AA And Its Success Rates: A Contemporary Brief


You can also find some new, surprising, and welcome details in the work of Richard K. on early AA cures. He documents over a decade of comments and news articles reporting the cures in early AA. He documents the first forty pioneers as to geographical area, sobriety dates, and ultimate outcomes. Richard has three titles which should be in your library if you want accurate information on early AA success rates and cures.

After fourteen years of research and writing, and also building on Richard K.’s recent splendid research and writing, I believe the following facts can be sustained and documented:

1. The statement that all or most of the 40 AA pioneers got drunk or died drunk is without any foundation whatever. Some of those whose personal stories were included in the multilith and First Edition Big Book may have gotten drunk or even died drunk. But a list of these people is not congruous with the carefully documented list of the pioneers and their successes.

2. In early Akron AA and then in early Cleveland AA, names, addresses, phone numbers, and data about sobriety, relapses, and ultimate outcomes were commonplace. I personally have copies of Anne Smith’s address book which contains data on many of the pioneers. On the walls at Dr. Bob’s Home in Akron, there are pictures of a number of these pioneers. There are several written rosters of each and every early AA with names, dates of sobriety, dates of death, and ultimate sobriety outcome. There is a written list of the early Cleveland AAs as well as rosters kept by individual Cleveland AA groups. I either have copies of all of these or have sent them on to the Griffith House Library at Bill Wilson’s birthplace in East Dorset, Vermont.

3. Careful reviews by Richard K. of the early AAs show convincingly that when Bill and Bob counted noses in 1938, there were forty pioneers who had maintained sobriety, some for as long as two years. There was a much higher proportion of successes among the Akron and Ohio people than from those on the New York and East Coast scene.

4. In counting those who were and those who weren’t successful in early AA, one must eliminate a number of candidates. For one thing, there definitely were those who floated in and out and never “really tried” the rigorous program that Dr. Bob conducted in Akron and that Frank Amos reported to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. In other words, when you see the rosters, you see the names and data of people who often were personally known to Sue Smith Windows (Dr. Bob’s daughter) and confirmed to me personally and to a number of other researchers. You see the names and data of people whose names and addresses and signatures are found in Anne Smith’s address book. You see these same names often mentioned in A.A. literature – names of Bill, Dr. Bob, Bill D., Archie T., Bob E., Earl T., Clarence S., Bill Van H., the two Stanley brothers, J.D., Wally G., Ernie G., Walter B., Hank P., Fitz Mayo, and others listed in Richard K.’s “First Forty” title. And in Cleveland records, you can see name and addresses verified by the Cleveland AA founder, Clarence S.

5. There never were the 100 “men and women” that Bill mentioned at the time of writing of the Big Book. There were 40 in 1938, and slightly over 70 when the Big Book went to print. The Cleveland growth did not begin until May, 1939 – after the Big Book was published.


6. What were the success rates? Success was measured among the pioneers as 50 percent who never drank again, and 25 percent who drank but returned to succeed. This group is critical because it is the group as to which specific names, records, and outcomes were kept. In Cleveland, there was a ninety-three success rate based on a specific survey conducted by Clarence S. and reported in A.A. literature.

7. What about today? There are several factors which make accurate calculations virtually impossible. First, the triennial surveys by AA itself are anything but accurate, and A.A. says so. This because only “groups” are surveyed, and many in one group go to several other groups and meetings each week and are surveyed more than once. Most are simply never the subject of a survey and certainly not a survey conducted by statistical standards. A.A. service workers and surveys do confirm that one-third of those who come into A.A. are out of the door in ninety days; and fifty percent are out of the door in a year. Second, there are no rosters in almost any group or meeting in A.A. Third, the Tradition of anonymity makes an accounting much more difficult than when early AAs knew each other, all belonged to one group (in Akron), kept rosters with names and addresses and sobriety data, and used full names in their references. Finally, today’s AA is supposedly a “pure” alcoholic – one who is in A.A. for an alcohol problem, not a drug problem. But I personally don’t think one in five hundred meet that test. Both young and old today – those who come to AA – have tried and often become addicted to every kind of drug imaginable: alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine, LSD, the sex-enhancers, marijuana, heroin, after-shave, and a dozen other concoctions. These are the facts also among the men I have sponsored and also have met in thousands of meetings.

8. Professionals have conducted surveys among veterans, patients, and selected groups of AAs. The accuracy is not the subject of my knowledge. But the facts about present-day A.A. are these in their studies: (a) A definite 75% fail to maintain sobriety. (b) Probably no more than one to five percent maintain permanent sobriety. (c) As often as not, those who aligned with AA have a lower success rate than those who got sober without AA. (d) To date there has been no adequate survey of success or failure among those AAs who – like the pioneers – were born again Christians, reliant upon the Creator for help, and joined together in some Christian church or Bible fellowship, or prayer group.

9. Within A.A. itself, among those of us who are in the trenches, going to meetings, helping newcomers, sponsoring people, and fellowshipping with AAs in outings, dances, retreats, movies, and the like, there is no mystery about success or failure. If you are active in A.A., you go to conferences and meetings where sobriety count-downs are conducted No matter how large or small the number of people attending, the count-downs invariably produce the same results: A large number will identify themselves as having 30 days or less; a fairly large number, 90 days or less; a fairly limited number with one year of sobriety; and then the staggering diminution in the number of people who have 5, 10, 15, 20 years – with only a rare member claiming 25 or more years. Yes. Old-timers exist. But you won’t find them in A.A. meetings – not today.

10. There is a caveat about success rates. I took great heart in the portion of the Big Book that is read at most meetings: “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.” Even when I couldn’t identify the path, I believed and counted on the veracity of the statement. For me, it is true. I thoroughly followed every step of the A.A. path. Furthermore, I put my trust in Almighty God; sought Him through His son, just as early AAs did; continued to grow in my understanding and fellowship with God and other believers through Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and witness. And I have not had a drinking or drug problem since two days before I entered A.A. in the Spring of 1986. Nor have a small handful of the men I have sponsored and who followed the same route.

11. AAs can and should be the first to acknowledge that they have no monopoly on God; that just about any person alive can quit drinking if he or she wants to; that A.A. today has no special record of success that cannot be found in many other groups and therapies; and that – as with so many other organizations and disciplines – you probably get out of A.A. exactly what you put into it. If you throw yourself wholeheartedly into a life without the necessity for drinking, remember what excessive drinking does to you, and count on God for help in resisting temptation, you can be and have the same success as member of the A.A. Society that the early A.A. was when he “thoroughly followed their path.”

Dick B., PO Box 837, Kihei, HI 96753-0837; ph/fax: 808 874 4876; email: dickb@dickb.com; URL: http://www.dickb.com/index.shtml.

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