Alcoholism as an illness is a relatively recent medical understanding, and is linked inexorably to the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous which both began the process of real long-term relief from the illness, and in the process, through its 12-step program, effectively defined alcoholism as an illness pretty much for the first time.

There are still people who dispute alcoholism as an illness, there are other people and organisations which refer to alcoholism as a disease, and there are people who will see alcoholism as a collective term for a whole range of different types of  illnesses under the alcoholism umbrella.

Whilst all the above point of view can be valid in their own right, there is a danger of over egging the issue, which is really about simply how do you help people who have got it problem to stop drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous is sometimes criticised by people who don’t fully understand the concept behind it for its emphasis on powerlessness over alcohol.

The criticism tends to imply that it is a mistake to tell people they are powerless as in some way it either deadens the person themselves, or drains of a power that they actually do have.

It is hugely important to recognise that the literature and organisation of Alcoholics Anonymous is based on one thing and one thing only, that is the experience of its membership, especially its early membership who formed the organisation.

The wording of the 12 step program, and step one in particular where it talks about being powerless over alcohol, is a statement of experience, not in any way admonition or statement to other people about what they should  or should not do.


Alcoholics Anonymous works on a principle that its literature records the experience of  its membership, and such literature is published and given to people in order that people can read the literature, understand at some level what that experience is, and then use that experience in any way that they find helpful or not.

There is a world of difference between presenting a body of experience and saying to someone use it in any way that you find helpful or not, and presenting a point of view or a theory about alcoholism or drinking, and trying to convince people that they need to do or not do something in a particular way.

The strength of Alcoholics Anonymous and its understanding of alcoholism lies in the fact that it is a body of experience  and nothing else. This reality is often lost both in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the general discussion of alcoholism and recovery generally, but is a truth that has held the organisation of Alcoholics Anonymous together for all its existence.