Last updated:
 
May 19, 2009


Alcoholics Anonymous History
Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?

 

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective?

A.A. Success Rates to Consider

 

By Dick B.

 

© 2008 Anonymous. All rights reserved

 

Is Alcoholics Anonymous Effective? There is no simple answer to that question relative to today’s A.A. In fact, several problems immediately pop up. The first concerns the question whether conventional and present-day surveys of the Alcoholics Anonymous Society can or do establish whether the A.A. Program of recovery itself effectively offers permanent sobriety to those alcoholics who still suffer and enter the A.A. rooms. The second concerns the critical issue as to whether, like A.A. cofounder Robert H. Smith, M.D. (“Dr. Bob”), the present-day survey has asked the afflicted person, “Do you believe in God, young fella?” The third asks the further question of the surveyor as to just which program, which belief system, and which A.A. era is involved in the path that has been followed by the new person being surveyed.

The Effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous

Let’s look first at the early A.A. program founded in Akron in 1935, and the evidence of its successes

After 19 years of research and writing, and also by building on the recent and splendid research and writing of Richard K.,[1] I believe the following facts can be sustained and documented:

1. Who were the first 40 A.A. pioneers? The statement (albeit infrequent) that all, or most of, the 40 early A.A. pioneers got drunk or died drunk is without any foundation whatever. The reason is that this statement deals primarily or exclusively only with those whose personal stories were included either in the multilith manuscript or the First Edition of the Big Book. People mentioned in those personal stories may well have gotten drunk or even died drunk. But the people named in the personal stories were not listed because they had been members of the first 40 real pioneers. Careful research in recent years has disclosed exactly who the first 40 real AAs were and what their successes were or weren’t. Plainly stated, people whose personal stories were selected for publication in the First Edition of the A.A. Big Book in 1939 were not those people whose data was surveyed by A.A. cofounders Bill W. and Dr. Bob in 1937. The two groups are not identical.

2. How can we know the names of the first 40 and the names of the Cleveland A.A. pioneers who followed them? In early Akron A.A., and then in early Cleveland A.A., names, addresses, phone numbers, and data about sobriety, relapses, and ultimate outcomes were commonplace.[2]  I have copies of the address book of Dr. Bob’s wife, Anne Smith. It contains data on many of the pioneers. On the walls at Dr. Bob's Home at 855 Ardmore Avenue in Akron, there are pictures of a number of these pioneers. I have in my possession several written rosters of each and every early AA pioneer with the names, dates of sobriety, dates of death, and ultimate sobriety outcome. There is a written list of the early Cleveland AAs, and the several Cleveland A.A. groups kept rosters naming these members. I have a four-page roster titled, “First 220 members of A.A.” That roster includes the names, street addresses, cities, and phone numbers of pioneers well-known to most historians of A.A.[3] I either have copies of all of these or have sent them on to the Griffith Library at Bill Wilson's birthplace—“the Wilson House”--in East Dorset, Vermont.

3. The evidence from the A.A. cofounders themselves as to the successes of the pioneers. There is lots of eyewitness evidence about the first 40 A.A. pioneers who had achieved the astonishing 75% success rate as calculated by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob in the late fall of 1937.[4] Bill’s writings record the day he sat in the living room of Dr. Bob’s home with “Doc” and his wife, Anne Smith, counting recoveries. Bill said:

 

A hardcore of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years. All told, we figured that upwards of 40 alcoholics were staying bone dry.[5]

 

In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill wrote:

 

There had been failures galore, but now we can see some startling successes too. A hardcore of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years, an un-heard-of development. There were 20 or more such people.[6]

 

In the memorial issue of the A.A. Grapevine, “RHS,” published on Dr. Bob’s death, Bill W. described the evidence further:

 

At this juncture I spent a week visiting Dr. Bob. We commenced to count noses. Out of hundreds of alcoholics, how many had stuck? How many were sober? And for how long? In that fall of 1937 Bob and I counted forty cases who had significant dry time—maybe sixty years for the whole lot of them! Our eyes glistened. Enough time had elapsed on enough cases to spell out something quite new, perhaps something great indeed. . . . God had shown alcoholics how it might be passed hand to hand.[7]

 

Bill’s biographer Robert Thomsen added this as to the counting by Bill and Bob:

 

They were both conscious of their failures as they settled down in Bob’s living room and began comparing notes. But as the afternoon wore on and they continued going over lists, counting noses, they found themselves facing a staggering fact. In all, in Ohio and in New York, they knew forty alcoholics who were sober and were staying sober, and of this number at least twenty had been completely dry for more than a year. Moreover, every single one of them had been diagnosed as a hopeless case.[8]

 

“Pass It On” adds as to the care of the count:

 

As we carefully rechecked this score, it suddenly burst upon us that a new light was shining into the dark world of the alcoholic. . . . We actually wept for joy, and Bob and Anne and I bowed our heads in silent thanks.[9]

 

There have been a number of writings about the original 40 pioneers. The most careful review was done by Richard K. of Massachusetts whose books are cited below. Some of the other discussions of this topic have contained serious inaccuracies.[10] In summary, it is not very difficult at this late point to verify with certainty not only the fact of 40 pioneer cases but also virtually to verify the name of each person constituting one of the 75% referred to by Bill W. and by the Big Book statement in Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., 2001, page xx.

Concerning the relative successes of Bill Wilson as compared to those of Dr. Bob in Akron, A.A.’s “Pass It On” states:

 

There are also some indications that Dr. Bob was the more effective sponsor. There is certainly no denying that in the first few years, A.A. grew more rapidly in Akron than it did in New York, and there were those who attributed this success to Dr. Bob’s strong leadership.[11]

 

Bill and Lois had permitted some of the men to live with them for as long as a year; they apparently stopped the practice when they realized it did very little to help the men actually stay sober. During this time, Bill was overoptimistic about the effectiveness of the work he was doing.[12]

 

In Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Bill Wilson wrote:

 

The first Cleveland meeting started in June, 1939, at the home of Abby G. and his wife Grace. . . . But Abby’s presently ran out of space. . . . These multiplying and bulging meetings continued to run short of home space, and they fanned out into small halls and church basements. . . . We old-timers in New York and Akron had regarded this fantastic phenomenon with deep misgivings. . . . Yet there in Cleveland we saw about twenty members, not very experienced themselves, suddenly confronted by hundreds of newcomers. . . . How could they possibly manage? We did not know. But a year later we did know; for by then Cleveland had about thirty groups and several hundred members. . . . Yes, Cleveland’s results were of the best. Their results were in fact so good, and A.A.’s membership elsewhere so small, that many a Clevelander really thought A.A. had started there in the first place. . . . Many of the essentials of A.A. as we now understand them were to be found already in the pioneering groups in Akron, New York, and Cleveland as early as 1939.[13]

 

Documenting the extraordinary Cleveland results (a 93% success rate), A.A.’s DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers quoted Cleveland founder Clarence H. Snyder as follows:

 

They take it so casually today. I think a little discipline is necessary. I think A.A. was more effective in those days. Records in Cleveland show that 93 percent of those who came to us never had a drink again. When I discovered that people had slips in A.A., it really shook me up. Today, it’s all watered down so much. Anyone can wander in now.[14]

 

4. In counting those who were, and those who were not, successful among the early AAs, the surveyor must necessarily eliminate a number of potential candidates. For example, there definitely were those who floated in and out and never really tried the rigorous program that Dr. Bob conducted in Akron and that Frank Amos, the agent of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., reported.[15] Recently, a new argument has appeared denigrating the successes of the original 40. It rests on the thesis that these 40 were pre-screened. It is enough of an answer to suggest that they certainly were pre-screened in order to become effective members of the Christian Fellowship. Most were hospitalized. All were required to profess belief in God. All accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. As the reporter of the early Akron “Program” stated:

 

An alcoholic must realize that he is an alcoholic, incurable from a medical viewpoint, and that he must never again drink anything with alcohol in it. He must surrender himself absolutely to God, realizing that in himself there is no hope. . . . [and] he must remove from his life other sins such as hatred, adultery, and others which frequently accompany alcoholism.[16]

These elements and others were “musts.” To try out for the “team,” and to be accepted and qualified to remain “in the game,” the successful early AAs certainly had to prove that they were willing to believe, that they were serious about quitting permanently, and that they unhesitatingly were putting themselves in God’s hands.

5. On the other hand, the rosters which I have mentioned contain the names and other personal information—e.g., addresses and sometimes telephone numbers--of the successful people in Akron, New York, and Cleveland, many of whom Sue Smith Windows (Dr. Bob s daughter) knew personally. Sue confirmed the accuracy of those names, and of that other personal information, to me, and to a number of other researchers. One sees the names and other personal information of many people whose names and addresses and signatures are found in Anne Smith's address book. One sees these same names mentioned with frequency in A.A. literature--names such as Bill W., Dr. Bob, Bill D., Archie T., Bob E., Earl T., Bill Van H., the two Stanley brothers, J.D. Holmes, Wally G., Ernie G., Jim Scott, Joe D., Bob O., Walter B., Hank P., Fitz Mayo, and others listed in Richard K.'s title, A New Light: “The First Forty. And, in Cleveland rosters and the roster of 220 members I mentioned earlier, one can see names, addresses, and phone numbers of those whose status was actually verified by the founder of A.A. in Cleveland, Clarence S.

6. Was Alcoholics Anonymous effective in the early days—before and shortly after it became known as “Alcoholics Anonymous”? What were the success rates of the pioneers in early A.A.? Here is the official statement contained in the current (4th) edition of the A.A. General Service Conference-approved book, Alcoholics Anonymous:

 

Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way; 25% sobered up after some relapses, and among the remainder, those who stayed on with A.A. showed improvement. [Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th ed. (New York, N.Y.: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), page xx.]

 

This group is critical because it is the group as to which specific names, records, and outcomes were kept. In Cleveland, there was a documented, 93% success rate based on a specific survey conducted by Clarence S. and reported in A.A. literature.

 

Now let’s look at the question, “Is Alcoholics Anonymous effective today?”

There are several factors which make accurate calculations of today’s A.A. success rates virtually impossible.

First, the triennial surveys by A.A. itself are anything but reliable as indicators of success, and many commentators have observed this point.[17] I would add that the ineffectiveness of these surveys can be attributed to the fact that only A.A. groups are surveyed whereas many in one group go to several groups and meetings each week, and are surveyed more than once. I experienced that myself. Also, most transient AAs, moving from meeting to meeting and moving in and out of A.A.—sometimes in a matter of a few days--are simply never the subject of a survey and certainly not a survey conducted by statistical standards.

Second, both the statements of deceased A.A. General Service Archivist Frank Mauser and of other A.A. documents do confirm that one-third of those who come into A.A. are out of the door in ninety days; and 50% are out of the door in a year.[18]

Third, most research literature about surveys of professionals make it clear that the surveys focused on those who chose to be interviewed, rather than on those who were randomly selected from the ranks of A.A. itself.[19]

Fourth, I believe—and believe most AAs who are in the trenches today would agree—that there are few if any rosters containing the names of members in almost any group or meeting in A.A. today. Moreover, I believe the status of any person in A.A. who has been surveyed cannot be pinned to any particular meeting or group because A.A. today is frequented by people who may go to only one meeting, or to several different kinds of meetings, or involve an A.A. person compelled to a meeting by a probation officer or as the rider in a treatment center bus.

Fifth, today, the Tradition of anonymity makes an accounting much more difficult than when early AAs knew each other personally, all belonged to one group (in Akron), kept rosters with names and addresses and sobriety data, and used full names in the records and rosters that existed.

Finally, there is the problem of who is an “alcoholic” in today’s A.A. Alcoholics Anonymous today has a “singleness of purpose” theory, and it seems to suggest that its meetings are only for those with an alcohol problem but not a drug problem. But I personally don’t think one in 500 meets that test. Both young and old today who come to A.A. have experimented with--and have often become addicted to--every kind of drug imaginable: alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, LSD, the sex-enhancers, marijuana, heroin, after-shave, “ice,” and a dozen other concoctions. That is certainly the case among the many men I have sponsored and also among those I have met (but not sponsored) in thousands of A.A. meetings. Add to this the fact that surveys are scarcely able to differentiate between a “real” alcoholic, a mental or emotional case, a “shopper at the pie counter” of several Anonymous Fellowships, or a dually-addicted person or drug addict.

Possibly, the greatest difficulty with surveys today is that they make the assumption that A.A. today is not a religious organization and therefore that the religious beliefs of members are irrelevant, whereas the early Christian fellowship of Akron most certainly was religious and was founded on a belief in God and His Son Jesus Christ and that cure of alcoholism was possible through reliance on God.[20]

What some existing surveys do show

Professionals have sometimes conducted surveys among veterans, hospital patients, and selected groups of AAs or members of A.A. The accuracy and integrity of those surveys is not the subject of my knowledge. But such surveys do show the following facts about present-day A.A.: (a) A definite 75% fail to maintain sobriety;[21] (b) Somewhere between 2.9% and 7% maintain permanent sobriety;[22] (c) As often as not, those who have chosen the Alcoholics Anonymous path have the same or an even lower success rate than those who got sober without A.A.;[23] and (d) To date there has been no adequate survey of success or failure among those AAs who--like the pioneers--were born-again Christians, relied upon the Creator of the heavens and the earth for help, and also often joined together in some Christian church, Bible fellowship, or prayer group.[24]

A.A. “veterans” know the facts

There is no mystery among those of us in the A.A. Fellowship today who are in the trenches, going to meetings, helping newcomers, sponsoring AAs, and fellowshipping with other AAs in conferences, outings, dances, retreats, Unity Days, movies, and the like. If a person is active in A.A., he or she goes to conferences and meetings where sobriety “count-downs” are very often conducted. No matter how large or small the number of people attending, the “count-downs” almost invariably produce the same results: (a) A large number will identify themselves as having 30 days or less; (b) a fairly large number, 90 days or less; (c) a fairly limited number, one year of sobriety; (d) a very small number, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, or 20 years; and (e) only a rare member will claim 25 or more years. Yes. Old-timers exist. But one won’t find very many of them in ordinary A.A. meetings today if one compares their number with a total of the 2 million of A.A. members in the worldwide Fellowship today.

An encouraging note

There is an encouraging caveat for enthusiastic A.A. Fellowship members who are confronted with membership surveys, individual opinions, and published success rates. I took great heart in the chapter titled “How It Works” beginning on page 58 of A.A.’s “Basic Text,” Alcoholics Anonymous. The following statement is read and heard at almost every A.A. meeting. It says: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” The paragraph continues, “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program . . .” Even when, in my earliest A.A. days, I couldn't identify the “path” the Big Book described, I believed and counted on the veracity of its statement. In the beginning, to my confused, bewildered, wandering mind, it was not a program matter; it was my personal determination to follow the path, completely to give myself to the program, to go where AAs went, do what they did, and expect to get what they got. I don’t believe any survey can measure the existence or non-existence of that determination. For me, it was nonetheless a guide to my A.A. involvement. I thoroughly followed every step of the A.A. path that I was directed to take. Furthermore, I put my trust in Almighty God; sought Him through His son Jesus Christ, just as early AAs did; and continued to grow in my understanding and fellowship with God and other believers through Bible study, prayer, and witness. And I have not had a drinking or drug problem since two days before I entered A.A. in the spring of 1986. Nor have a small handful of the men, whom I have sponsored, who thoroughly followed the same route. Moreover, surveys seldom measure the elements of perseverance, continuity, and fidelity to the program at 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years of successful participation. These elements are probably not even subject to survey. The fact is well known in A.A. that a large number of successful AAs just don’t show up any more—not for meetings, not for involvement, and not for service. Sadly, some of these “old-timers” are known to go out and drink or use after many years of sobriety.

A.A. has changed dramatically over the years

Today, there is no homogeneous, close, personally-acquainted, single squad of “Twelfth Step” workers in the worldwide Fellowship of two million. Detoxes, rehabs, jails, prisons, mental wards, court supervision, collateral bridge groups, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, counselors, and huge treatment programs have changed the modern Twelve Step scene. In early A.A., one was required to believe in God. In early A.A., one was required to make a decision for Christ. In early A.A., one was required to observe Quiet Time with Bible study, prayer, and seeking guidance. In early A.A., one was handed Christian devotionals ad literature to study. In early A.A., one frequently lived in the homes of like-minded, Christian, pioneer believers. In early A.A., one had the strong, talented leadership of people like Dr. Bob Smith, his wife Anne Smith, Henrietta Seiberling, the kindly T. Henry Williams, and the Reverend Samuel M. Shoemaker, Jr., and his circle of believers. The founders and pioneers believed that God could cure them of alcoholism, and they frequently said so—publically.[25]

Is A.A. a religion? And what has that to do with measuring its effectiveness?

The real question in measuring A.A.’s effectiveness yesterday and today does not center on the question of whether A.A. is or is not a religion. To debate that point is to ignore the central and controlling question: Is or is not A.A. about God today? Early A.A. was.[26] When Bill Wilson started writing the Big Book, he was writing about what God can and will do for the suffering alcoholic if He is sought.[27]

Patently, the original program, as espoused both by Dr. Bob and by Bill, was a program about finding and establishing a relationship with God. To emphasize that point, Dr. Bob’s story in the First Edition of the Big Book concludes at page 193 with these statements: “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. . . . Your Heavenly Father will never let you down.”

For the courts who have been called upon to decide the nature of A.A. from a First Amendment standpoint, the foregoing language about God made the answer quite simple. Almost all ruled that A.A. was a religion and that government could not coerce inmates, for example, to participate in a religious program.[28]

In other words, A.A., in the eyes of the judiciary, is, in the language of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit: “Based on the monotheistic idea of a single God or Supreme Being.”[29] Now whether A.A. is or is not a religion provides little or no light on the question whether or not A.A. is effective in curing its adherents of alcoholism by the power of God.

But as I have said, A.A. has changed. Despite court decisions and common sense observations as to the role of God in recovery, a completely new diversion has been introduced into the scene and obscures the original A.A. answer that God could and would relieve the suffering alcoholic if He were sought. Many, including some writing A.A.’s more recent literature, have argued that: (1) A.A. is not a religion; (2) A.A. is “spiritual but not religious”; (3) one may invent some god of one’s own choosing; (4) A.A. is no longer, and is definitely not today, a Christian fellowship; and (5) one doesn’t have to believe in anything.[30] Moreover, one cannot be cured, they say. The following pamphlet remarks exemplify how the A.A. publishing arm describes the Fellowship today:

 

“We in A.A. believe there is no such thing as a cure for alcoholism. . . .

 

“Is A.A. a religious organization? No. Nor is it allied with any religious Organization.

 

“There is a lot of talk about God, though, isn’t there? The majority of A.A. members believe that we have found the solution to our drinking problem not through individual willpower, but through a power greater than ourselves. However, everyone defines this power as he or she wishes. Many people call it God, others think it is the A.A. group, still others don’t believe in it at all. There is room in A.A. for people of all shades of belief and nonbelief.”[31]

Do present-day spirited and complex arguments about God, religion, “spirituality,” and cure enable us to determine the effectiveness of A.A. today—success rates or not?

The answer is probably “no.”

There is no commonality in the composition of the Fellowship, the views of its members about the questions, the beliefs about God or no God, the beliefs about religion or no religion, the beliefs about cure or no cure, the beliefs about the presence or absence of the power of God in recovery from alcoholism, the beliefs about what “A.A.” is, or the opinions about whether alcoholism is a disease.

Carry the point further. There are certainly tens of thousands of Christians in A.A. today. Many, openly or silently, affirm their belief in God, their reliance upon Him, and the miraculous healing they have received from Him. They haven’t abandoned their religion, their church, their denomination, their faith, God, Jesus Christ, or the Bible. I get phone calls, letters, and emails from many of them every single day. For some of these people, their real problem is timidity, intimidation, and uncertainty about their status in A.A. It is not about the power of God or the importance of Jesus Christ or the study of the Bible. For those, like myself, and many that I meet, know, and communicate with, the “non-cure,” non-religious, non-belief statements above are not at all representative of how we view Alcoholics Anonymous, cure, religion, God, Jesus Christ, the Bible, or belief. We come into A.A. for help, whether it be in being relieved of alcoholism, or in being able to meet the other problems that face us as alcoholics. Few, if any, come in looking for argument or opinion or doctrinal statements about belief or unbelief. Moreover, we seldom, if ever, hear an accurate statement about early A.A.’s Christian fellowship, its principles and practices, and its documented, undeniable cures.

That said, how can one measure the “effectiveness” of “A.A.” today? God either is or He isn’t. Jesus Christ is either the Son of God or he isn’t. The Bible is either the Word of God or it isn’t. AAs are either free to believe in any or all of these or they aren’t. And if you don’t or can’t measure A.A. success without knowing who believes what, what “A.A.” itself is, and what you can or can’t believe, you have nothing to measure but a selected group of people with all kinds of backgrounds, beliefs, addictions, and understandings concerning the Fellowship.

 

However, A.A. is Effective and Can Be Effective Today

for a Child of God Who Is Walking in Fellowship with God

The power of God to heal is not under discussion in this article.[32] Nor is seeking healing from God in the name of Jesus Christ.[33] Nor is the evidence of the ages that children of God have successfully healed others by the power of God.[34] In short, the effectiveness of healing by the power of God of alcoholics in and out of A.A. is simply not being measured effectively at all.[35]

Furthermore, no matter what is said about belief or unbelief in today’s A.A., those in the A.A. Fellowship today should have no inability to echo Bill Wilson’s statement that they (i.e., those in A.A.) have no monopoly on God.[36] On the other side of the picture comes the characterization: “A recent Gallup poll showed (once again) that most individuals quit serious addictions without counselors, programs, or treatment: People are about 10 times mores likely to change on their own as with the help of doctors (physicians), therapists, or self-help groups.”[37] Some analysts have also said that A.A. today has no special record of success that cannot be found in many other groups and therapies.[38] Other analysts assert that many other organizations and disciplines are just as effective, if not more so, as A.A.[39]

In conclusion, the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous today, looked at as if it were a homogenous Fellowship of like-minded drunks, is heavily debated. The striking contrast is that the effectiveness of the Christian Fellowship in Akron, though seemingly put on the shelf when it comes to surveys, can be proven by convincing, documented, extant evidence.

As for recovery within A.A. itself today, the following conclusion seems more than justified. If a person throws himself or herself wholeheartedly into a life without the necessity for drinking, remembers what excessive drinking does to him or her, and counts on God for help in resisting temptation, that person can have the same success as a member of today’s A.A. Society as a member of early AA had when he thoroughly followed the path of those who did succeed with astonishing success in their Christian Fellowship of the 1930’s.

If you would like to see more detailed information on A.A. success rates than I have presented in this article, please see my titles.[40]

Gloria Deo

Dick B.: PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; (808) 874-4876; dickb@dickb.com; www.DickB.com


 

[1] See: (a) Richard K., Early A.A.: Separating Fact from Fiction: How Revisionists Have Led Our History Astray (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text Publishing Co., 2003); (b) Richard K., So You Think Drunks Can’t Be Cured: Press Releases by Witnesses to the Cure (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text Publishing Co., 2003); and (c) Richard K., A New Light: “The First Forty” (Haverhill, MA: Golden Text Publishing Co., 2003).

[2] DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, Inc., 1980), 145-46.

[3] The names include: Joseph Doppler, William Dotson, Robert Evans, E. W. Galbraith, Ernest Gerig, Albert Goldrich, Rollie Hemsley, J. D. Holmes, Silvia Kauffman, Tom Lucas, Robert Oviatt, John Reese, Jim Scott, Dr. R. H. Smith, Clarence Snyder, Paul Stanley, Richard Stanley, Earl Treat, A. L. Trowbridge, and Harry Zellers. Sometimes, the spelling of these names is wrong. Sometimes, the errors have been corrected. Sometimes, there are notations where a listed person became deceased. And sometimes, the names of the persons are written out in longhand with the date of sobriety next to the name. In many cases, corrections were made by Dr. Bob Smith’s daughter, Sue Smith Windows, who was present in the early A.A. days and knew many personally.

[4] Dick B., Cured! Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2003), 1-2.

[5] DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 123.

[6] Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age: A Brief History of A.A. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1957 ), 76.

[7] “RHS: Cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Our Beloved Dr. Bob” (New York, NY: AA Grapevine, Inc., 1951), 8

[8] Robert Thomsen, Bill W. (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), 266.

[9] “Pass It On” (New York, NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984), 177-78.

[10] For example, there is an article by someone who calls himself “Barefoot.” The title of his article is “Pioneers of Alcoholics Anonymous – 1934 - 1939.” (http://www.barefootsworld.net/aapioneers.html; accessed 11/20/08). The author (“Barefoot”) claims in his article: “The below listed pioneers are the men and women listed in the Foreword of the First Edition of the Big Book.” First of all, no names at all are listed in the Foreword of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous (pages vii and viii). Second, in the Table of Contents (called “Contents”—pages v and vi), no names are provided. Only the titles of personal stories are given, and these titles quite clearly involve personal stories of people like Clarence Snyder (“Home Brewmeister”) who did not get sober until February 11, 1938. [See Mitchell K., How It Worked: The Story of Clarence H. Snyder and the Early Days of Alcoholics Anonymous in Cleveland, Ohio (Washingtonville, NY: AA Big Book Study Group, 1999), 54.]

     Another example is Archie Trowbridge, who got sober in September 1938 and whose personal story is titled, in the First Edition, “The Fearful One.” (Archie’s story was renamed “The Man Who Mastered Fear” in the Second, Third, and Fourth Editions. Archie’s story appears at pages 332-35 of the First Edition of Alcoholics Anonymous. My source for his sobriety date is a roster which I received from A.A. historian Earl Husband, “edited with notes from Akron Archives as to its members and notes from Jim Burwell’s diary.” In the collection of Dr. Bob’s daughter, Sue Smith Windows, the Archie Trowbridge notation is as follows: “X Archie Trowbridge 9/38.” With a further notation: “(X---NO SLIPS).” Archie T. is often credited as the founder of A.A. in Detroit. For further details, see “Transcript of Archie T.’s Talk on the History of AA in Detroit”: http://www.akronaaarchives.org/archieT.htm; accessed 11/21/08.

     There is no citation for, or documentation for, the “Barefoot” statement about who the pioneers were. Many of the people on the “Barefoot” list failed to gain sobriety and were never mentioned in Big Book literature. However, if one counts the bold-faced names on the “Barefoot” list up to November of 1937, and the statement that the “bolded names achieved permanent sobriety,” one comes very close to the 30 out of 40 people who appear to be those referred to, not in the Big Book, but by Bill W. in the various accounts of the 1937 “nose counting.”

[11] “Pass It On,” 157.

[12] “Pass It On,” 166.

[13] Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, 21-22.

[14] DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 261. On page 108 of his biography of Clarence Snyder, Mitchell K. wrote: “Two years after the publication of the book, Clarence made a survey of all of the members in Cleveland. He concluded that, by keeping most of the ‘old program,’ including the Four Absolutes and the Bible, ninety-three percent of those surveyed had maintained uninterrupted sobriety.” See: Mitchell K., How It Worked, 108.

[15] See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 128-36—especially 131.

[16] DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 131.

[17] See, for example: (a) Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller, eds., Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and Alternatives (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, Publications Division, 1993), 3-11, 41-76, 137-52, 251-99, 339-55; (b) Stanton Peele and Charles Bufe, with Archie Brodsky, Resisting 12-Step Coercion: How to Fight Forced Participation in AA, NA, or 12-Step Treatment (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2000), 44-81; and (c) Charles Bufe, Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure, 2d ed., rev. & exp. (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998), 86-104.

[18] This point was also confirmed to me in a letter from Enoch Gordis, M.D., N.I.A.A.A., June 23, 1995—a letter containing also A.A.’s 1989 Membership Survey. (See Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 569-74.)

[19] On this point, see again:  (a) Barbara S. McCrady and William R. Miller, eds., Research on Alcoholics Anonymous; (b) Stanton Peele and Charles Bufe, with Archie Brodsky, Resisting 12-Step Coercion; and (c) Charles Bufe, Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure.

[20] In Chapter 17 of Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, Richard L. Gorsuch points up the difficulty stating, at page 301: “Despite the importance of spirituality in Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA) 12 steps, addiction research has seldom measured spirituality (Miller, 1991). The purpose of this chapter is first to examine several definitions of spirituality that might be important for measuring this facet of A.A.” See also pages 301-18.

[21]It is an axiom in the field that about 75% of those who turn to A.A. drop out by the end of the first year” (J. Scott Tonigan, Ph.D., Deputy Director of the Research Division, Center on Alcoholism, in New Mexico, as quoted in the Akron Beacon Journal, Friday, June 9, 1995:). See also Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism: God, Sam Shoemaker, and A.A., 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1999), 570-71; Joan Matthews Larson, Ph.D., Seven Weeks to Sobriety: The Proven Program to Fight Alcoholism through Nutrition (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992); Charlie Bishop, Jr., and Bill Pittman, To Be Continued ..... The Alcoholics Anonymous World Bibliography 1935-1994 (Wheeling, WV: Bishop of Books, 1994), xiii; and Susan Powter, Sober . .  . and Staying That Way: The Missing Link in the Cure for Alcoholism (New York, NY: Fireside, 1999), 15.

[22] Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 571-72; see also William L. Playfair, M.D., The Useful Lie (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 65-66; and Charles Bufe, Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?, 2d ed. (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 1998), 90-92.

[23] Herbert Fingarette, Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), 89.

[24] For documentation that early Akron AAs were, and regarded themselves as, a Christian Fellowship, see DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 118. See also: Dick B., The Akron Genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, 2d ed. (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 1998), 187-88, 197-98, 218-21. The quoted pages document these facts: (1) Dr. Bob described A.A. as a Christian Fellowship; (2) In June of 1991, Dr. Bob’s daughter (Sue Smith Windows) informed me that Dr. Bob described every King School Group meeting (of A.A.) as a Christian Fellowship; and (3) Akron A.A. old-timer Bob Evans told A.A. Archivist Nell Wing, in a letter to her of March 14, 1975, that Dr. Bob told his business friends that the alcoholic squad were “a Christian Fellowship.” Bob Evans wrote Lois Wilson to the same effect in a memo to Lois that was written on an Akron “Four Absolutes” pamphlet. I have examined copies of each document and lodged them in the Griffith Library in East Dorset, Vermont.

[25] See Dick B., Cured! Proven Help for Alcoholics and Addicts; and Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 3rd ed.  (Kihei, HI: Paradise Research Publications, Inc., 2006).

[26] See DR. BOB and the Good Oldtimers, 144.

[27] The First Edition of the Big Book is titled Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Recovered from Alcoholism (New York City, NY: Works Publishing Company, 1939). Two or three examples from that edition will start the ball rolling: (1) On pages 35-36, Bill wrote: “The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous.” (2) On page 38, Bill wrote: “What seemed at first a flimsy reed, has proved to be the loving and powerful hand of God. A new life has been given us or, if you prefer, ‘a design for living’ that really works.” (3) On page 39, Bill wrote: “Each individual, in the personal stories, describes in his own language, and from his own point of view the way he established his relationship with God.” (4) On page 57, Bill wrote: “That means we have written a book which we believe to be spiritual as well as moral. And it means, of course, that we are going to talk about God.” In fact, in A.A.’s “Pass It On,” the text states at page 198, “The very first draft of the Twelve Steps, as Bill wrote them that night, has been lost.” The text then sets forth, “an approximate reconstruction” of the second and third steps as Bill first set them down: “2. Came to believe that God can restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care and direction of God.”

[28] See, for example, Peele and Bufe, Resisting 12 Step Coercion, 82-129.

[29] Peele and Bufe, Resisting 12 Step Coercion, 117.

[30] And note this contention by Mel B., New Wine: The Spiritual Roots of the Twelve Step Miracle (Center City, MN: Hazelden Foundation, 1991), on page 5: “AA members have always issued disclaimers when discussing God: typical is, ‘Our program is spiritual, not religious.’ If pressed for what the program’s actual definition of ‘spiritual’ is, however, it is doubtful that many AA members could explain.”

[31] A Newcomer Asks . . . (NY: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1980).

[32] On the topic of the power of God to heal, see, for example: “. . . I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exod 15:26b); and “. . . who [the LORD] healeth all thy diseases.” (Psa 103:3).

[33] On the topic of seeking healing from God in the name of Jesus Christ, see, for example: “. . . whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” (John 15:16b); and “. . . In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6b).

[34] On the topic of children of God through the ages having successfully healed others by the power of God, see, for example: “So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” (Mark 16:19, 20); “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12); the review of miracles not to be forgotten in Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why, 143-159; Dick B., Why Early A.A. Succeeded, 175-76, 267-80; and Dick B., Cured!, 9-18.

[35] See Gorsuch, Research on Alcoholics Anonymous, 301.

[36] So said Bill Wilson on page 95 of the Big Book: “We have no monopoly on God; we merely have an approach that worked with us.”

[37] James DeSena, Overcoming Your Alcohol, Drug, and Recovery Habits: An Empowering Alternative to A.A. and 12-Step Treatment (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2003), 171.

[38] Stanton Peele, Diseasing of America: How We Allowed Recovery Zealots and the Treatment Industry to Convince Us We Are out of Control (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995), 73-79, 199-200.

[39] See Michael Lemanski, A History of Addiction & Recovery in the United States (Tucson, AZ: See Sharp Press, 2001), 119-42; and Jack Trimpey, The small book: A Revolutionary Alternative for Overcoming Alcohol and Drug Dependence, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Delacourt Press, 1992).

[40] See: (a) Dick B., The Good Book and the Big Book: A.A.’s Roots in the Bible (http://dickb.com/goodbook.shtml), 7-12; (b) Dick B., New Light on Alcoholism, 569-74; (c) Dick B., The Oxford Group & Alcoholics Anonymous (http://dickb.com/Oxford.shtml), 1-16; (d) Dick B., Cured!, 1-18; (e) Dick B., Why Early A.A. Succeeded (http://dickb.com/aabiblestudy.shtml); and (f) Dick B., When Early AAs Were Cured and Why (http://dickb.com/alcoholismcured.shtml), 107-119, 143-62;


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