Alcoholics Anonymous is a model of social self-help. It is not a top-heavy service provider with its hand out for public funds, not an institution with high administrative costs, not an advocacy group that spends most of its energy campaigning for public and political influence.
AA comprises people with a common problem who meet for mutual support. It does not advertise itself or its meetings. It has no obvious head office or branch offices. It is as anonymous as the name suggests. Yet it is 70 years this month since the first AA group was set up in New Zealand.
Who know how many New Zealanders it has helped in that time? Our report today says there are now 464 groups around the country meeting weekly and an estimated 4000 members successfully controlling their alcoholism.
That means they have acknowledged their addiction and decided to do something about it, with the encouragement of family and friends. At AA they find they can be as anonymous as they wish — first names only are used — and gain the encouragement and unconditional support of people who know exactly how hard it is to stay sober.
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The AA solution demands immense personal will power and perseverance "taking one day at a time", as they say. It means being able to say no to a drink when everyone around may be drinking. Nobody needs to be an alcoholic to know how hard that is. Pregnant women, and others avoiding alcohol for a period on medical advice, discover how much it influences social occasions.
To be sober at a drinking dinner party is to be soon bored. The alcohol-fuelled conversation becomes tedious and the wit the party is finding hilarious is usually dull to the clear mind. Alcohol is a sedative that will send a person to sleep in large enough quantity. But along the way it is euphoric and that can be addictive.
AA probably requires too much will power for some of those who lives and families are being damaged by alcoholism. Public health campaigners propose a range of measures to help them, including raising the price of alcoholic beverages with taxes, restricting further its advertising and sale, and raising the age at which it can be legally purchased.
All these will be urged upon the new Government. All would effect those who enjoy alcohol in safe quantities and might not deter those with a problem. AA's solution is better. Long may it continue to help alcoholics help themselves.