Alcoholics Anonymous: Alcoholics Anonymous Membership Survey. 2004. Available at: http://www.aa.org/en_media_resources.cfm?PageID=75. Accessed October 4, 2007.
Alcoholics Anonymous: Estimates of AA Groups and Members. 2007. Available at: http://www.aa.org/en_media_resources.cfm?PageID=74. Accessed October 4, 2007.
Anderson D: Perspectives on Treatment: The Minnesota Experience. Center City, MN, Hazelden Educational Materials, 1981
Book Reviews: Alcoholics Anonymous. J Nerv Ment Dis 92:399, 1940
DiClemente CC, Bellino LE, Neavins TM: Motivation for change and alcoholism treatment. Alcohol Res Health 23:86–92, 1999
Fahey DM: Temperance and Racism: John Bull, Johnny Reb, and the Good Templars. Lexington, KY, Lexington University Press, 1996
James W: The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1985
Kurtz E: Not-God: A History of Alcoholics Anonymous. Center City, MN, Hazelden, 1979
Maxwell M: The Washingtonian movement. Q J Stud Alcohol 2:410–451, 1950
Nace EP: Alcoholics Anonymous, in Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, 4th Edition. Edited by Lowinson JH, Ruiz P, Millman RB, et al. Philadelphia, PA, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2005, pp 587–599
Thomsen R: Bill W. New York, Harper & Row, 1975
Tyrell I: Sobering Up. Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 1979
Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 2nd Edition. New York, William Collins Publisher, 1980
White WL: Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America. Bloomington, IL, Chestnut Health Systems/Lighthouse Institute, 1998
Wilson WG: Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. New York, Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing, 1957

CME Activity

Add a subscription to complete this activity and earn CME credit.
Sample questions:
A forerunner of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was the Washingtonian Total Abstinence Society, founded in 1840. Which of the following statements about this group is false?
A later group devoted to recovery principles was the Oxford Group, founded in the early 1900s. This group endorsed four absolutes as premises of membership and participation. Which of the following was not one of this group's four absolutes?
Individuals seek out AA under the guidance of various others who advise them. According to the 2004 AA membership survey, the largest fraction of AA members, 39%, was referred to AA by which group?
Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).
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