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The Evolution of the A.A. Beginners' Meetings 

Ed Webster's "Stools and Bottles"The Beginners' Meetings of the 1940's were an integral part of the "original" Alcoholics Anonymous program that produced a 50-75% recovery rate from alcoholism.  For a period of time, these meetings became a lost piece of history.  But with the publication of Back to Basics--The Alcoholics Anonymous Beginners' Meetings in 1997, these very effective and successful meetings have been re-introduced to the fellowship.

The Beginners' Meetings have proven, once again, that A.A. is self-correcting.  Under Divine guidance, Alcoholics Anonymous will continue to provide a spiritual solution to those who suffer from "a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body."

In the 1940's and 1950's the "original" program of recovery consisted of:

Detoxification:  3-5 days
Beginners' Meetings 3-6 months (Newcomers take the Steps, "sponsored" others through the Steps, and, if possible, they led the meetings)
"Regular" A.A. Meetings "Regular" meetings were:
  • Open Speaker Meetings (10/10/40 Format) 
  • Closed Discussion Meetings (to discuss the Big Book and the A.A. "design for living.")

This "plan of action" produced a 50-75% recovery rate from alcoholism. The fellowship grew rapidly.  Membership doubled every ten years from the 1950's through the 1970's.

By the 1980's, the recovery program had changed dramatically.  It consisted of:

Treatment 21-28 days  
A.A. Meetings   The predominant meeting format became:  
  • Open Discussion Meetings

By the 1980's, the recovery rate dropped from 50-75% to 5-10%.  The A.A. rate of growth slowed dramatically.  From 1992-1995, membership in the United States stopped growing altogether.  In 1992, world-wide membership peaked and by 1997 it had declined by 20%.

By 1997, two dramatic changes had taken place.  First, the insurance companies had cut back on the amount of money they were willing to spend for "Treatment" and the Beginners' Meetings were re-introduced to the fellowship:

By the early 2000's, the "modified" program of recovery consisted of:


Detoxification 5-8 days
Beginners' Meetings 3-6 months (Newcomers take the Steps, "sponsor" others through the Steps, and, if possible, lead the meetings)  
AA Meetings In many areas, the Open Discussion Meetings have been supplemented/replaced with:
  • Big Book Studies ("Big Book" passages that explain how to take Steps)
  • Speaker Meetings (10/10/40 Format) 
  • Eleventh Step (Guidance) Meetings

A.A. membership has started to increase once again.

(Information on A.A. membership has been obtained from A.A.W.S., Inc. General Service Conference Reports.  Specific numbers are not quoted because the reports are confidential.  Anyone interested in verifying the figures will find them in the Conference Reports, under the heading, “Estimates of Groups and Members.”)  

Read more about the Beginners' Meetings here.


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