Drug Addiction in Alcoholics Anonymous Leading the way to other primary purpose 12 step groups

Drug Addiction in Alcoholics Anonymous Leading the way to other primary purpose 12 step groups

This is part 1 of a series that we’ll be sharing about the beginning and growth of 12 step fellowships.

What to do about the Drug Addicts in AA?

Here we’re bringing up one of the oldest arguments in AA since its inception. Well, we’re going to attempt to bring it from a different perspective. By not only talking about the issues within current AA groups, but also about the importance past discussions have played in leading other 12 step fellowships to form. Some of those fellowships collapsed, some have merged with other fellowships, and still yet others are just beginning. The point is, it has now been proven that the 12 step program can be adapted to offer a solution to every problem that a person experiences. 

Today’s Issues with drug addiction in AA:

The primary purpose of AA is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. Very simple. Stay sober and help other ALCOHOLICS! Well, what is an alcoholic? To quote directly from the AA Big Book, “We alcoholics are men and women who have lost the ability to control our drinking.” That loss of control is often characterized by an obsession of the mind and a physical allergy of the body. This insane obsession that somehow, someday an alcoholic will control and enjoy their drinking, often leads them to again take that first drink. The physical allergy, which manifests itself as a phenomenon of craving, ensures that having taken that first drink, they will be unable to stop on their own power. This cycle of craving is more powerful than an alcoholics will-power to not drink. They will continue to drink, escalating into a spree that often ends in a pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization. Soon after this cycle is completed they will emerge with a firm resolution to never drink like that again. However, then begin drinking again as a result of the alcoholic obsession.

Very often drug addicts show up to AA meetings seeking help from their problems. But then can have difficulty identifying as sufficiently alcoholic, because often alcohol isn’t their first “drug of choice.” It’s true many drug addicts also drink alcohol and experience the shared hopelessness of alcoholism. Many have never been given the opportunity to identify as alcoholic, or given the time to take an honest look at their drinking history before being shunned away from their first AA meeting. Just because they’ve identified as an addict, they should at the very least, be given the opportunity to find out if they belong!

There are many occasions when an addict is given enough time to learn more about alcoholism and then identify as someone with a drinking problem. These folks often stay in AA and work the AA program. The pure alcoholics can sometimes get upset when these Alcoholic/Addicts share about drug use in an AA meeting. I would remind these members that part of recovery is sharing our pasts and the depths that our illnesses brought us, and if you don’t identify with someone’s story, look for the similarities!


Bill W. answered our question pretty clearly in an article written in 1958 that was later published in a pamphlet titled Problems Other Than Alcohol. Here are a few excerpts from that article:

“Perhaps there is no suffering more horrible than drug addiction, especially that kind which is produced by morphine, heroin, and other narcotics.”

“Therefore, I see no way of making nonalcoholic addicts 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.”

“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.”


The above appears to be a very discursive way to say that if you’re a drug addict that also uses alcohol, then you are welcome here! If you have a problem with drugs and have never had a problem with alcohol, then we cannot accept your membership, but you are welcome to come to open AA meetings. We encourage you to start your own fellowship using the 12 steps!

So again…What to do about the Drug Addicts in AA?

If a person cannot identify with the above stated definition of an alcoholic, then they’re probably not an alcoholic and shouldn’t attend closed AA meetings. Fortunately, in most cities today, there are other 12 step fellowships that a drug addict is welcome to attend. But this wasn’t always the case. In Part 2 of this series we’ll dive into some other 12 step fellowships that are available and discuss the history and formation of Narcotics Anonymous.

In concluding Part 1 of our series we’ll leave you with a message from Bill W:

“A.A. members who are so inclined should be encouraged to band together in groups to deal with sedative and drug problems.”


  1. Gavin

    My name is Gavin and I am an alcoholic.

    My alcohol and drug addiction I must separate so I may fulfill my primary purpose, which is as a member of AA to help the still suffering alcoholic. There are other fellowships that deal with drugs and other addictions like eating or sex.
    AA is for alkies to recover. I must remember this. I share in a general way about alcoholism but I do mention that I abused drugs as well, but that is all it is, a mention. If someone then wants to talk to me FTF after the meeting great, I have opened a door for them to approach me and discuss any drug issues. Drug addiction like any addiction is a mental illness usually brought about by a lack of moral, social and spiritual guidance.
    The little old lady or man who enters AA may have never seen or heard of these other drugs associated with addicts before. We must be very gentle yet direct with our message of hope, their lives depend upon our message. We need to lose the ego. END
    At the end of my drinking career, it was common for me to ‘come to’ with wine bottles lying about me, tinfoil stuck to my forehead and blue die from the vallie’s dribbling from my mouth. Yes, I was in some nic.
    Keeping it simple, how can I help another alcoholic if as a newcomer they get a filtered message. A newcomer who is sitting shaking and sweating only wants to know what is wrong with them and how to stop drinking. They don’t need to know what it’s like not to get a vein and have to shoot up in the neck or how our blood vessels in our nose are knackered with the coke and speed and we have no sense of smell anymore. keep it real guys and learn to listen.
    This is a serious illness; this we must remember.

    Alcoholism is a progressive disease. It is twofold in nature. It is a physical and mental illness. ‘Physical’, because we have a shortage of enzymes that break down the sugars in alcohol. And ‘Mental’, as it overtakes all reality. It takes complete control over the mind in its obsessive nature. Cunning baffling and powerful king alcohol is to the alcoholic. It teaches its student to accept the unacceptable and to stoop to lows that can be unforgivable. And at the same time, we think there is nothing wrong with our compulsive, obsessive behaviour. I could not see it, I was blind.


    We of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that the reader will be interested in the medical estimate of the plan of recovery described in this book. Convincing testimony must surely come from medical men who have had experience with the sufferings of our members and have witnessed our return to health. A well-known doctor, chief physician at a nationally prominent hospital specializing in alcoholic and drug addiction, gave Alcoholics Anonymous this letter:
    To Whom It May Concern:
    I have specialized in the treatment of alcoholism for many years. In late 1934 I attended a patient who, though he had been a competent businessman of good earning capacity, was an alcoholic of a type I had come to regard as hopeless.
    In the course of his third treatment he acquired certain ideas concerning a possible means of recovery. As part of his rehabilitation he commenced to present his conceptions to other alcoholics, impressing upon them that they must do likewise with still others. This has become the basis of a rapidly growing fellowship of these men and their families. This man and over one hundred others appear to have recovered.
    I personally know scores of cases who were of the type with whom other methods had failed completely.
    These facts appear to be of extreme medical importance; because of the extraordinary possibilities of rapid growth inherent in this group they may mark a new epoch in the annals of alcoholism. These men may well have a remedy for thousands of such situations. You may rely absolutely on anything they say about themselves.
    Very truly yours,
    William D. Silkworth, M.D.
    The physician who, at our request, gave us this letter, has been kind enough to enlarge upon his views in another statement which follows. In this statement he confirms what we who have suffered alcoholic torture must believe—that the body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as his mind. It did not satisfy us to be told that we could not control our drinking just because we were maladjusted to life, that we were in full flight from reality, or were outright mental defectives. These things were true to some extent, in fact, to a considerable extent with some of us. But we are sure that our bodies were sickened as well. In our belief, any picture of the alcoholic which leaves out this physical factor is incomplete.

    I believe I’ve been afflicted with this dis-ease from the day I was born, possibly passed on through my mother’s family. There is some controversy on this subject but this is unfounded.
    New research shows that the alcoholic has less of a certain type of enzyme in their body. These enzymes break down the sugars of alcohol when ingested. I believe I have always been deficient in these enzymes. Joe McQ has a video (step 1) on Youtube that explains this very well. He works with simple diagrams on a blackboard.
    This lack of acids in our body is what causes the physical allergy to occur. This allergy will only be set up ‘After’ the first drink has been taken. Only ‘After’ drinking alcohol do we experience this phenomenon of craving and its powerful effects and not before. Any thoughts and feelings that come before taking a drink of alcohol is part of the mental obsession and physical withdrawal.
    When we are withdrawing from drugs we feel physically better after taking our first hit. The shakes and sweats start to subside and we come back together enough to let us move about our daily lives with some degree of normality. We are ‘fixed’. And have no need for another hit until we start to withdraw again, which could be hours later. We can work our daily lives around the drugs even with family and work commitments. We have regular times throughout the day when we top up or sneak off and take a hit. After getting sorted a drug addict will usually go back to their work satisfied.
    The alcoholic can do this to some degree and in some industries it is accepted or not noticed as much, as with the alcohol industry. But eventually the alcoholic will at some point press the ‘fuck it’ button and end up totally pissed at work or walking out and heading to the nearest public house for a drink. Our intention would be only to have one drink to sort us out. We promise we will be back after one or two. Although after the first drink has been taken our feet are nailed to the bar floor and we return to work a week later full of remorse. That’s if we still have a job to go back to.
    Let me put this another way.
    A heroin user will usually only take a hit when they start to come down from the high. With this first hit, they do not set up a craving that will continually force them to keep injecting themselves with heroin one after the other. The outcome would be obvious, death would quickly follow. We are not stupid. Another example would be a cocaine or amphetamine addict.
    Putting a hundred lines on a mirror and snorting one after the other every 15 minutes will eventually lead to a heart attack, we just wouldn’t do such a stupid thing.
    Another example would be building a load of cannabis joints and smoking them one after the other. In doing this, I am in no doubt I would eventually fall asleep. I have done this a few times, and yes a total waste of money and weed. This, of course, would be stupid as well.
    The mental obsession is usually satisfied somewhat after we take one or two hits from our drug of choice whether it be alcohol or drugs. The withdrawals are removed or reduced and life becomes settled once again. This is not the case with the alcoholic. Once the mental obsession has been quelled by taking the first drink we are doomed to continue. We set up the phenomenon of craving that ensures we keep drinking.
    Put a hundred whiskey’s on a table in front of an alcoholic and they will try and get through them in one sitting, eventually getting so drunk they cannot lift the glass from the table. At this point the alcoholic would vomit up what he has just drunk, remarking that ‘that was a waste!’ then continue to drink the other whiskey that’s left on the table if any. 99% of the time the alcoholic will eventually get through them all, if not he would certainly have the remainder bottle and sent home with him.
    Unlike the drugs, once we take the first drink of alcohol our body craves more, we set up a craving that is beyond our mental control. After the first hit with drugs, we gain some degree of mental control on how much we take. This is not the case with alcohol, far from it.
    The mental side of this illness tells us if we get a drink of alcohol we will feel better. And the physical side ensures that after taking the first one we keep on drinking till we fall down.
    I also understand that not all alcoholics have this lack of enzymes I have spoken of to begin with. We may be born with enough enzymes but as we grow older we produce less of these chemicals and in turn become alcoholic at any age. This is a progressive illness that never gets better, only worse.
    This means the deterioration does not stop when we put the cork on the bottle. It carries on in our body.
    This physical side of the illness does not limit itself to the alcoholic but is a natural process in the human body. Although with non-alcoholics their enzyme count never drops below a certain level.
    An alcoholic will put down alcohol for many years, but if ever tempted to drink again will soon pick up where they left off and rapidly deteriorate into the hell they left behind as if their drinking had never stopped at all. For instance, If I was using two bottles before I stopped drinking, I would very quickly be using the same amounts and possibly more within the first weeks or even days of taking the first drink again. This massive toxic overdose to the body can lead to heart, liver and kidney failure as well as many other serious health issues.
    Quite simply if I had an allergy to peanuts would I go ahead and eat them ? No. That would be very stupid. Whether this is inherited or not, it is a progressive illness.

    I was told that my alcoholism is but only a symptom of a deeper underlying problem. I have found that problem to be me and my attitudes. Alcohol acted like medicine for me. Alcohol brings comfort to most people not just alcoholics. I drank when I was sad or happy, angry or lonely. I drank on any occasion and for any reason. Alcohol gave me courage, strength, confidence and a false sense of security. Alcohol can also give the non-alcoholic these same feelings. The only difference between myself and a non-alcoholic is the phenomena of craving that an alcoholic sets up after taking the first drink. If I had never touched alcohol before I would still lack these enzymes in my body. This lack of acids is completely harmless to me as long as I stay away from alcohol.
    This dis-ease does not discriminate between classes. It’ll take the doctor and the lawyer, the judge and the priest. It knows not when to stop. It will take the car and house, the wife and children and eventually will come back and take us to the grave, that’s if we are fortunate enough and don’t end up with Korsakoff syndrome.

    Love & light

  2. Alan

    This is my 18th General Service Conference — the first two as a director of the Grapevine and A.A.W.S., followed by four as a general service trustee. In 1972, I rotated out completely, only to be called back two years later as general manager of G.S.O., the service job I held until late 1984. Since the 1985 International Convention, of course, I have been senior adviser. This is also my last Conference, so this is an emotionally charged experience.

    I wish I had time to express my thanks to everyone to whom I am indebted for my sobriety and for the joyous life with which I have been blessed for the past nearly 25 years. But since this is obviously impossible, I will fall back on the Arab saying that Bill quoted in his last message, “I thank you for your lives.” For without your lives, I most certainly would have no life at all, much less the incredibly rich life I have enjoyed.

    Let me offer my thoughts about A.A.’s future. I have no truck with those bleeding deacons who decry every change and view the state of the Fellowship with pessimism and alarm. On the contrary, from my nearly quarter-century’s perspective, I see A.A. as larger, healthier, more dynamic, faster growing, more global, more service-minded, more back-to-basics, and more spiritual — by far — than when I came through the doors of my first meeting in Greenwich, Connecticut, just one year after the famous [July 1960] Long Beach Convention. A.A. has flourished beyond the wildest dreams of founding members, though perhaps not of Bill himself, for he was truly visionary.

    I echo those who feel that if this Fellowship ever falters or fails, it will not be because of any outside cause. No, it will not be because of treatment centers or professionals in the field, or non-Conference-approved literature, or young people, or the dually-addicted, or even the “druggies” trying to come to our closed meetings. If we stick close to our Traditions, Concepts, and Warranties, and if we keep an open mind and an open heart, we can deal with these and any other problems that we have or ever will have. If we ever falter and fail, it will be simply because of us. It will be because we can’t control our own egos or get along well enough with each other. It will be because we have too much fear and rigidity and not enough trust and common sense.

    If you were to ask me what is the greatest danger facing A.A. today, I would have to answer: the growing rigidity — the increasing demand for absolute answers to nit-picking questions; pressure for G.S.O. to “enforce” our Traditions; screening alcoholics at closed meetings; prohibiting non-Conference-approved literature, i.e., “banning books”; laying more and more rules on groups and members. And in this trend toward rigidity, we are drifting farther and farther away from our co- founders. Bill, in particular, must be spinning in his grave, for he was perhaps the most permissive person I ever met. One of his favorite sayings was, “Every group has the right to be wrong.” He was maddeningly tolerant of his critics, and he had absolute faith that faults in A.A. were self-correcting.

  3. Ashley

    Tim did you write this? If so congratulations on such a well written article, if not thank you for posting such a well written article!

    All the best,
    Ashley Gaede

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