Good Community Organizations: Alcoholics Anonymous Research Paper Example
Alcoholics Anonymous is a grassroots movement that became a powerful international organization that helps alcoholics to successfully stop drinking. The organization was begun in 1935 with founders Bill W, and Dr. Bob S. in Akron, Ohio. The movement slowly spread throughout the Midwest, New York and nationally. Today Alcoholics Anonymous is an international program that has over two million active members and approximately 115,350 groups worldwide. In this paper, I will examine the history and growth of this unique organization and examine its methods for helping alcoholics recover and operate as a global entity.
Alcoholism, a Definition and Its Effects
Alcoholism is a disease that affects millions of people. Economically is costs the United States $223.5 billion in 2006 as estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These monetary costs include the loss of productivity in the workplace, health care for medical conditions associated with excessive drinking, law enforcement and the criminal justice system for arrests attributed to excessive drinking and motor vehicle accidents. This costs equals $746 per American (CDC).
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that if a person is wondering if they have an alcohol problem they should answer some questions honestly. First, have drunk more or for a longer time than you originally intended? Once you start drinking is it difficult to stop? Have you tried to cut down or stop but could not? Do you suffer from hangovers often? Do you crave alcohol? Have normal activities suffered due to your drinking (social, job family)?
Alcoholism is a disease that causes severe psychological, emotional, interpersonal, social and alcoholism. Cancers of the digestive system are common in alcoholics as well as malnutrition. Pancreatitis and the development of ulcers occur more frequently. Liver disease is common in alcoholics, hepatitis from alcoholism can be reversed with abstinence as opposed to cirrhosis which is chronic and life threatening. Withdrawal from alcohol can be deadly, the central nervous system reacts badly to the stopping of alcohol suddenly. Shakes, tremens, hallucinations and seizures often occur in alcoholics who suddenly stop drinking (“Health Effects of Moderate vs Excessive Drinking” 18-20).
According to Berrends, Ferris and Laslett, families are severely affected by an alcoholic member. Abuse (verbal, physical) are more commonly reported, the loss of jobs and economic insecurity. Alcoholics suffer from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. There is an inability for alcoholics to maintain healthy relationships within the family unit or outside of it. Legal consequences, like an arrest for D.U.I. are difficult to face and for the family to handle. Divorce rates are high for alcoholics. Reports of emotional trauma and child neglect were commonly reported in this study (Berrends, Ferris and Laslett 197-198).
Thesis: How does Alcoholic Anonymous Help People Attain and Maintain Lifelong Sobriety?
Treatment centers have sprung up in the last thirty years to help people with alcoholism. Treatment, however does not guarantee long term success. Only 25% of people who leave long term in-patient treatment for alcohol abuse remain abstinent for the long term. In-patient and out-patient programs treat alcoholism with education, group therapy, cognitive therapy and behavioral therapies. The majority of treatment plans and centers encourage joining and participating in the A.A. program to maintain sober living (“Alcohol Use Disorder.”)
How does Alcoholics Anonymous prompt people to not only quit drinking altogether, but help people maintain sobriety over the course of their lifetime? To answer this question, I attended several A.A. meetings in my community, interviewed participants and performed research to fully answer the research question.
History of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)
Bill W. was a severe alcoholic throughout his adult life. He had lost jobs and his career despite his talent and intelligence. He had been hospitalized several times for alcoholism and constantly promised his wife that he would quit. He would quit for a couple of weeks or a couple of months but begin heavily drinking repeatedly. He was introduced to a religious organization, the Oxford Group, through an old friend. Their ideas helped him to gain sobriety but he was concerned with maintaining long-term. Through a doctor he knew he developed the basic ideas of the A.A. program (Alcoholics Anonymous 1-17). Alcoholics must remain abstinent. Alcoholism was an allergy of the body, once alcohol is imbibed and alcoholic cannot stop drinking. A spiritual, not religious, belief could help an alcoholic to remain sober. He also developed twelve steps that are used by dozens of other groups as well to help alcoholics face and solve their problems. A very important part of the program is attending meetings and connecting with other alcoholics. The belief of the group is that only one and alcoholic can truly help another alcoholic (Alcoholics Anonymous 58-65).
The group started with Bill W. who was in Akron, OH on a business trip that had failed. He was tempted to drink. He contacted a church for referrals to other alcoholics who might need help. He was put in touch with Dr. Bob. Bill succeeded in helping Dr. Bob and the next few years saw growth of the program, the formation of the first two groups and the slow spread amongst alcoholics and other communities.
At first the majority of members were white males, eventually women and blacks began joining the groups. Groups spread throughout the United States because of the travel that many business men embarked on in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Success was gaining momentum and the loosely knit group opened their first office in New York City to field phone calls and disseminate information. The fledgling group was featured in magazines and radio shows. The success they were experiencing was very positive. The group published their book, Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939. The book is comprised of the program and how it works. The second half of the book are all personal accounts of alcoholics and their recovery in the program.
The A.A. Program Today: How it Works
Alcoholics Anonymous is a grassroots movement of alcoholics that help each other. The anonymous component helps alcoholics to maintain confidentiality about their disease. It is up to a member to share with those outside the program if he is a member. It is strictly prohibited to name members of the group to people outside of the group. The information and stories shared within a meeting are also confidential. Over the last 75 years, A.A. has maintained this practice.
The groups do not elect officers or have a “formal” process of operation. People volunteer for “service” positions and the group will agree or disagree about all decisions. Decisions can be as simple as purchasing a new coffee maker to as important as confirming a representative for state and national level representation. There are now black and white rules for the operation of groups, instead they operate under the direction of “The Twelve Traditions” of A.A. These traditions define the expectations of a group. They do not accept financial or any support from outside groups. Religious and political affiliations are not allowed. The group is directed by the “group conscience” of the members (Alcoholics Anonymous 563).
The individual program consists of twelve steps. The steps include admitting that alcohol is causing problems in their lives and that they are alcoholic. The members prepare an inventory of themselves and share this with their “sponsor”. The make “amends” to people they have hurt by their drinking. Finally, they try to live a sober life that is honest and compassionate. Helping other alcoholics is important to sobriety.
In applying the concepts of the Powercube, A.A. is easily described. The program of the 12 steps help individuals to recognize their “power within”. This “power within” helps alcoholics to overcome their addiction. However, they cannot develop this power within fully on their own. By employing “hidden power” through remaining anonymous, members are able to avoid the stigmatization that occurs when people outside of A.A. find out that a person is an alcoholic. This attitude is changing in society but it would be naïve for A.A. members to believe that everyone understands alcoholism as a disease. Because of the belief inherent in the program that only alcoholics can truly help each other, this hidden power is necessary. The “space” where A.A. members interact is physical, the rooms where they congregate and the “space” they inhabit outside of A.A. The members of A.A. are incredibly diverse, socially, economically and culturally. A.A. does not need external power, the effect change for themselves through their power within in order to have the power to become and remain sober (“Understanding Power”).
A.A. fills the hole left by treatment in a center. Many people who have become sober through A.A. have not even been to treatment. There also many members who have been to treatment several times but could not stay sober without continuing care that A.A. can provide. The organization filled a need that is desperately needed in society. Prior to its inception and growth, alcoholics were thrown in jail or institutionalized. Many drunks died on the streets homeless from the effects of their disease. A.A. provides a place, a membership and a program open, welcoming and effective for any alcoholic who comes through their doors.
Numerical data is difficult to find on the success of A.A. In a study by Krentzman et al. that examined the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous (an independent organization based on A.A. principles and traditions for drug addicts). The study cites that the more often people attend A.A. meetings and the more involved they are in the program and commit to doing service work (volunteering and sponsoring other alcoholics) are two times as likely to remain sober than people that attend meetings on an occasional basis and do not get involved in service. 42.3% of people who were sampled from referrals from treatment centers, stated that A.A. was helpful. 19% responded that A.A. was not helpful. People who leave treatment and become involved on A.A. are generally more successful in staying abstinent. The reason cited is that alcoholism is a chronic condition, it does not go away and is never healed. The only guaranteed treatment is abstinence and A.A. can provide a long term solution.
Stout, Kelly, Magill and Pagano followed up with 1,726 patients, some were outpatient and some were residential for alcohol abuse. The researchers followed up with their follow up care several times over a 3 year period. The study found that after three years, people who had some social support for abstaining from alcohol were more likely to remain sober. Of these people, if someone relapsed (began drinking again) they were more likely to try and top again. Participants who did not have social support were much more likely to begin drinking again, especially if their social relationships drank (Stout, Kelly, Magill and Pagano 495).
The meetings open with the “Serenity Prayer” and a moment of silence. Individuals read standard “readings” which are excerpts from their book, Alcoholics Anonymous, which they refer to as the “Big Book”. The readings review the Twelve Steps of their program, the Twelve Traditions which apply to group operations and the “promises” which should occur if one finishes the steps and continues in the program. Announcements about AA related events are presented. The groups then read the day’s passage from their “Daily Reflections” book. This might or might not be the topic of discussion. The discussion at each of the three meetings I attended was intense at times, emotional and sometimes funny. The common thread seemed that members related stories of what it was like to be drunk and black out and the trouble they got into. They also discussed ways they remain sober. They did not offer each other advice. Instead they simply related their own personal experiences and what has worked for them. Towards the end of the meeting, they distribute “token” which are actually poker chips. Each chip signifies a period of time that one has remained sober. The first token offered is universal in all groups, a white chip of “surrender”. This chip signifies the “desire to stop drinking” and is offered to both new people and people who have relapsed and come back to the group. The meeting closes with the “Lord’s Prayer” and for members not to reveal the people who attended the meeting and the information that was shared.
I was truly amazed by the number and diversity of people at the meetings. There were people that still looked drunk when they came in; well-dressed business people; young adults who shared about being sober through their college years. There were people from every ethnic and cultural background. There were more men than women. Members shared with me that there are different types of meetings to attend as yell. There are gender specific meetings, young people’s meetings, meetings where the Big Book is read and discussed in detail. There are meditation meetings and meetings geared towards atheists. Members were very forthcoming in explaining that although they use the term “God” that the program was spiritual in nature and not religious.
I interviewed several people: John S.; Bob B. and Brenda F. Each of these people had very different stories. John had been drinking heavily since the age of 17. He was able to function and keep his job for nearly thirty years. He stated, “I got so sick that I could not get off the floor of my bedroom. I managed to get myself to the hospital after finishing two shots of vodka. They pumped me full of fluids and nutrition and I had a severe case of pancreatitis. I went to treatment for three months in another state. I was introduced to A.A. there. I go to one or two meetings every day, I have been sober for over two years now.” Brenda shared, “A.A. saved my life. I drank 24 hours a day. I probably finished over a half a gallon of vodka every day. My doctor warned be that I was beginning to have liver problems, cirrhosis. I went into a detox center for 5 days where they weaned me off the booze and monitored my health. I have been in A.A. for 13 years now. I have friends here and we ladies go out together every Friday for dinner before the meeting. I did not think it was possible for me to go an hour without a drink at the end of my drinking career. I had no friends and my husband was close to divorcing me. A.A. gave me a life that I can be proud of.” Bob B. is in his mid-thirties. He told me that he has been in and out of rehab and treatment centers for 10 years. He has been in and out of A.A. as well. His story includes drugs as well as alcohol. “I am clean and sober for 4 years now. All them times I was in and out of treatment, I just wasn’t ready. I never hit me “bottom”. When my wife left with the kids and I lost my job, I had enough. I called a friend I had made in A.A. a couple of years before. He came and got me and brought me to a meeting. I haven’t had a drink since then.”
I did a brief survey for the members who would answer my questions. One of the meetings told me I could not do it but two other meetings were happy to oblige. Here are the results:
My informal revealed what was previously described in the scientific literature. The number of meetings attended and volunteering to do service work both contributed to long term sobriety, especially among the women. The women with longer periods of sobriety tended to attend more meetings each week compared to the men.
This chart was prepared by the Betty Ford Center and displays the years of sobriety in A.A. (2011):
Alcoholism is a disease and not a character flaw that many people think it is. This type of judgement has prevented many alcoholics from seeking help due to shame. Alcoholism kills people and destroy families. The costs and burdens on society from this disease is astounding in the statistics: economic; illnesses and death.
I discovered many things in researching Alcoholics Anonymous and their role in society. Alcoholics Anonymous is truly a grassroots organization that meaningfully tackles a serious societal issue: alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous developed out of a religious organization but evolved into a program that relies on one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. The anonymity that the group maintains for its membership protects them from public scrutiny or embarrassment. The group has been extremely successful. A.A. does not claim to cure every alcoholic, but those that seek out the program and practice it have much better chances at remaining sober.
The Powercube is demonstrated in a very interesting way. The people of AA are trying to help each other to recover from an insidious and deadly disease. They do not seek outside help nor do they require external power. Their power comes from within the group, the members themselves. They ask nothing from society, instead they are trying to heal themselves to become productive members of society and good citizens.
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