AA Fact File
Prepared by South East Australasian General Service Office
T/A Australian Conference of Central Service Offices
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Following is the definition of AA appearing in the fellowship’s basic literature and cited frequently at meetings of AA groups:
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, organisation 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 to achieve sobriety.
Reprinted with permission, A.A. Grapevine, Inc..
Alcoholics Anonymous can also be defined as an informal society of more than 2,000,000 recovered alcoholics in the United States, Canada, and other countries. These men and women meet in local groups, which range in size from a handful in some localities to many hundreds in larger communities. Recent figures suggest women make up 35 percent of the total membership; in Australia, our estimate would be slightly higher than 35 percent.
Membership of Alcoholics Anonymous
Because AA has never attempted to keep formal membership lists, it is extremely difficult to obtain completely accurate figures on total membership at any given time. Some local groups choose not to be listed with the Service Offices, others do not provide membership data. The membership figures listed below are based on reports to the General Service Office USA as of January 1, 2013, plus an average allowance for groups that have not reported. There is no practical way of counting members who are not affiliated with a local group. AA in Australia does not have current figures, but our best estimates provide the following figures:
Estimated AA Membership in Australia
Groups in Australia. . . . 2,000
Estimated AA Membership USA/Canada
Groups in U.S.. . . . 59,321
Members in U.S.. . . . 1,295,656
Groups in Canada. . . . 5,093
Members in Canada. . . . 93,071
Groups Outside of U.S./Canada. . . . 48,726
Members Outside of U.S./Canada. . . . 705,902
Internationalists Groups . . . . 3
Groups in Correctional Facilities U.S./Canada. . . . 1,499
Members in Correctional Facilities U.S./Canada. . . . 36,838
Lone Members. . . . 67
Members. . . . 2,131,534 (this figure includes estimated Australian Membership)
Groups. . . . 114,642 (this figure includes 2,000 Australian Groups)
The Structure of AA in Australia
Alcoholics Anonymous is not organised in the formal or political sense. There are no governing officers, no rules or regulations, no fees or dues.
The need for certain services to alcoholics and their families throughout the world has, however, been apparent from the beginning of the fellowship. Inquiries have to be answered. Literature has to be written, printed, and distributed. Requests for help are followed up.
In Australia there are two operating autonomous structures:
Central Service Structure
An AA Central Service Office represents the coal face of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is the first point of contact for anyone with a drinking problem seeking help from AA. Reliable 24 hour helplines can be found on this website for Central Service Offices in Australia. These offices are also an invaluable resource for existing AA members as well as professionals in the community looking to source reliable AA assistance.
An AA Central Office is usually the primary AA Hub and often acts as the State AA Head Office – the point of accountability and responsibility for both members of Alcoholics Anonymous and the community alike. It is important to note that some central offices are large and some are quite small; some are essentially an AA help line. Regardless of physical size each Central Service Office is equally as important as the next in carrying the message of hope.
AA Central Offices represent their affiliated groups interests and carry out the groups resolutions.The offices main focus is AA’s primary purpose – which is for each AA to stay sober and to carry the message of hope to other alcoholics wanting sobriety.
A Central Service Office answers 24 hour helplines, distributes AA material including AA meeting lists to groups, members, external organisations including rehabs, hospitals, doctors, community centres, libraries and newcomers. These AA offices are usually the central AA Hub for the local fellowship and are often a hive of activity with AA Volunteers and AA staff serving along side each other.
General Service Structure
An AA General Service Office has three primary purposes: to print or import and distribute AA materials to the Central Service Offices. This effectively means it is a warehouse for Australian AA literature. A General Service Office also underwrites a National Convention and organises an annual conference for Australian members to share effective methods in carrying out AA’s primary purpose. A General Service Office also keeps in touch with AA World Services in New York, USA. This provides a link between AA in Australia and AA in the rest of the world.
The South East Australasian General Service Office administers this website to assist AA Central Service Offices to carry the message of hope to those struggling with a drinking problem in the community that want help.
The Structure of AA in the USA
There are two operating bodies:
AA World Services
AA worldwide services, directed by AA World Services, Inc., are centered in the General Service Office in New York City, where approximately 85 workers keep in touch with local groups, with AA groups in treatment and correctional facilities, with members and groups overseas, and with the thousands of others who turn to AA each year for information on the recovery program. AA Conference-approved literature is prepared, published, and distributed through this office, which also administers the AA web site, www.aa.org
The AA Grapevine, Inc., publishes the A.A. Grapevine, the Fellowship’s monthly international journal, and La Viña, our Spanish meeting in print. The Grapevine and La Viña magazines currently have a combined circulation of about 98,000 in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. The Grapevine also produces a selection of special items, including CDs and anthologies of magazine articles in English, Spanish and French, the Digital Archive, and the AudioGrapevine. The AA Grapevine Web site, www.aagrapevine.org is administered through this office.
The two operating corporations are responsible to a board of trustees (General Service Board of AA.), of whom seven are nonalcoholic friends of the Fellowship, and 14 are AA members. A General Service Conference, consisting of delegates from AA areas in the United States and Canada, and trustees, AAW.S. and Grapevine directors, and staff from the General Service Office and the Grapevine in New York, meets once a year and provides a link between the groups throughout the U.S. and Canada and the trustees who serve as custodians of AA tradition and interpreters of policies affecting the Fellowship. Autonomous General Service Offices exist in 63 countries around the world, serving the needs of AA groups in their respective countries.
At the local group level, formal organisation is kept to a minimum. The group may have a small steering committee and a limited number of rotating officers — “trusted servants” whose responsibilities include arranging meet ing programs, providing refreshments, participating in AA activities, and maintaining contact with the AA Central Service Office.
The principle of consistent rotation of responsibility is followed in virtually all AA service positions. Positions in the local group are usually rotated according to it’s own group conscience.
During its first decade, AA as a fellowship accumulated substantial experience which indicated that certain group attitudes and principles were particularly valuable in assuring survival of the informal structure of the Fellowship. In 1946, in the Fellowship’s international journal, the AA Grapevine, these principles were reduced to writing by the founders and early members as the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. They were accepted and endorsed by the membership as a whole at the International Convention of AA, at Cleveland, Ohio, in 1950. While the Twelve Traditions are not specifically binding on any group or groups, they have been adopted throughout the Fellowship as the basis of AA’s internal and external relationships.
AA and Alcoholism
AA is concerned solely with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who turn to the Fellowship for help. Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organisation, does not engage in the fields of alcoholism research, medical or psychiatric treatment, or education, although members may participate in such activities as individuals. The Fellowship has adopted a policy of “cooperation but not affiliation” with other organisations concerned with the problem of alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous does not accept or seek financial support from outside sources, and members preserve personal anonymity at the public level in print, and broadcast and digital media.
AA experience has always been made available freely to all who sought it—business people, spiritual leaders, civic groups, law enforcement officers, health and welfare personnel educators, representatives of armed and emergency services establishments institutional authorities, representatives of organised labor, and many others. But AA never endorses, supports, becomes affiliated with, nor expresses opinions on the programs of others in the field of alcoholism, since such actions would be beyond the scope of the fellowship’s primary purpose.
The Importance of Anonymity
Traditionally, AA members have always taken care to preserve their anonymity at the “public” level: press, radio, television, and films; today this extends to the Internet and digital technologies.
In the early days of AA, when more stigma was attached to the term “alcoholic” than is the case today, this reluctance to be identified — and publicized— was easy to understand.
As the Fellowship of AA grew, the positive values of anonymity soon became apparent.
First, we know from experience that many problem drinkers might hesitate to turn to AA for help if they thought their problem might be discussed publicly, even inadvertently, by others. Newcomers should be able to seek help with assurance that their identities will not be disclosed to anyone outside the Fellowship.
Then, too, we believe that the concept of personal anonymity has a spiritual significance for us — that it discourages the drives for personal recognition, power, prestige, or profit that have caused difficulties in some societies. Much of our relative effectiveness in working with alcoholics might be impaired if we sought or accepted public recognition.
While each member of AA is free to make his or her own interpretations of AA tradition, no individual member is ever recognized as a spokesperson for the Fellowship locally, nationally, or internationally. Each member speaks only for himself or herself.
An AA member may, for various reasons, “break anonymity” deliberately at the public level. Since this is a matter of individual choice and conscience, the Fellowship as a whole obviously has no control over any individual. It would seem, however, that the fellowship as a whole would prefer that this wouldn’t happen.
The 1956 General Service Conference of AA in the USA adopted unanimously the following statement of “AA’s Public Information Policy”:
In all public relationships, AA’s sole objective is to help the still-suffering alcoholic. Always mindful of the importance of personal anonymity, we believe this can be done by making known to him, and to those who may be interested in his problem, our own experience as individuals and as a fellowship in learning to live without alcohol.
We believe that our experience should be made available freely to all who express sincere interest. We believe further that all our efforts in this field should always reflect our gratitude for the gift of sobriety and our awareness that many outside AA are equally concerned with the serious problem of alcoholism.
This statement reflects a longstanding AA tradition of not seeking publicity for promotional purposes, but of always being willing to cooperate with representatives of all media who seek information about the recovery program or about the structure of the fellowship.
Media professionals are welcome at AA open meetings, dinners, AA events, or similar gatherings of recovered alcoholics. The only restriction is a request not to disclose the name of any AA member. (In most instances for obvious reasons, photographs cannot be taken at AA meetings.)
The Recovery Program
The relative success of the AA program seems to be due to the fact that an alcoholic who no longer drinks has an exceptional ability for “reaching” and helping someone struggling with a drinking problem.
In simplest form, the AA program operates when a recovered alcoholic passes along the story of his or her own problem drinking, describes the sobriety he or she has found in AA, and invites the newcomer to join the informal fellowship.
The heart of the suggested program of personal recovery is contained in Twelve Steps describing the experience of the earliest members of the fellowship. “Alcoholics Anonymous is not a religious organization; there is no dogma.” (“Three Talks to Medical Societies,” p.41) The one spiritual proposition is a “power greater than oneself” and even this concept is forced on no one. New- comers who try the program as best as they can will report the gradual onset of a transformative experience.
Newcomers are not required to accept or follow these Twelve Steps in their entirety if they feel unwilling or unable to do so.
They will usually be asked to keep an open mind, to attend meetings at which recovered alcoholics describe their personal experiences in achieving sobriety, and to read AA literature describing and interpreting the AA program.
AA members will usually emphasize to newcomers that only problem drinkers themselves, individually, can determine whether or not they are in fact alcoholics.
At the same time, it will be pointed out that all available medical evidence indicates that alcoholism is a progressive illness, that it cannot be cured in the ordinary sense of the term, but that it can be arrested through total abstinence from alcohol in any form.
The two most common kinds of AA meetings are:
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 AA announcements. In keeping with our tradition of self- support, a hat or basket is passed for A.A. members to contribute to defray costs of the meeting hall, literature, and incidental expenses. Each AA group is self-supporting through A.A. member contributions. The meeting adjourns, often followed by informal visiting over coffee. 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 none can speak for the local group or for A.A. as a whole.
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.
A substantial body of literature describing and interpreting the AA program has developed. This material may be classified under three headings: This AA material is readily available from an Australian Central Service Office near you.
Some AA History
AA had its beginnings in 1935 at Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between Bill W., a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob S., an Akron surgeon. Both had been hopeless alcoholics.
Prior to that time, Bill and Dr. Bob had each been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly nonalcoholic fellowship that emphasized universal spiritual values in daily living. In that period, the Oxford Groups in America were headed by the noted Episcopal clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. Under this spiritual influence, and with the help of an old-time friend, Ebby T., Bill had gotten sober and had then maintained his recovery by working with other alcoholics, though none of these had actually recovered. Meanwhile, Dr. Bob’s Oxford Group membership at Akron had not helped him enough to achieve sobriety.
When Dr. Bob and Bill finally met, the effect on the doctor was immediate. This time, he found himself face to face with a fellow sufferer who had made good. Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body. This all-important fact he had learned from Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill had often been a patient. Though a physician, Dr. Bob had not known alcoholism to be a disease. Responding to Bill’s convincing ideas, he soon got sober, never to drink again. The founding spark of A.A. had been struck.
Both men immediately set to work with alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital, where one patient quickly achieved complete sobriety. Though the name Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group.
In the fall of 1935, a second group of alcoholics slowly took shape in New York. A third appeared at Cleveland in 1939. It had taken over four years to produce 100 sober alcoholics in the three founding groups. Early in 1939, the Fellowship published its basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book). The text, written by Bill, explained AA’s philosophy and methods, the core of which was the now well- known Twelve Steps of recovery. The book was also reinforced by case histories of some thirty recovered members. From this point, AA’s development was rapid.
Also in 1939, the Cleveland Plain Dealer carried a series of articles about AA, supported by warm editorials. The Cleveland group of only twenty members was deluged by countless pleas for help. Alcoholics sober only a few weeks were set to work on brand-new cases. This was a new departure, and the results were fantastic. A few months later, Cleveland’s membership had expanded to 500. For the first time, it was shown that sobriety could be mass-produced.
Meanwhile, in New York, Dr. Bob and Bill had in 1938 organized an overall trusteeship for the budding Fellowship. Friends of John D. Rockefeller Jr. became board members alongside a contingent of AAs. This board was named The Alcoholic Foundation. However, all efforts to raise large amounts of money failed, because Mr. Rockefeller had wisely concluded that great sums might spoil the infant society. Nevertheless, the foundation managed to open a tiny office in New York to handle inquiries and to distribute the AA book — an enterprise which, by the way, had been mostly financed by the AAs themselves.
The book and the new office were quickly put to use. An article about AA was carried by Liberty magazine in the fall of 1939, resulting in some 800 urgent calls for help. In 1940, Mr. Rockefeller gave a dinner for many of his prominent New York friends to publicize A.A. This brought yet another flood of pleas. Each inquiry received a personal letter and a small pamphlet. Attention was also drawn to the book Alcoholics Anonymous, which soon moved into brisk circulation. Aided by mail from New York, and by AA travelers from already-established centers, many new groups came alive. At the year’s end, the membership stood at 2,000.
Then, in March 1941, the Saturday Evening Post featured an excellent article about A.A., and the response was enormous. By the close of that year, the membership had jumped to 6,000, and the number of groups multiplied in proportion. Spreading across the U.S. and Canada, the Fellowship mushroomed.
By 1950, 100,000 recovered alcoholics could be found worldwide. Spectacular though this was, the period 1940-1950 was nonetheless one of great uncertainty. The crucial question was whether all those mercurial alcoholics could live and work together in groups. Could they hold together and function effectively? This was the unsolved problem. Corresponding with thousands of groups about their problems became a chief occupation of the New York headquarters.
By 1946, however, it had already become possible to draw sound conclusions about the kinds of attitude, practice and function that would best suit AA’s purpose. Those principles, which had emerged from strenuous group experience, were codified by Bill in what are today the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. By 1950, the earlier chaos had largely disappeared. A successful formula for A.A. unity and functioning had been achieved and put into practice.
During this hectic ten-year period, Dr. Bob devoted himself to the question of hospital care for alcoholics, and to their indoctrination with AA principles. Large numbers of alcoholics flocked to Akron to receive hospital care at St. Thomas, a Catholic hospital. Dr. Bob became a member of its staff. Subsequently, he and the remarkable Sister M. Ignatia, also of the staff, cared for and brought AA to some 5,000 sufferers. After Dr. Bob’s death in 1950, Sister Ignatia continued to work at Cleveland’s Charity Hospital, where she was assisted by the local groups and where 10,000 more sufferers first found AA. This set a fine example of hospitalization wherein AA could cooperate with both medicine and religion.
In this same year of 1950, AA held its first International Convention at Cleveland. There, Dr. Bob made his last appearance and keyed his final talk to the need of keeping AA simple. Together with all present, he saw the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous enthusiastically adopted for the permanent use of the AA Fellowship throughout the world. (He died on November 16, 1950.)
The following year witnessed still another significant event. The New York office had greatly expanded its activities, and these now consisted of public relations, advice to new groups, services to hospitals, prisons, Loners, and Internationalists, and cooperation with other agencies in the alcoholism field. The headquarters was also publishing “standard” AA books and pamphlets, and it supervised their translation into other tongues. Our international magazine, the AA Grapevine, had achieved a large circulation. These and many other activities had become indispensable for AA as a whole.
Nevertheless, these vital services were still in the hands of an isolated board of trustees, whose only link to the Fellowship had been Bill and Dr. Bob. As the co-founders had foreseen years earlier, it became absolutely necessary to link AA’s world trusteeship (nowthe General Service Board of Alcoholics Anonymous) with the Fellowship that it served. Delegates from all states and provinces of the U.S. and Canada were forthwith called in. Thus composed, this body for world service first met in 1951. Despite earlier misgivings, the gathering was a great success. For the first time, the remote trusteeship became directly accountable to AA as a whole. The AA General Service Conference had been created, and AA’s over-all functioning was thereby assured for the future.
A second International Convention was held in St. Louis in 1955 to celebrate the Fellowship’s 20th anniversary. The General Service Conference had by then completely proved its worth. Here, on behalf of AA’s old-timers, Bill turned the future care and custody of AA over to the Conference and its trustees. At this moment, the Fellowship went on its own; AA had come of age.
In 1960, Long Beach, California played host to AA’s 25th anniversary celebration with 8,900 in attendance. The Fellowship’s 50th anniversary International Convention in Montréal in
1985 drew more than 45,000 members of AA, Al-Anon, family and friends. One of the honored guests was Ruth Hock Cornelius a nonalcoholic, who received the 5 millionth copy of the Big Book, the manuscript of which she had typed almost a half century earlier when she was Bill W.’s secretary. In 2010 our 75th anniversary was held in San Antonio, Texas, and celebrated by 53,000 people, demonstrating how, over the years, the International Convention has steadily grown. The 30 millionth copy of the Big Book, Alcoholics Anonymous, was presented to the American Medical Association, which in 1956 formally declared alcoholism an illness.
Had it not been for A.A.’s early friends, Alcoholics Anonymous might never have come into being. And with- out its host of well wishers who have since given of their time and effort — particularly those friends of medicine, religion, and world communications — A.A. could never have grown and prospered. The fellowship here records its constant gratitude.
It was on January 24, 1971, that Bill, a victim of pneumonia, died in Miami Beach, Florida, where — seven months earlier — he had delivered at the 35th Anniversary International Convention what proved to be his last words to fellow AAs: “God bless you and Alcoholics Anonymous forever.”
Since then, AA has become truly global, and this has revealed that AA’s way of life can today transcend most barriers of race, creed and language.
AA now exists in the following countries: