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Nassau Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous

Updated on December 26, 2012

Nassau Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous is a well-known organization. Students throughout our country recognize the name in the early years of high-school and I happened to be one of those. It became only natural for me to investigate this organization and its effectiveness. 2010 marked the 75th anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) since its founding by Bob Smith, MD and Bill Wilson in June 10, 1935 (Gross, 2010). It was created as a program to “fix drunks” and today has grown to over 2 million members in more than 160 countries. Its inceptions is stemmed from the foundation of the Oxford Group which was a religious group that sought to reproduce the practices of first century Christianity, however it does not prevent atheists or members of other religious groups from joining or participating. What makes this program so successful is that it is unlike any other group of its kind. It is totally decentralized with a strong emphasis on anonymity but has a well-built structure built on 12 step of AA and the 12 traditions of AA (Gross, 2010).

The way AA works is one of the major reasons why it has been so successful. A drunk usually has someone, usually another AA member or a former member, close to him tell him that they should join, so he joins AA (Young, 2011). The person is introduced to the 12 steps of AA, which helps the alcoholic admit his situation and his powerlessness against alcohol, and seek help through peer-support. They are then suggested, and if they agree, are partnered with a sponsor; another member-usually someone who has remained sober or completed the 90 day participation, who helps the sponsee attain or remain sober (Young, 2011). What is quite remarkably is the strong stance the organization takes toward anonymity, self-sufficiency, and the enabling power it gives to each of its attendees. Each meeting, past members and sober member share powerful testimonials and their individual thoughts they had as they went through the rough times, where they are now, and what they expect in the future. As I personally observed, they are encouraging-though no fairytales, they certainly are full of hope, opportunity and a second chance at life. If the sponsee agrees, the sponsor will follow-up with him or her and will act as a mentor throughout the 90 days. Throughout the program he follows the 12 Steps which ultimately call for a spiritual awakening while keeping in mind the 12 traditions which evoke anonymity, non-professionality, and fellowship. Additionally AA works discreetly by changing the identity of the individual. It places emphasis on the relational consequences of alcoholism than on the alcohol addiction; this is evident in the 12 steps where only the first step mentions alcohol. As a result each meeting is not about members in a unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which would create a network of unhealthy relationships but rather seeing everyone at the meeting defeated in the fight against alcohol and working together to recover. It implies that recovery for the individual is dependent on cooperation, understanding of each other and willingness on behalf of the individual. This relational aspect allows for a healthy attitude toward the problem, and not allow an individual to feel alone through their recovery (Young, 2010).
Another part of why it is so helpful in decreasing alcoholics has to do with the the type of people who join Alcoholics Anonymous. Contrary to popular belief, not every alcoholic joins the organization and it begs the question “what other factors are associated with AA membership?” One study revealed that those who had a positive view of God as a loving God, or went through more negative consequences of drinking were significantly shown to be associated with AA membership (Krentzman et al., 2011). I recall the AA meeting I had attended, during a testimonial, a member mentioned that when he was out of state he had attended an atheist AA meeting and though he stated he held no prejudicial views, he had found that meeting to be less supporting because he didn’t feel a sense of unity. He might have been referring to the unity that comes through believing in a loving God. Additionally it could also mean the group had a less meaningful understanding of the 12 steps of AA which centralize around spiritual awakening and unified front against alcoholism knowing that God (or the force in the universe) wanted what was best for them as well. While no definitive statement can be made, it supports the claim that spiritual and religious beliefs contribute greatly to a person’s decision to join Alcoholics Anonymous, this is supported by previous studies as well (Kelly & Moos 2003; Emrick et al, 1993). Negative consequences of drinking were also seen as an important factor for AA membership and were shown to have been correlated with consistent attendance than less severe alcoholics. Severe drinking may also cause someone to join AA because the program reaffirms the fact that one is powerless and defeated in the battle against alcohol. This can be more clearly understood by the severe alcoholic who is overwhelmed and desperate for a relief. This is stated in the first step of the 12 steps in the AA program: “...powerless over alcohol” and “..our lives had become unmanageable..” (AA, 2002)

The goals of Alcoholics Anonymous might be best summarized by the vision of co-founder Bill Wilson; “that there were thousands of hopeless alcoholics who might be glad to have what had been so freely given me. Perhaps I could help some of them. They in turn might work with others” (Gross, 2010). When one attends an AA meeting, there is no sign-in, supervisor, or monitor but people-all in the same circumstances ready to take part in the same struggle and motivate one another and ultimately as intended by Mr. Wilson, help one another. To reinforce this, a goal of AA has always been to maintain maximum local autonomy, independence, absence of centralized authority, no certifications or supervisions, and no monitoring. This is a centerpiece of the organization’s success and is an enabler for alcoholics to feel safe and secure in their decisions (Gross, 2010).

AA has had many successes in its program and in order to understand why it has been successful we must examine the factors why alcoholics were such failures in their lives. The reason why alcohol takes over their lives is because the lack of inhibition leads to dependence on alcohol and remits abstinence. Ultimately this results in depression, where the alcoholic views life through lens of negativity and hopelessness, and ultimately comes to believe they are failures. Increased AA attendance has been correlated with significantly lower levels of depression (Kelly, 2009). The significance in the lower levels of depression translated to less intensity in alcohol use if they ever relapsed and improved mental aptitude. Long-term studies with few members who had no prior history of substance abuse, have shown there was less impulsive behavior to drink, different drinking pattern if they ever did drink, better coping skills, social support and self esteem at year 1. In year 8, it continued to show better coping skills and social support and self-esteem (Blonigen, 2011).

When I visited my local Alcoholics Anonymous, I was taken back by the suburban location of the AA, it was at a high-school-looking school with hallways and lockers, but it was not a normal school, it was a catholic church school where they presumably held sunday school. Adjacent to the school was the neighborhood catholic church. Amidst the Christmas lights, I went into a large room with the ceiling raised pretty high, and with the artworks and childrens craft I realized it was a large art class. The tables and chairs were raw wood and had a solid feel like the faces of the many adults I saw in the room. I went to the back of the room and took my seat as an observer. I noticed that in the beginning and the end of the meeting, all members of the group had recited the Lord’s Prayer-this reiterated and confirmed what (Krentzman et. all, 2011) stated about faith in a loving God. Additionally confirming Krentzman’s study, most of the testimonials were from severe alcoholics who mentioned that their recklessness cost them everything; job, wife, home and they joined AA to get help. There was no heckling, degrading words exchanged or looks of pity but encouraging claps and words of encouragement from fellow members and this improved the everybody’s mood, reiterating the research by (Young, 2010) that individuals should go no through this recovery alone. The healthy attitude adopted by the group corresponded with (Blonigen, 2011) and (Kelly, 2009) who stated that attendance in AA was associated with lower levels of depression and better self-esteem. After the meeting, I had a chance to meet Gavin (name changed for privacy). Gavin was the chairman of the meeting and looked like he had just graduated from college, he was no certified professional but he was very genuine in his role as the leader. He explained to me that there was a leader and an MC. I figured he was using familiar terms to explain board positions like chairman and secretary, nonetheless he went onto say the group had 2-3 speakers at each meeting, which were held three times a week and the MC introduced the speakers and led the meeting. The chairman (Gavin) took care of collections which were the only source of funding the cookies, cakes, donuts and warm coffee-which were a relief from the cold night. When I asked him of his actual responsibilities, he told me simply “It is to maintain group consciousness on the issue at hand.” He went onto explain that the chairperson rotated every 6 months among the members, and other activities included attending a business meeting once a month. But he was quick to stress the board meeting was optional and that he was no different than any other member of the group. The selflessness, and lack of traditional centralized authority that Gavin portrayed reminded me of (Gross, 2010) who stated that keeping no supervision roles and maintaining maximum local independence and autonomy was central to the group’s success. The group has a rich history, the Nassau Intergroup of AA was founded in the late 1940s (Nassau Intergroup of AA, 2007) and continues to serve those who are in need of help from alcohol use. It has no paid staff and each meeting is voluntarily organized and funded through meeting collections. The intergroup has the same organizational goals and services as the main branch of AA and clients go through the same process of 12 steps and 12 traditions of AA. At the meeting I noted that though it had been a voluntary organization, its members at each meeting made sure there was two large banners with the 12 steps and 12 traditions and many AA resources available. The building was heated warmly and had all the amenities and facilities for use like the bathroom and kitchen. Even though it had been in an art room, the room looked very clean and welcoming. The members were very friendly and took the time after the meeting to answer questions though none of them were paid or had to stay. Everyone was surprisingly very respectful and encouraging at the meeting, at one point I had even forgotten they were alcoholics and for me it was an exact textbook description of the AA. There was a variety in the age groups with those being in the 40s and 50s being the dominant group but they were all united in their struggle against alcohol use. I’d highly recommend the Nassau Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous to anyone struggling with alcohol use.

To summarize, we looked at how Alcoholics Anonymous works, what type of person goes to an AA meeting, the goals of AA, and how successful it has been in the past and continues to be. My visit to the local AA group provided insight into how the ideas corresponded into reality and this was supplemented by the facility itself which was very welcoming and well managed.

References

  1. Gross, M. (2010). Alcoholics Anonymous: Still Sober After 75 Years. American Journal Of Public Health, 100(12), 2361-2363. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2010.199349
  2. Krentzman, A. R., Robinson, E. R., Perron, B. E., & Cranford, J. A. (2011). Predictors of Membership in Alcoholics Anonymous in a Sample of Successfully Remitted Alcoholics. Journal Of Psychoactive Drugs, 43(1), 20-26. doi:10.1080/02791072.201 1.566493
  3. Kelly, J. F., Stout, R. L., Magill, M., Tonigan, J., & Pagano, M. E. (2010). Mechanisms of behavior change in alcoholics anonymous: does Alcoholics Anonymous lead to better alcohol use outcomes by reducing depression symptoms?. Addiction, 105(4), 626-636. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2009.02820.x
  4. Young, L. (2011). Alcoholism and identity: How an alternative framing of identity can facilitate Alcoholics Anonymous research. Addiction Research & Theory, 19(3), 213-223. doi:10.3109/16066359.2010.530712
  5. Blonigen, D. M., Timko, C., Finney, J. W., Moos, B. S., & Moos, R. H. (2011). Alcoholics Anonymous attendance, decreases in impulsivity and drinking and psychosocial outcomes over 16 years: moderated-mediation from a developmental perspective. Addiction, 106(12), 2167-2177. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2011.03522.x
  6. Young, L. (2012). Alcoholics Anonymous Sponsorship: Characteristics of Sponsored and Sponsoring Members. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 30(1), 52-66. doi:10.1080/07347324.2012.635553
  7. Kelly, J.F & Moos, R. (2003). Dropout from 12-Step self-help groups: Prevalence, predictors, and counteracting treatment influences. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 24: 241-50.
  8. Emrick, CD.; Tonigan, J.S.; Montgomery, H.A. & Little, L. 1993. Alcoholics Anonymous: What is currently known? In: B.S. MeCrady & W.R. Miller (Eds.) Research on Alcoholics Anonymous: Opportunities and Alternatives. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Center on Alcohol Studies.
  9. (2007, ). Nassau Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous, Nassau County, New York. Nassau Intergroup of AA. Retrieved December 16, 2012, from http://www.nassauny-aa.org/

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    • expertscolumn profile imageAUTHOR

      Stanley Soman 

      5 years ago from New York

      Thank you Beth, i hope its resourceful to anyone seeking help or looking to gain info,.

    • profile image

      Beth37 

      5 years ago

      Terrific report.

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