Religion in deed: Alcoholics Anonymous as a functional equivalent of religion



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The principles of humility, honesty, and service undergird the Alcoholics Anonymous organization. They are among the reasons for considering it a functional equivalent of religion. This is the sense in which the author has experienced AA over the course of 38 years as well. This dissertation examines the assertion that AA is the functional equivalent of a religion. Besides my own experience, I have collected data from written documents, books, research papers and stories other members have shared. I have used an interpretive-analytical autoethnographic method to describe and explain the AA phenomenon. I argue that Alcoholics Anonymous is a functional equivalent of religion without ideational dogma or assurances of eternal salvation. The only promise offered is the ability to accept life on life’s terms, granted on a daily basis and contingent upon a spiritual condition obtained through a connection with a ‘higher power’ of the individual’s understanding. The AA alcoholic has a Janus face: first: complete acceptance of responsibility for one’s reality (accept everything, expect nothing) and, second: full surrender to a higher power to change one’s reality. The principles of Alcoholics Anonymous are similar to many other religions. Nevertheless, I demonstrate the sense in which AA ‘inverts’ the constellation of elements that are operative in other religions. Alcoholics Anonymous is actually not about alcohol. AA is about a method of producing a spiritual awakening very similar to religions; but it is for those who have not been successful with traditional methods. Religious scholars and scholars researching alcoholic addiction should take this into account.



Religion, Alcoholism