1. Religion & Spirituality

Your suggestion is on its way!

An email with a link to:


was emailed to:

Thanks for sharing About.com with others!

Most Emailed Articles

The Bible and Suicide

Alcoholics Anonymous
<Back to Last Page >     <Glossary Index>

 Related Terms
• God


Founders: Bill Wilson, Robert Smith
Date Founded: June 10, 1935

Alcoholics Anonymous was not the first sobriety movement in the United States. Its predecessors included Dr. Benjamin Rush who, in the early 19th century, created the idea of alcoholism as a disease which needed to be treated and the Oxford Groups, an early 20th century group of Protestant evangelicals which included practices like public confession and emphasized the importance of a spiritual conversion in overcoming addition.

Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization which is decidedly hostile towards atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers of all sorts. In the AA handbook, Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly referred to by members as the "Big Book"), it is stated that the purpose for teaching people that they are "powerless" in their lives is to encourage them to have a religious experience and convert to a belief in God. The individual is encouraged to define God as he or she wishes, provided only that concept implies some entity capable of enabling people to remain sober when they otherwise could not. According to AA, a lack of proper spirituality is actually the cause of addiction; the treatment is a conversion to a new way of life, one based upon the precepts of AA.

The core of AA is the "12 Steps" - principles which have been transferred in whole or in part to many other addiction recovery programs. The steps are:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him,
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve out conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

One of the ways AA keeps from being seen as a religion by the general public is by using the term "spiritual" rather than "religious" when referring to its program. However, AA is more than just a "spiritual" outlook on life - it preaches a worldview, a morality, and has all of the trappings of a traditional religion. That is why, in fact, it has been ruled as essentially religious by courts in the United States - thus preventing people from being required to attend AA meetings as conditions of parole or probation.

Some relevant quotes from the AA literature:

If you think you are an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, or have any other form of intellectual pride which keeps you from accepting what is in this book, I feel sorry for you.

To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.

...after a while we had to face the fact that we must find a spiritual basis of life - or else. Perhaps it is going to be that way with you. But cheer up, something like half of us thought we were atheists or agnostics.

Let's look first at the case of the one who says he won't believe -- the belligerent one. He is in a state of mind which can be described only as savage.

We atheists ... believed... that our human intelligence is the last word ... Rather vain of us, wasn't it?

Notice how atheists are referred to as people who "think" that they are atheists - this is an implicit denial that anyone can really be an atheist - a person only thinks that he or she is an atheist, due perhaps to some delusion.

Also Known As: AA

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: none

Related Resources:

What is the Philosophy of Religion?
Sometimes confused with theology, the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of religious beliefs, religious doctrines, religious arguments and religious history. The line between theology and the philosophy of religion isn't always sharp, but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature, committed to the defense of particular religious positions, whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself, rather than the truth of any particular religion.

What is Philosophy?
What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy - what's the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What's the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?

<Back to Last Page >     <Glossary Index>
  1. About.com
  2. Religion & Spirituality
  3. Agnosticism & Atheism

©2017 About.com. All rights reserved.