Spirituality/Medicine Interface Project

Medicine, Spirituality, and Alcoholics Anonymous: A Personal Story

Authors: Judith Eaton, MD


Editor’s Note:

According to the history of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the very first AA meeting occurred when Bill Wilson, the fellowship’s cofounder, was transferred to Akron, Ohio, for business reasons a short time after he became sober.1 Wilson reported he finally became sober as a result of a “spiritual awakening” during his last hospitalization for alcoholism. However, to Wilson’s surprise and disappointment, he experienced the desire to drink again soon after arriving in Akron. Based on his novel assumption that by helping another alcoholic his desire to drink might remit, Wilson contacted a local hospital and asked if there were any alcoholic patients with whom he could talk. In response, he was directed to one of the hospital’s physicians, Dr. Robert Smith, who was well known for his heavy drinking. Wilson and Smith subsequently met, talked about their experiences, and in June 1935, the fellowship of AA was born. The twelve steps of AA were largely drawn from religious movements of the time.2 However, the notion of helping as a possible treatment for alcoholism seems to have been an original notion.

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1. Pass It On: The Story of Bill Wilson and How the AA Message Reached the World. New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1984.
2. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1995.
3. Alcoholics Anonymous, 3rd edition. New York, Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, Inc., 1976.
4. Welcome to Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Available at: http://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org/en_information_aa.cfm. Accessed October 2, 2006.
5. Raymo C. Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Spirituality. New York, Walker and Co., 1998.