Alcoholics Anonymous

The original anonymous fellowship offering peer support through its twelve step programme was established in Akron, Ohio USA in 1935 by two ‘alcoholics’, Bill W. and Dr. Bob.

AA groups are established by peers coming together and replicating very similar groups using AA’s Traditions and the 12 step programme as their guide and model.

In Scotland, AA is long established and there are many AA groups and meetings. The tradition of anonymity means that the number of people involved with fellowships, and whether that number is increasing or decreasing, are unknown.

Similar fellowships now exist for users of other substances – Narcotics Anonymous for people with a drug problem and Cocaine Anonymous for people with a drug problem involving stimulants. In practice, anyone who expresses a desire and determination to stop using substances can attend meetings of any fellowship.

The emergence of SMART Recovery was promoted as offering ‘a secular 12 step’.

A small number of services have close links with 12 step fellowships; other professionals in the field may mention the existence of groups and meetings and point out possible benefits to individuals; others merely advertise the existence of groups and meetings with posters on notice boards etc.

The perception that fellowships are a quasi-religious groups (the mention of a “Power greater than ourselves” in Step Two or “God” in Tradition Two); the tradition of anonymity; the existence of ‘closed’ meetings which exclude non-members and the self-regulating nature of the organisation have made some people, including some professionals in the wider field, cautious about engaging with AA and even suspicious of the organisation. The fellowships have, within their traditions, tried to alleviate some of these concerns, chiefly by engaging professionals in the substance use field, and others, in open meetings and producing literature explaining the fellowships’ approach.

Some of the fellowships’ traditions, particularly the tradition of anonymity, have meant that elements of the more visible ‘recovery movement’ have criticised anonymous fellowships, even claiming that anonymity promotes or sustains stigma (see stigma). However, many people in anonymous fellowships are also involved in public recovery activity including demonstrations, volunteering and media work as well as working in the drugs field where they may disclose their own personal history and involvement with fellowships. (see peer workers)