by Rick R.

How disturbing it was to hear a member of A.A. with four or five years sobriety share at a meeting the opinion Alcoholics Anonymous has an abysmal rate of success. I wonder if he is in the same program that I am. I got sober in the late 1960’s and my copy of the Big Book is the second edition. The foreword to that issue reads, “Of alcoholics who came to A.A. and really tried, 50% got sober at once and remained that way: 25% sobered up after some relapses.” It goes on to explain about the others. 

Before 1970, very few alcoholics under the age of 40 came to A.A.

The second edition was printed in 1955 and up until that time there was very little help for alcoholics. In 1956 the American Medical Association (AMA) declared alcoholism a disease and sometime after that rehabilitation clinics were funded. Many alcoholics were sent there whether they wanted to quit drinking or not. Before 1970, very few alcoholics under the age of 40 came to A.A. I was the youngest member in my home group for quite a while. 

In the middle 1970s many of those that called themselves alcoholic/addicts were much younger than the typical alcoholic. I recognized that drug addiction progresses much faster than most cases of alcoholism. Another dynamic in the equation is the court system. It seems that before an alcoholic is sent to jail these days, they are given the option to attend A.A. meetings instead of jail time.

The main requirement to become an A.A. member is “a desire to stop drinking.” I believe that A.A. is flooded with addict/alcoholics who have been sent to us long before they suffer the desperation and desire to stop drinking or using, and we embrace them with this compassion and understanding. With that in mind, I believe that A.A. does more today than we did in the days when only those who had a serious desire to quit drinking showed up at our doors. 

Welcome them with open arms and give the best we can

photo captions upon request to [email protected]

I am sometimes misunderstood when I try to explain things as I see them. I don’t want to see Alcoholics Anonymous being misrepresented. I believe that, of those who come to us with a desire to stop drinking, the success ratio remains the same as it always has been. For those who have been sent here through the courts or the rehab programs, how many of them truly have a desire to stop drinking (or using)? When I greet a newcomer to a meeting I usually ask him/her, “What brings you to A.A.?” About nine out of ten will say the courts or other influences. The ones that say, “I just can’t live this way anymore,” I believe, have a good chance of staying sober for the rest of their life.

We do not discriminate against those that are sent here through outside programs. We welcome them with open arms and give the best we can. I believe the majority of members at any given meeting were initially introduced to A.A. just that way. The meetings were much smaller before the influx from outside programs and the rate of relapse seems higher now. Considering that many of those members may never have made it here on their own, and that would be truly tragic. An old country boy named Phil was asked, “Why do we have so many relapses in A.A.?” He replied, “Well, sometimes we pick the fruit before it’s ripe.” That’s exactly the point I wanted to make. We do often pick the fruit before it’s ripe—but we never discard it.

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