A brief history of AA, literature orders, digital downloads & more
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS® is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
By 1934 alcoholic Bill Wilson had ruined a promising Wall Street career because of his constant drunkenness. He was introduced to the idea of a spiritual cure by an old drinking buddy Ebby Thacher who had become a member of a “first century Christian movement” called the Oxford Group. Wilson was treated at Charles B. Towns hospital by Dr. William Silkworth, who promoted a disease concept of alcoholism. While in the hospital, Wilson underwent what he believed to be a spiritual experience and, convinced of the existence of a healing higher power, he was able to stop drinking.
On a 1935 business trip to Akron, Ohio, Wilson felt the urge to drink again and in an effort to stay sober, he sought another alcoholic to help. Wilson was introduced to Dr. Bob Smith. Wilson and Smith co-founded AA with a word of mouth program to help alcoholics. Smith’s last drink on June 10, 1935 is considered by members to be the founding date of AA. By 1937, Wilson and Smith determined that they had helped 40 alcoholics get sober, and two years later, with the about 100 members, Wilson expanded the program by writing a book entitled Alcoholics Anonymous which the organization also adopted as its name. The book, informally referred to by members as “The Big Book,” described a twelve-step program involving admission of powerlessness over alcohol, moral inventory, and asking for help from a higher power. In 1941 book sales and membership increased after radio interviews and favorable articles in national magazines, particularly by Jack Alexander in The Saturday Evening Post.
By 1946, as membership grew, confusion and disputes within groups over practices, finances, and publicity led Wilson to write the guidelines for noncoercive group management that eventually became known as the Twelve Traditions>. AA came of age at the 1955 St. Louis convention when Wilson turned over the stewardship of AA to the General Service Conference. In this era AA also began its international expansion, and by 2001 the number of members worldwide was estimated at two million.
In 2006, 1,867,212 members in 106,202 AA groups were reported worldwide. The Twelve Traditions informally guide how AA groups function, and the Twelve Concepts for World Service guide how AA is structured globally. A member who accepts a service position or an organizing role is a “trusted servant” with terms rotating and limited, typically lasting three months to two years and determined by group vote. Each group is a self-governing entity with AA World Services acting only in an advisory capacity. AA is served entirely by alcoholics, except for seven “nonalcoholic friends of the fellowship” out of twenty-one members of the AA Board of Trustees. AA groups are self-supporting and not charities, and they have no dues or membership fees. Groups rely on member donations, typically $1 collected per meeting in America, to pay for expenses like room rental, refreshments, and literature. No one is turned away for lack of funds. Beyond the group level, AA may hire outside professionals for services that either require specialized expertise and/or are full time responsibilities, as of 2007 GSO in New York employees 40 or so such workers. AA receives proceeds from books and literature which constitute more than 50% of the income for the General Service Office (GSO), which unlike individual groups is not self-supporting and maintains a small salaried staff. It also maintains service centers which coordinate activities like printing literature, responding to public inquiries, and organizing conferences. They are funded by local members and responsible to the AA groups they represent.
The two most common kinds of A.A. meetings are:
OPEN MEETINGS: As the term suggests, meetings of this type are open to alcoholics and their families, and to anyone interested in solving a personal drinking problem or helping someone else to solve such a problem. During the meeting there is usually a period for local A.A. announcements, and a treasurer passes the hat to defray costs of the meeting hall, literature, and incidental expenses. The meeting adjourns, often followed by informal visiting over coffee or other light refreshments. Guests at A.A. open meetings are reminded that any opinions or interpretations they may hear are solely those of the speaker involved. All members are free to interpret the recovery program in their own terms, but no one can speak for the local group or for A.A. as a whole.
CLOSED MEETINGS: These meetings are limited to alcoholics. They provide an opportunity for members to share with one another on problems related to drinking patterns and attempts to achieve stable sobriety. They also permit detailed discussion of various elements in the recovery program.
There are meeting groups for men, women, LBGTQ, and speakers of minority languages. Most AA meetings begin with socializing. Formats vary between meetings, for example, a beginners’ meeting might include a talk by a long-time sober member about his or her personal experience of drinking, coming to AA and what was learned there about sobriety. A group discussion on topics related to alcoholism and the AA program might follow.
In a typical meeting, the chairperson starts by calling the meeting to order and offering a short prayer, meditation, and/or period of silence (practice varies by meeting). Then, a section from the book Alcoholics Anonymous may be read aloud, usually the beginning of Chapter Five, entitled “How It Works”. Announcements from the chairperson and group members follow. Many groups celebrate newcomers, visitors, and sobriety anniversaries with rounds of applause. Following announcements, donations are collected, usually by passing a basket around the room. There is no requirement to make a donation. Most members contribute a small amount, often just some loose change. The making of large donations is actively discouraged in AA. Depending on the type of meeting, a talk by a speaker relating their personal experience with alcoholism and AA or a discussion session with topics chosen by the chairperson, the speaker, or the attendees follows. The “no crosstalk” suggestions, where responding to another member’s comments is discouraged, is a hallmark of AA meetings. In many meetings, in order to encourage identification, members confine their comments to their alcoholic drinking and recovery, following the guidelines of “what we were like, what happened and what we are like now”. This format is intended to avoid distracting the group from its primary purpose. After the discussion period, the meeting is typically ended with a prayer, usually the Serenity Prayer or often in the US, the Lord’s Prayer Lord’s Prayer. These ending prayers are sometimes undertaken by the entire group forming a circle and holding hands. More socializing typically follows the close of the formal meeting, and it is common for members to gather at a nearby coffee shop. Other meeting formats also exist where specific AA related topics are discussed in more detail. A common example is a Step Study meeting where one or more of the 12 steps are discussed at length.
About Portland Area Intergroup
Portland Area Intergroup is a committee of volunteers that encourages mutual support and cooperation between Portland AA groups and provides services that would be too much for the individual groups to handle by themselves. PAI provides services for the AA community and the general public.
A Brief History of Portland Area Intergroup
In 1943 Portland Oregon saw its first AA meeting come into existence. They were called “10th Street Group #1”.
As time went on, one group turned into eight! Early AA’s thought it a good idea to have a central location for AA meetings in Portland. In short order “The 10th Street Club” got its start.
Soon thereafter, the idea came to develop a Central Office. A small group of people looked into this idea and came back with a plan that has developed into the Intergroup we know today as PORTLAND AREA INTERGROUP.
Our central office actually began in the 10th street club in 1947. After about 2 years of operation, a small committee was appointed to study the actual needs and functions of an AA central office. At the completion of the study, resolutions were drawn up so that by the end of 1949 our office was official
About that time, another alano club started in NW Portland at 19th and Flanders. The central office moved into a room in that building that allowed for a separate entrance and phone line. We knew it was important to keep identities separate and this worked well to that end. As well as that arrangement worked, it was deemed prudent to secure a completely separate office space for the AA central office. November 1950, the central office moved to 519 S.W. 3rd Ave in downtown Portland. This was the infamous Dekum building where we remained for the next 40 years! The office manager during this period was “Doc” Dailey. He remained manager until 1971.
Our office has had several names over the years as we have matured. The first name and the least known was “Metropolitan Central Committee”. Soon it evolved to “Central Advisory Committee”, then as you could expect, it changed again to simply “Central Committee”. As AA grew and the greater Portland area expanded, more and more AA meetings sprang up all around rural Portland and outlying areas. In 1962, the name “Portland Area Intergroup” was adopted and continues to serve us well.
It is quite interesting to note that the troubles early groups had are very much the same today as they were then. Things such as falling attendance, lack of funds, discussions on how to improve the groups and how to increase attendance at the intergroup meeting; all of these seemingly small issues are shared by AA groups worldwide. The common thread is, we are all doing what we can to improve how we serve the still suffering alcoholic. Keeping AA available and viable is what our statement of responsibility means.
The Responsibility Statement reads:
I am Responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for that: I am responsible
The monthly intergroup meetings were “sponsored” by member groups for many years. They would request a few months in advance so the word would be out in enough time for everyone to attend. Of course it was fairly simple to keep everyone informed for the first score of years. June of 1968 had 12 groups represented. January of 1980 had 17 groups. (To date (2012) we have record of over 65 groups on a regular basis and nearly 100 people in attendance.)
According to the minutes from these early meetings, our Corrections committee was most active. They were constantly looking for new volunteers and they always had something to add to the business meetings. The corrections committee continues to be a stabile source of service opportunities for the AA member looking to assist an outreach committee.
In 1959 the “Eastside” group announced their intension of opening another office and telephone service to improve 12 step work. There was a little discussion about this at that meeting but it was never mentioned again. The Eastside group did start attending and supporting the efforts of the intergroup the very next meeting however. The focus was on 12 step work and helping the still suffering alcoholic!
Speaker meetings were now on the radar and the Intergroup sponsored a quarterly speaker meeting which became tradition by the 1960’s. Marty Mann was one of the early speakers of the time. Marty was best known as the first woman in AA to stay sober for any length of time and who worked tirelessly to educate the medical profession on alcoholism and the tools AA had to offer as a treatment.
One last issue Central Office was expected to solve was dealing with “student” AA meetings. Yes those pesky kids wanted sobriety too! For a brief period “student” meetings could only attend the Intergroup business meeting by first getting approval from the board of directors. We’ve come a long way babe!
Fred Douglas was the 2nd person to serve as manager of the office and did so for the next 12 years. AA continued to grow and the office kept up with the growing pains. The office moved from a 144 sq ft room that served 8 groups, to a 1200 sq ft office that served over 200 groups. This period was from 1950 to 1983. After Fred retired, we found Chet Carlson. Chet managed the office for the next four years. (1983-1987) Chet was a well know AA member in Portland and helped start many, many meetings in the Portland Area. Chet was also very active in Oregon Area. Chet also maintained the Oregon Area Archive collection for a number of years. When Chet retired, Donald Baxter was asked to manage the office and usher in the computer era. Don also brought a level of professionalism to Central Office that served as an excellent example of “how to” be organized in a disorganized organization. Don’s work made it easy for the next manager to step in. Don retired in 1993. Garry Biggers was hired to serve as office manager after Donald Baxter retired, and currently still serves in this position.
The growth of AA has been consistent with the growth of the population in the greater Portland area. Our Intergroup currently publishes a local meeting schedule that lists over 800 meetings a week in Portland and outlying areas. We supply AA literature to the majority of the meetings and groups. Portland Area Intergroup has had a successful “Intergroup Committee” meeting monthly since its inception. We continue to strive to meet the needs of the AA community and act as a contact point for anyone inquiring about the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“We alcoholics are men and women who lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control. All of us felt at times that we were regaining control, but such intervals—usually brief— were inevitably followed by still less control, which led in time to pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.” Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 30
“Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic.” (ibid, p. 31)*
More About Alcoholism
What is alcoholism?
As A.A. sees it, alcoholism is an illness. Alcoholics cannot control their drinking, because they are ill in their bodies and in their minds (or emotions), A.A. believes. If they do not stop drinking, their alcoholism almost always gets worse and worse. Both the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, chief organizations of doctors in those countries, also have said that alcoholism is an illness.
The definition of alcoholism as defined by the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: “Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial. Each of these symptoms may be continuous or periodic.” (1992)
The explanation that seems to make sense to most A.A. members is that alcoholism is an illness, a progressive illness, which can never be cured but which, like some other diseases, can be arrested. Going one step further, many A.A. members feel that the illness represents a combination of a physical sensitivity to alcohol and a mental obsession with drinking, which, regardless of consequences, cannot be broken by willpower alone.
What are the symptoms?
Not all alcoholics have the same symptoms, but many — at different stages in the illness — show these signs: They find that only alcohol can make them feel self-confident and at ease with other people; often want “just one more” at the end of a party; look forward to drinking occasions and think about them a lot; get drunk when they had not planned to; try to control their drinking by changing types of liquor, going on the wagon, or taking pledges; sneak drinks; lie about their drinking; hide bottles; drink at work (or in school); drink alone; have blackouts (that is, can- not remember the next day what they said or did the night before); drink in the morning, to relieve severe hangovers, guilty feelings and fears; fail to eat and become malnourished; get cirrhosis of the liver; shake violently, hallucinate, or have convulsions when withdrawn from liquor.
What can the families of alcoholics do?
A.A. is just for the alcoholics, but two other fellowships can help their relatives. One is Al-Anon Family Groups. The other is Alateen, for teenagers who have alcoholic parents.
Impacts of Alcoholism
Alcoholism is recognized as a major health problem. In the U.S., it is the third greatest killer, after heart disease and cancer — and it does not damage alcoholics alone. Others are hurt by its effects — in the home, on the job, on the highway. Alcoholism costs the community millions of dollars every year. So whether or not you ever become an alcoholic yourself, alcoholism still can have an impact on your life.
We have learned a great deal about how to identify and arrest alcoholism. But so far no one has discovered a way to prevent it, because nobody knows exactly why some drinkers turn into alcoholics. Doctors and scientists in the field have not agreed on the cause (or causes) of alcoholism. For that reason, A.A. concentrates on helping those who are already alcoholics, so that they can stop drinking and learn how to live a normal, happy life without alcohol.
AA Pamphlets & Flyers
These pamphlets and flyers are available for your personal use only and are not meant for reproduction. To order printed materials please use the link above. For even more information on AA, including the full catalog of flyers, please visit the official web site of the General Service Office (G.S.O.) of Alcoholics Anonymous.