The Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

Surgeon Robert Smith and stock analyst William Wilson (known for many years as “Dr. Bob” and “Bill W.”)  were two alcoholics who initially launched Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.  The beginning of this organization was somewhat similar to that of the Washingtonians, who were also alcoholics who decided to reform.  The two men met in Atlantic City in 1935 when Dr. Smith was attending a medical convention,  introduced by mutual contacts. The two realized that to carry their message of sobriety,  they needed to tell their stories to others.  They also realized that to stay sober themselves, they needed to help other people stay sober.

Smith and Wilson agreed that by themselves they were helpless against their addiction to alcohol,  and they hoped that by sharing their story with others with the same problem,  they could remain sober.  The name of the organization was created in 1939. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was a self-help organization with only two requirements: the sincere desire to stop drinking and also the willingness to help others who were dependent on alcohol. AA also revived the notion that alcoholism was a disease, rather than an immoral choice made by weak or degenerate individuals.

Wilson drafted what was to be referred to as the AA “Big Book,” inculcating their major principles and beliefs.  Supposedly the printer was ordered to use the thickest paper possible so that the book would seem big and important to the reforming alcoholics who would read it. Physicians were disinterested in the book, but a groundswell of support grew through meetings of alcoholics in cities on the East Coast.

Alcoholics Anonymous was and continues to be a great success.  By the late 1970s,  more than 500,000 people had joined the organization. There were also two other organizations that were created as spinoffs of Alcoholics Anonymous, including Al-Anon,  founded to help the families of alcoholics, and Alateen, for the adolescent family members of alcoholics.  Some groups and individuals have criticized AA for its emphasis on the importance of abstinence, and others have stated that the group is oriented more towards white, middle-class alcoholics.  Yet the group has many black,  Hispanic,  and other minority members,  so the criticism seems unfounded.

Many alcoholism treatment groups require membership in AA, as do many courts; for example,  if a person has been found guilty of driving while intoxicated, the court may require the person to attend AA meetings as part of his or her sentence.

AA does not work with everyone, but it has had many successes, and it is one very important means for alcoholics to regain control of their lives.

All A.A.‘s Ideas Were Borrowed, said Bill W.
Early in its founding years, A.A.‘s co-founder Bill Wilson put the torch to the idea that A.A. sprang from just one source. He said frankly that nobody invented A.A. He said all its ideas were borrowed. And Dr. Bob broadened the source picture by pointing out that all the basic ideas came from the Pioneers’ study of the Bible.

Unfortunately, neither co-founder put in writing in one place all the well-springs that produced the streams in A.A. Consequently commentators, both favorable to and critical of A.A. have had a field day with discussions of our roots. Most of them have a number of erroneous concepts so embedded in their historical approaches that they just never tell it like it is or like it was. Those who don’t like the Bible say that we left it behind in Akron. Those who don’t like the Oxford Group say that it taught us more about what not to do than what to do. And those who don’t like either the Bible or the Oxford Group have tried to quiet the waters by diverting the stream. They say A.A. is “spiritual, but not religious” even though any well-informed historian, scholar, clergyman, and semanticist would probably ask: “And what’s the difference?” Nobody really knows, but the distinction without a difference leaves many in a peaceful atheistic no man’s land.

The real difference in how we characterize A.A. is that without a knowledge of A.A.‘s various sources-mostly religious-people quickly make up their own sources. It’s called “self-made religion.” And A.A.‘s co-founder Rev. Sam Shoemaker pointed out that his self-fabricated stuff leads to all kinds of nonsense-including “absurd names for God” and “half-baked prayers” as Sam described them.

So it is. Those who have spurned the facts often say that our Creator can be a tree, or they say that neither the Creator nor the tree is “Conference Approved.” They often go on to say that you really don’t have to believe in anything at all. And most AAs are inclined to say, “Don’t analyze,” or “Don’t think and don’t drink,” or “Look for the similarities and discard the differences.” They may add that the Big Book is A.A.‘s basic text and let it go at that. “The Big Book says it, and that settles it” is a common A.A. expression. And that leaves us with what the Big Book says, but mostly what it doesn’t say.

AAs today have seen all mention of the Bible deleted from their basic text. They’ve seen Jesus Christ mentioned only once, and then as a man whose ideas are seldom followed. They’ve seen the Creator turned into a higher power which has been turned into a radiator. At the same time, they hear about prayer and meditation and haven’t the slightest bit of information as to what those ideas meant either in earliest A.A. or even in the Big Book and Steps.

Consequently, they are left with nonsense. Prayer to a rock? Prayer to a chair or a tree? Meditation as a chant? Meditation as listening? Praying to what! Chanting to what! Listening to what-a light bulb? For assistance, they hear there are “helpful books,” but there is no mention of the Good Book which was the major source for their basic ideas.


By Dick B.


LCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS®, A.A.®, and Big Book® are registered trademarks of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Dick B.‘s web site, Paradise Research Publications, Inc., and Good Book Publishing Company are neither endorsed nor approved by nor associated or affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.


Mark S. Gold, M.D. and Christine Adamec



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