Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous had its beginnings in 1935 at Akron, Ohio, as the outcome of a meeting between Bill W., a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob S., an Akron surgeon. Both had been hopeless alcoholics. Prior to that time, Bill and Dr. Bob had each been in contact with the Oxford Group, a mostly nonalcoholic fellowship that emphasized universal spiritual values in daily living. In that period, the Oxford Groups in America were headed by the noted Episcopal clergyman, Dr. Samuel Shoemaker. Under this spiritual influence, and with the help of an old-time friend, Ebby T., Bill had gotten sober and had then maintained his recovery by working with other alcoholics, though none of these had actually recovered. Meanwhile, Dr. Bob’s Oxford Group membership at Akron had not helped him enough to achieve sobriety. When Dr. Bob and Bill finally met, the effect on the doctor was immediate. This time, he found himself face to face with a fellow sufferer who had made good. Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body. This all-important fact he had learned from Dr. William D. Silkworth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill had often been a patient. Though a physician, Dr. Bob had not known alcoholism to be a disease. Responding to Bill’s convincing ideas, he soon got sober, never to drink again. The founding spark of A.A. had been struck.

Both men immediately set to work with alcoholics at Akron’s City Hospital, where one patient quickly achieved complete sobriety. Though the name Alcoholics Anonymous had not yet been coined, these three men actually made up the nucleus of the first A.A. group. In the fall of 1935, a second group of alcoholics slowly took shape in New York. A third appeared at Cleveland in 1939. It had taken over four years to produce 100 sober alcoholics in the three founding groups.

Early in 1939, the Fellowship published its basic textbook, Alcoholics Anonymous. The text, written by Bill, explained A.A.’s philosophy and methods, the core of which was the now well-known Twelve Steps of recovery.


Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous was founded (as AA/NA) in California in 1953 by Jimmy Kinnon and others.  This group differed from its predecessors in that it specifically attempted to form a fellowship or network of groups that would be mutually supporting. Throughout that summer, founding members, most of whom had found recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous, debated the bylaws of the organization, and the first documented meeting occurred August 17, 1953.  On September 14, 1953, they received notice from the leadership of A.A. that they could use the A.A. steps and traditions, but not the A.A. name.  The organization then officially changed its name to Narcotics Anonymous.

In 1954, the first N.A. publication was printed, called the "Little Yellow Booklet". It contained the 12 steps, and early drafts of several pieces that would later be included in subsequent literature.

At this time, N.A. was not yet recognized by society at large as a positive force. The initial group had difficulty finding places that would allow them to meet, and often had to meet in people's homes.  One of the most difficult places for NA to become established was in the State of New York. The Rockefeller drug laws had made it a crime for drug addicts to meet together for any reason, making N.A. in effect illegal.  Addicts would have to cruise around meeting places and check for surveillance, to make sure meetings would not be busted by police.  It was many years before N.A. became recognized as a beneficial organization, although some early press accounts were very positive.  In addition, many N.A. groups were not following the 12 traditions very closely (which were quite new at the time).  These groups were at times accepting money from outside entities, conflating A.A. with N.A., or even adding religious elements to the meetings. For a variety of reasons, meetings began to decline in the late 1950s, and there was a 4-month period in 1959 when there were no meetings held anywhere at all.  Spurred into action by this, Jimmy Kinnon and others dedicated themselves to restarting N.A., promising to hold to the traditions more closely.