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12-Step Programs

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)  is a group of people, men and women, who congregate together at meetings in which they all have one common goal which is to get sober.  People in AA must have the desire to do so.  The goal is help each other through sharing experiences.

The biggest part of AA is the ability to obtain a sponsor.  The sponsor is who to talk to and the sponsorship role in AA acts as a two way street.  It helps the person who is being sponsored and also helps the sponsor by taking that responsibility.  Since AA has been around for over 65 years the effectiveness is pretty amazing.  AA works really well.

Step 1 is the only step that talks about alcohol and steps 2-11 are ways to improve the quality of a person’s life.  Technically, steps 2-11 can be used in any aspect of a person’s life.   With that being said, steps 1-7 are steps that prepare for action and steps 8-12 are the actions that a person do to complete their steps in AA.

All of the 12 step groups adopt the program and go by the traditional 12 steps even though they are not directly related or affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous.  Traditionally however, the meetings and sponsorships works the same with the same ideas replacing alcohol with whatever the support or addiction may be.  For example Alateen is designed for young people who are living with alcoholics and NA (narcotics anonymous) is replacing narcotics for alcohol.

The Big Book

There are 4 editions to the book, “Alcoholics Anonymous.”  This book is also known as The Big Book.  The first book was created in 1939.  Over the years most of the book has remained untouched and the main parts of the book that were edited were personal stories, appendices were added, and the twelve traditions.    Each addition has a forward explaining exactly what has changed and why.  The concept of Alcoholics Anonymous is not traditional in a sense that they are not a business.  The organization does not require any dues or fees.  The only thing they do require is for the person to have the desire to stop drinking.   The forward to the second edition explains how the sponsor concept came about.  Alcoholics Anonymous relies heavily on people helping people so that is why the program eventually requires sponsorship from another member.  The latest edition was printed in 2001 when membership was over 2 million.  The Big Book has also been printed in many other languages following the exact same concept.  The latest edition also incorporates technological advances such as web access and online meetings.

The Big Book also has a Doctor’s Opinion page where there is a doctor William D Silkworth M.D.  gave his opinion on Alcoholics Anonymous and what he believed. This doctor believes that alcoholism is an allergy that a person could not control.  He believes this allergy is not only physical but obviously a mental one too.  He believes and supports immediate medical attention when a person is withdrawing from alcohol and also believes that a person is not capable of completing the steps in the Big Book until their mind is free and clear.

Bill Wilson is the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  His story is intriguing to say the least.   He was born in 1895 and found alcohol at a pretty young age while in the military.  Over the years his body started to rely heavily on the substance so much that he failed out of law school because he was too drunk to pass a final exam.  His intelligence landed him some money with Wall Street but the alcohol was still stronger than ever.  After losing nearly everything in the Great Depression he realized that he had to get help.   During his dark times he couldn’t seem to get a grasp on his alcoholism and it wasn’t until one day when old alcoholic friend of his showed up on his door step.  He had quit drinking and was strong enough to say no to a drink put right in front of his face.   This was a big turning point in which he knew that this concept could work.  His friend helped him in a way that no one else could.

Bill Wilson went to seek medical care at the Oxford Group which he then had a spiritual awakening.  During his sobriety Bill was faced many times with the temptation to drink but was able to turn his attention to Church and support from others.  He realized that one alcoholic supporting another alcoholic by releasing their emotions and telling their story is a model that really works.

There are 3 founding member of Alcoholics Anonymous; Bill Wilson, Dr. Bob, and Bill D.  They founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935 with a mission to help other alcoholics.  The weekly meetings started at Bill’s house and soon turned into a temporary home for alcoholics seeking help.  The rest is history.


Alcoholics Anonymous views sponsorship as two equals.  The purpose of sponsorship is two-fold.  First, anyone who is new to the program is going to feel apprehensive.  Meetings alone aren’t going to be enough for most people.  They will need someone who can guide them through the journey of getting sober.  They will need someone they can talk to at any time or someone who can vouch for them.   Not only does it serve a purpose for newcomers who will need someone but it also helps the person who is the sponsor in a big way.  It is a proven method in which helping someone else is a great way to help you.

The reason sponsorship plays such an important role in AA is because the newcomers are able to realize that the person who is willing to help them has been in their shoes before.  The relationship between the sponsor and the newcomer should be very open and honest.  Questions for both people are encouraged.

When a member has decided to become a sponsor their sobriety will tend to get stronger.  The reason is because by becoming a sponsor a natural void is being filled.  By helping someone else the process in recovery can remain solid.  No one person is more superior than another however it is recommended that the sponsor be of the same sex to eliminate natural human emotions that could possibly arise.   The sponsor should be available and willing at most all times and there are ways to handle situations, such as apprehension or slips, that are not judgmental or critical.

Eventually, the newcomer will spread their wings and go on to help other newcomers and then become a sponsor themselves.  It is at this time that the realization of the program in itself is a success and oftentimes leads to lifelong friendships.

How Alcohol Anonymous got Started

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bill W. and Dr. Bob in Akron Ohio.  Bill Wilson was a very heavy alcoholic.  He was also very smart and his intelligence was able to get him into the Wall Street business.  However, during the Great Depression he lost everything.  His life was spinning out of control.  He had a spiritual awakening during a detox at one point and then realized that with the help and support from other people staying sober was attainable.

The AA meetings originated at Bill W’s house and grew gradually.  He even temporarily housed other alcoholics in his own home.   The basic idea with the 12-step approach is that the founders wanted to create a nonprofessional group where the only rule to join was that they desired to get sober.  There are no fees or dues to join.  Their idea was to encourage other alcoholics to attend meetings, read the literature that was provided, get a sponsor, work the steps, sponsor others, and then provide service that is recommended by the group.   In 1939 the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous put together what we know today as “The Big Book.”   The Title of the book is, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism.  This book has been revised overtime with the most recent edition being in 2001.   The book can be purchased but is also available free online.  In 1946 they created the 12 traditions which act as a guideline to go hand in hand with the 12 steps.  The popularity of the self-help, 12-step approach increased and the effectiveness became known.

In 1951 Bill Wilson’s wife founded Al-Anon which is a 12 step support group for family members of alcoholics.  She felt as though family members, including her, would benefit from the support of other people and working the steps to understand their own issues at hand.  As time went on other 12 step groups started to form such as Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Sexaholics Anonymous.  Today, you can find a 12 step group for just about anything and they all stem from the basic principles that were created with the traditional 12 steps.













Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. S.l.: Works, 2007. Print

"AA Timeline." Alcoholics Anonymous :. Web. 12 June 2011. <>.