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Alcoholism: Understanding Alcoholics Anonymous

Lovin' life free of alcohol

Lovin' life free of alcohol

Drunk in Alaska 2006

Drunk in Alaska 2006

Self-discovery and the road to wellness

Self-discovery and the road to wellness

So much has been written about Alcoholics Anonymous over the years that it feels a bit silly of me to attempt to write anything about it that might be new or unique. However, that really is not my purpose. I have found over the twenty-odd years that I have been attending AA meetings that there seems to be a general misunderstanding about the organization, especially among those who are not alcoholic.

Is it a cult? Do they brainwash you at meetings? Isn’t it just a whole bunch of mumbo-jumbo for people who don’t have the willpower necessary to quit drinking on their own? What the hell goes on at those meetings? Is it really possible to quit alcohol through attendance at AA and by practicing its principles?

I don’t blame people for being confused; in truth there are attending members who are confused so why would I expect the “normies” to understand? I guess my hope is that by writing this article there will simply be a better understanding of the organization. I am not a Big Book thumper; I am not trying to convert anyone. I am simply trying to eliminate some of the mystery that surrounds it. In addition I am not trying to convince anyone that AA is the only way to find sobriety, and I certainly have no desire to debate the matter with anyone. This is nothing more than my insights about AA passed on to you the reader.


Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by its founding members Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, two seemingly hopeless alcoholics who founded the organization upon certain steps, traditions and principles. It was, and still is, a means of changing one’s life, for it was understood very early on that drinking is but a symptom of the real problem and the real problem is the alcoholic himself. It is often said that you can take the alcohol away from a drunk horse thief and what you have remaining is a sober horse thief. In other words, unless the person changes the problems will still exist.


I have no desire to school you on the twelve steps, but for the sake of clarity I will list them so that we have some basis for understanding and some reference point for the rest of this article.

1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4) Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5) Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6) Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7) Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8) Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9) Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

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10) Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12) Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.


So far so good but still, confusion reigns supreme for most when they first encounter the Twelve Steps just listed. What might help is to take a look at the principles upon which the Twelve Steps are built, for I believe it is the principles that are universally understood as a means to a better life. The Twelve Principles of AA are:

1. Honesty

2. Hope

3. Faith

4. Courage

5. Integrity

6. Willingness

7. Humility

8. Brotherly love

9. Justice

10. Perseverance

11. Spirituality

12. Service


Now perhaps we begin to see what AA is all about. Nowhere in the principles is the word alcohol mentioned; instead the principles are about changing our lives for the better by becoming better human beings, because the simple truth is that we alcoholics did not like who we were and who we had become, and until we faced that truth there would be no freedom from alcohol and by extension there would be no lasting happiness.

Take a look at the principles for a moment and then consider this: Chances are that any self-help book you choose to read will have these principles in it. We all know how popular self-help books have become in our society as people search for a happier life and/or more confidence or better self-esteem or courage or whatever it is they feel they lack. Over the years I have read quite a few of the most popular of that genre and I can say with complete confidence that the aforementioned principles are in all of those books….including the Mother of all Self-Help Books….The Bible.


Looking back over my drinking career I can easily see how these principles were missing from my life. I was morally bankrupt by the time I found AA. I lied constantly, took advantage of people, believed in nothing other than the god of alcohol and would use anyone for my benefit. I was terrified of life in general and I would do anything to continue drinking and thus blot out the knowledge that I was a shell of a human being.

Name one of the Seven Deadly Sins and I had done it and with each action of perversion I hated myself more and despised my weaknesses. Even before Alcoholics Anonymous I knew I was a sorry excuse for a human being and all hope was lost as the endless spiral of self-destruction continued.


A friend of mine in the Program, Little Joe by name, was fond of saying, and I paraphrase, that the miracle was not that he doesn’t drink any longer; the miracle was that he had no desire to. Gone were the cravings that had previously always be there. Gone was the anti-social behavior that continually fueled self-loathing. In their place was a life free of cravings and a sense of wellness and peace.

That is how my life is today. For me it is a story of redemption, of acceptance and of love, and none of it would have been possible without a strict adherence to the Twelve Principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

A cult? Brainwashing? I submit to you that I was in desperate need of something and this Program provided what I needed. I needed to return to the person I had been so many decades ago, a person who embodied those principles on a daily basis. Somewhere I lost my way; somehow I had forgotten how to be a good person. Today I am back and once again functioning as a contributing member of society.

Today this former drunk horse thief is neither drunk nor a horse thief. To borrow from sportscaster Al Michaels, “Do you believe in miracles?” The plain truth is that I am a walking, talking miracle who absolutely loves life. Isn’t that cool?

2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

To view or order my new Kindle book on the subject of alcoholism go to


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on April 16, 2020:

Thank you Peggy! I think this article would help a lot of families since addiction is so prevalent in our society.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 16, 2020:

Thanks for sharing what you know of AA with the rest of us. It does sound like the principles taught would be helpful to everyone because it teaches all good things. As you wrote, it does not even mention the word alcohol. The fact that AA can help some people beat the addiction of alcoholism is great.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 03, 2012:

Thank you Ruchira! I will take it one day at a time and love life in-between. :) I appreciate you!

Ruchira from United States on March 03, 2012:

I have seen my cousin's brother fall apart 'cause of this. This is an addiction which can only improve if the person takes charge. You have listed the program and the ways to limit oneself well.

I wish you many more years of sobriety :)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 03, 2012:

Sandra, wasn't that a great video; I had seen it before in treatment but was pleased to find it on YouTube. Thank you as always for dropping by and we are both very grateful for AA.

Sandra Busby from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA on March 03, 2012:

I so loved the video of Bill and his wife. AA has been a part of my life since I was a child with an alcoholic father, but I've never seen Bill on video. I am grateful to AA and to God for giving me hope that there is a life without alcohol abuse by those I love. Sandra Busby

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Karen, thank you! I have attended several NA meetings and it is hard to tell the difference. Bless you and I appreciate you stopping by once again.

Karen Hellier from Georgia on March 02, 2012:

Really good description. I am more familiar with NA (Narcotics Anonymous) It's not as well known, but still based on the same principles.Great hub. Voted up.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Savanah, you are very welcome. It really is a program about life that can be applied to any walk of life. Thank you my dear for being who you are.

savanahl on March 02, 2012:

My father is a recovering alcoholic and I've been to many AA meetings, so the 12 steps and principles are very familiar to me. What I've found over the years is that the 12 steps can be applied to life as a successful way to live. I'm thankful for the program and as always, I love reading your thoughts. Thanks again for sharing billybuc.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Thomas, there have been many dogs I liked better than their masters. :) Thank you for your compliment and I appreciate your following.

ThomasBaker from Florida on March 02, 2012:

I am familiar with 12 step programs and know that they will work for folks who really want to quit drinking. It was good to get some additional information on AA. I too had one or two misconceptions depite having attended meetings in the past. I know about AA because I used to drive a blind man and his seeing eye dog to meetings. To be honest with you, I liked the dog better than his master.

A very thorough article and well written.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Spirit Whisperer, it is my pleasure, and if it helps one person then it is all worth it. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to follow me on this journey.

Xavier Nathan from Isle of Man on March 02, 2012:

This is the best description of AA I have read to date. It certainly demystifies the organization and explains what great work it does. I am reminded of Matthew 18:19-20 when I read this hub which talks about the power of agreement: 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Thank you billybuc for another enlightening read.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Klean, thank you very much. I would not be here today if it weren't for some loving souls in AA who saw something in me worth saving. Thank you for taking the time to post such a meaningful comment.

KLEANTreatment from Los Angeles, CA on March 02, 2012:

Great post Billy I have personally seen the good that AA has done for many people. I think often times people get so hung up on the faith elements that they miss the importance of living by a code and actively seeking to better your life.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Ann, you have no idea how much your support means to me. I consider you an excellent writer and your time will come. I'm just the flavor of the month. :) Thank you for visiting once again and I hope my hubs on alcoholism help someone out there.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 02, 2012:

Another great hub full of important information. I'm lucky not to have been affected by alcohol apart from seeing my sister's husband affect his family's life; he died far too early because of it. I certainly didn't know AA was anything like that; good insight into the group. Just goes to show that a group of people (however small) can do more than one person alone. I greatly admire what you've been able to do in turning yourself around; it must take a tremendous amount of will-power even with others' help and now you're inspiring lots of other people with your writing about this and all your other subjects. Congrats on the 100 mark by the way; I'm so near and yet so far but still striving! Thanks for explaining AA. Voted up, awesome, useful and interesting.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Pamela, you are most welcome. Thank you for sharing information I did not know about. I wish you well and greatly appreciate your comments.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Timetraveler, I only wish more could be helped. This disease takes no prisoners and often harms the innocent bystanders. I'm sorry for your losses but happy that you have found peace. Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Rolly, you are a true every sense of what that word means. Bless you and stay safe my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on March 02, 2012:

Jacy, you are a gift to me, sent by the unseen gods of the internet...thank you so much and it's nice to know that someone out there gets something out of my words.

Pamela Dapples from Arizona. on March 02, 2012:

Thanks for a good synopsis on the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and your feelings about its ability to change lives if a person is willing to fully participate in the twelve steps.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints went through the proper legal channels years ago for the rights (from the founders of AA) to incorporate their own program based completely on the original but with more emphasis on relying on Jesus Christ for help. Their program is called LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program and it successfully serves people with all kinds of addictions from prescription drugs to many other areas. The program for the spouses of the recovering addict is titled Finding Healing Through Christ and it too is based on the same twelve steps. Members of the church and non-members attend the meetings.

In today's society there is a pervasive evil influence of pornography tearing apart families and ruining lives. The LDS Family Service Addiction Recovery Program which helps addicts build their faith and reliance on Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice, is believed to be the most effective recovery program in the nation -- by many professional counselors -- for people (high percentage are men) with this very addictive problem. It is an addiction.

Thank you for sharing your insights and information on the AA program which is such a blessing in so many peoples' lives.

Sondra Rochelle from USA on March 02, 2012:

Billy: I was married to a violent, psychotic alcoholic for 5 years. AA and Al Anon saved my life. You have done a good thing here by sharing this information. Voted up, useful and awesome.

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on March 02, 2012:

Morning Billy... awesome creation here in your hub you have written. Very proud of all you have done in your life...

Blessings and Hugs

jacy albertson from Sanford, fl on March 02, 2012:

Adore you bud, and thank you for sharing your story. I see why you were miserable in Alaska. I love, especially your hubs about alcoholism, and AA. I like to see others views about AA, esp since it's become part of my brother's daily routine. Sometimes several times per day. And you raise a valid point, in that, you need to be ready for it. I guess any of those organizations can be seen as a cult, but if other's are getting something positive from it, then so what? Once again; Awesome and very helpful hub.

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