Happy Birthday, Alcoholics Anonymous (a month late)

I will neither confirm nor deny here that I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. I can confirm that I have not gotten loaded  in 18 years and that I am a certified alcohol and drug counselor II in Oregon.

I have made the assertion that the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 Steps was one of the most important social revolutions of the 20th century.  This movement started with two people (formally) on June 10, 1935 and grew exponentially over 83 years. It started all by itself. It had and has no opinion on outside issues according to its Traditions and thus is not a political movement because it eschews politics. Most other social revolutions took on a political dimension. It also eschews money from outside resources, according its Seventh Tradition. It is self-supporting through [its members’] own contributions.

In today’s fractured and bizarre political world, it’s worth reflecting on these people who were Presidents of the United States or candidates for that office since 1973. George McGovern (daughter died of alcoholism); Michael Dukakis (wife is alcoholic); Gerald Ford (wife was alcoholic/addict who founded Betty Ford Center); Jimmy Carter (brother was alcoholic); Bill Clinton (half brother is alcoholic/addict); George H.W. Bush (son President George W. Bush is alcoholic by his own admission, so “double winner”); Donald Trump (brother died of alcoholism). Imagine if we could get them in a room together and talk about the personal impact of addiction. I think they would all feel differently about one another.  The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “We are people who would normally not mix.” It’s pure democratic socialism very much aligned with the Marxist ideal of from each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need. To belong in a 12 Step program, all you have to do is join. No wonder social scientists in capitalistic societies don’t understand it.

Speaking of handwringing social scientists, much of the recovery literature is full these days of all the reasons that AA/12 Steps doesn’t work, and almost none of it focuses on the millions of people for whom it does work.  The literature also does not talk about the fact that, very conservatively, every active addict* has a direct negative impact on at least 10 other people. So if four million people around the world are walking around in 12 step recovery today, then they have either eliminated that negative effect or are creating a positive effect on 40 million people. If all those people moved to the same place at once, they would form the largest city in the world. Treatment these days is all  full of the need for “evidence-based treatment” which, in my opinion,  is often not so much about getting people clean and sober as it is about getting paid by insurance companies. Well, my evidence is those 44 million people.

12 Step programs have miles to go to align with the opiate crisis, but the fact remains that alcohol kills twice as many people in the U.S. each year that opiates do. It’s the number one killer, and people in its sights banded together 83 years ago to do something about it, knowing that no one else would. It’s also worth noting that if crack cocaine were around NYC in the 1930s the way it was in the 1980s, all those ” singleness of purpose, I’m just an alcoholic” people would have been far more than that.

* I prefer the generic term “addict” because someone we call “alcoholic” is addicted to a drug called ethanol. They don’t drink the gin for the juniper berries.

© 2018 Joseph Galligan

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