By Bill W.
(co-founder, Alcoholics Anonymous)
Perhaps there is no suffering more horrible than
drug addiction, especially that kind which is produced
by morphine, heroin, and other narcotics.
Such drugs twist the mind, and the awful process
of withdrawal racks the sufferer's body.
Compared with the addict and his woes, we
alcoholics are pikers. Barbiturates, carried to
extremes, can be almost as bad. In A.A. we
have members who have made great recoveries
from both the bottle and the needle. We also
have a great many others who were — or still
are — victimized by “goofballs” and even by the
Consequently, this problem of drug addiction
in its several forms lies close to us all. It stirs our
deepest interest and sympathy. In the world
around us, we see legions of men and women
who are trying to cure or escape their problems
by this means. Many A.A.'s, especially those who
have suffered these particular addictions, are
now asking, “What can we do about drugs —
within our Fellowship, and without?”
Because several projects to help pill and drug
takers are already afloat — projects which use
A.A.'s Twelve Steps and in which A.A. members
are active — there has arisen a whole series of
questions as to how these efforts, already meeting
with not a little success, can be rightly related
to the A.A. groups and to A.A. as a whole.
Specifically, here is a list of questions: (1) Can
a nonalcoholic pill or drug addict become an A.A.
member? (2) Can such a person be brought, as a
visitor, to an open A.A. meeting for help and inspiration?
(3) Can a pill or drug taker, who also has a
genuine alcoholic history, become a member of
A.A.? (4) Can A.A.'s who have suffered both alcoholism
and addiction form themselves into special-
purpose groups to help other A.A.'s who are
having drug trouble? (5) Could such a specialpurpose
group call itself an A.A. group? (6) Could
such a group also include nonalcoholic drug
users? (7) If so, should these nonalcoholic pill or
drug users be led to believe that they have
become A.A. members? (8) Is there any objection
if A.A.'s who have had the dual problem join outside
groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous?
While some of these questions almost answer
themselves, others do not. But all of them, I
think, can readily be resolved to the satisfaction
of everyone if we have a good look at the A.A.
Traditions which apply, and another look at our
long experience with the special-purpose groups
in which A.A.'s are active today — both within
and without our Society.
Now there are certain things that A.A. cannot
do for anybody, regardless of what our several
desires or sympathies may be.
Our first duty, as a society, is to insure
our own survival. Therefore, we have to avoid distractions
and multipurpose activity. An A.A.
group, as such, cannot take on all the personal
problems of its members, let alone the problems
of the whole world.
Sobriety — freedom from alcohol — through
the teaching and practice of the Twelve Steps is
the sole purpose of an A.A. group. Groups have
repeatedly tried other activities, and they have
always failed. It has also been learned that there is
no possible way to make nonalcoholics into A.A.
members. We have to confine our membership to
alcoholics, and we have to confine our A.A.
groups to a single purpose. If we don't stick to
these principles, we shall almost surely collapse.
And if we collapse, we cannot help anyone.
To illustrate, let's review some typical experiences.
Years ago, we hoped to give A.A. membership
to our families and to certain nonalcoholic
friends who had been greatly helpful. They had
their problems, too, and we wanted them in our
fold. Regretfully, we found that this was impossible.
They couldn't make straight A.A. talks; nor,
save a few exceptions, could they identify with
new A.A. members. Hence, they couldn't do continuous
Twelfth Step work.
Close to us as these good folks were, we had
to deny them membership. We could only welcome
them at our open meetings.
Therefore, I see no way of making nonalcoholic
addicts (food addicts/ sex addicts/gamblers, and so on) into A.A. members. Experience says
loudly that we can admit no exceptions, even
though drug users and alcoholics happen to be
first cousins of a sort. If we persist in trying this,
I'm afraid it will be hard on the drug user himself,
as well as on A.A. We must accept the fact
that no nonalcoholic, whatever his affliction, can
be converted into an alcoholic A.A. member.
Suppose, though, that we are approached by a
drug addict who nevertheless has had a genuine
alcoholic history. There was a time when such a
person would have been rejected. Many early
A.A.'s had the almost comical notion that they
were pure alcoholics — guzzlers only, no other
serious problems at all. When alcoholic ex-cons
and drug users first turned up, there was much
pious indignation. “What will people think?”
chanted the pure alcoholics. Happily, this foolishness
has long since evaporated.
One of the best A.A.'s I know is a man who
had been seven years on the needle before he
joined up with us. But prior to that, he had been a
terrific alcoholic, and his history proved it.
Therefore, he could qualify for A.A., and this he
certainly did. Since then, he has helped many
A.A.'s and some non-A.A.'s with their pill and
drug troubles. Of course, that is strictly his affair
and in no way the business of the A.A. group to
which he belongs. In his group, he is a member
because, in actual fact, he is an alcoholic.
Such is the sum of what A.A. cannot do — for
narcotics addicts or for anybody else.
Now, then, what can be done? Very effective
answers to problems other than freedom from
alcohol have always been found through specialpurpose
groups, some of them operating within
A.A. and some on the outside.
Our first special-purpose group was created
way back in 1938. A.A. needed a world service
office and some literature. It had a service problem
that could not be met by an A.A. group, as
such. Therefore, we formed a board of trustees
(the Alcoholic Foundation) to look after these
matters. Some of the trustees were alcoholics,
and some were nonalcoholics. Obviously, this
was not an A.A. group. Instead, it was a group of
A.A.'s and non-A.A.'s who devoted themselves to
a special task.
Another example: In 1940, the New York
A.A.'s got lonesome and installed themselves in a
club. The club had directors and dues-paying A.A.
members. For a long time, the club members and
directors thought that they were an A.A. group.
But after a while, it was found that lots of A.A.'s
who attended meetings at Old 24th didn't care
one hoot for the club, as such. Hence, the management
of the club (for its social purpose) had to
be completely separated from the management of
the A.A. group that came there to hold its meetings.
It took years of hassling to prove that you
couldn't put an A.A. group into the club business
and make it stick. Everywhere today, club
managements and their dues-paying members
are seen as special-purpose groups, not as
The same thing has happened with drying-out
places and Twelfth Step houses managed by
A.A.'s. We never think of these activities as A.A.
groups. They are clearly seen as the functions of
interested individuals who are doing helpful and
often very valuable jobs.
Some years ago, a number of us A.A.'s wanted
to enter the field of alcohol education. I was one
of them. We associated ourselves with some nonalcoholics,
likewise interested. The nonalcoholics
wanted A.A.'s because they needed our experience,
philosophy, and general slant. Things were
fine until some of us A.A.'s publicly disclosed our
membership in the educational group. Right
away, the public got the idea that this particular
brand of alcohol education and Alcoholics
Anonymous were one and the same thing. It took
years to change this impression. But now that
this correction has been made, plenty of A.A.
members work in this field, and we are glad
that they do.
It was thus proven that, as individuals, we can
carry the A.A. experience and ideas into any outside
field whatever, provided that we guard
anonymity and refuse to use the A.A. name for
money-raising or publicity purposes.
I'm very sure that these experiences of yesterday
can be the basis of resolving today's confusion
about the narcotics problem. This problem
is new, but the A.A. experience and Traditions
which can solve it are already old and time-tested.
I think we might sum it up like this:
We cannot give A.A. membership to nonalcoholic
narcotics addicts. But, like anyone else,
they should be able to attend certain open A.A.
meetings, provided, of course, that the groups
themselves are willing.
A.A. members who are so inclined should be
encouraged to band together in groups to deal
with sedative and drug problems. But they ought
to refrain from calling themselves A.A. groups.
There seems to be no reason why several
A.A.'s cannot join, if they wish, with a group of
straight addicts to solve the alcohol and the drug
problem together. But, obviously, such a dualpurpose
group should not insist that it be called
an A.A. group, nor should it use the A.A. name in
its title. Neither should its straight-addict contingent
be led to believe that they have become A.A.
members by reason of such an association.
Certainly, there is every good reason for interested
A.A.'s to join with outside groups working
on the narcotics problem, provided the
Traditions of anonymity and of no endorsements
In conclusion, I want to say that throughout
A.A.'s history, most of our special-purpose
groups have accomplished very wonderful
things. There is great reason to hope that those
A.A.'s who are now working in the grim regions
of narcotics addiction will achieve equal success.
In A.A., the group has strict limitations, but
the individual has scarcely any. Remembering to
observe the Traditions of anonymity and nonendorsement,
he can carry A.A.'s message into
every troubled area of this very troubled world.
I am responsible…
When anyone, anywhere,
reaches out for help, I want
the hand of A.A. always to be there.
And for that: I am responsible.
This is A.A. General Service
This is A.A. General Service Conference-approved literature
ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUSr is a fellowship of men
and women who share their experience, strength
and hope with each other that they may solve
their common problem and help others to recover
The only requirement for membership is a
desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees
for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting
through our own contributions.
A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination,
politics, organization or institution; does not wish
to engage in any controversy; neither endorses
nor opposes any causes.
Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help
other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.
Copyright c by The A.A. Grapevine, Inc.;