Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

Table of Contents | Cover Page  |  Editors  |  Contributors  |  Introduction  |  Web Version

Perhaps the most famous of all "self-help" programs for dealing with alcohol and drug abuse, AA began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio.  Started by an alcoholic stockbroker named Bill Wilson, AA was strongly influenced by the Oxford Group movement (see Eister 1950).  AA has grown into a worldwide movement with over 1 million participants in nearly 50,000 groups in over 100 countries.

The AA "twelve step" program of rehabilitation, which involves a major focus on a Higher Power of God, begins as a first step with persons admitting to a group of fellow alcoholics that they cannot control themselves concerning alcohol and that their lives are out of their hands.  The twelve step program has become the model for many different types of self-help programs since the inception of AA. A number of scholars have noted the heavily religious dimension of AA and derivative programs, and such programs have been studied as religions and as ways to develop commitment and meaning in individual lives.

See also Quasi-Religions

--James T. Richardson


Alcoholics Anonymous (New York: AA World Services, 1955); 

L. Blumberg, "The Ideology of a Therapeutic Social Movement," Journal of Studies in Alcohol 38 (1977):2122-2143; 

A. W. Eister, Drawing Room Conversion (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1950); 

A. Greil and D. Rudy, "Conversion to the World View of Alcoholics Anonymous," Qualitative Sociology 6(1983):5-28; 

M. Maxwell, The Alcoholics Anonymous Experience (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984); 

D. Rudy and A. Greil, "Taking the Pledge," Sociological Focus 20(1987):45-59.

return to Encyclopedia Table of Contents

Hartford Institute for Religion Research   hirr@hartsem.edu
Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman Street, Hartford, CT 06105  860-509-9500