This year marks the 80th anniversary of a meeting between two men that led to the creation of an organisation that would change the lives of millions for the better. Those men were Bill Wilson and Dr Robert Smith, and the organisation was Alcoholics Anonymous.
Wilson, a stockbroker from New York, and Smith, a surgeon based in Akron, Ohio, both had longstanding struggles with alcohol dependency. To attempt to deal with their problems, both had been in contact with an organisation called The Oxford Group, which set out to reinforce spiritual values in daily life.
On a business trip in Akron, Wilson was compelled to drink, and sought help from Oxford Group members, who in turn put him in contact with fellow sufferer Dr Smith. The meeting was intended to last 15 minutes, but went on for six hours, during which time the pair began to devise a new system to deal with alcoholism. They realised two important things: that alcoholics needed to work together to succeed and, that if an addict could postpone their addiction for 24 hours, they could remain sober in the long term. These became fundamental tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous.
After achieving sobriety they trialled the system at Akron City Hospital. One patient quickly achieved sobriety, and these three men together formed the first AA group. Within months, a satellite circle began operating in New York, and by 1939 there was a third in Cleveland. By this time 100 alcoholics had successfully recovered through the system, and that year Wilson’s book Alcoholics Anonymous appeared, outlining the tenets of AA; known as the ‘Big Book‘, it’s still held up as a fundamental text of AA by those in substance misuse jobs and those undergoing recovery.
Word spread fast of this miracle treatment, and with the financial support of the prominent John D Rockefeller Jr, the Alcoholic Foundation was established in New York to distribute the book and handle enquiries. By 1950, the total of recovered addicts had surpassed 100,000. Around this time, Wilson, aiming to even out discrepancies between the rapidly multiplying AA groups, codified its principles in the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous – still respected around the world to this day.
Fast-forward to today, and the phenomenon Dr Smith and Mr Wilson created is still alive and saving lives. AA is a global operation in which many careers in substance misuse jobs help those struggling with addiction (over two million and counting) to transform their lives for the better.