A.A. does not charge membership dues to attend meetings, although it relies on whatever donations members choose to give.
The single purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous is "to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." An earlier group, the Washingtonians, fell apart when it tried to branch out to different goals, which A.A. has tried to avoid.
Although phrases and ideas drawn from Protestant Christianity are often used in A.A. literature and at A.A. meetings, the organisation doesn't promote any particular religion, and it has worked for adherents of many faiths. Nevertheless, since it suggests that the recovering addict should ask for help from a "Higher Power", many atheists find themselves unable to accept the Twelve Steps and instead seek out secular alternatives like Rational Recovery. That said, the notion of "Higher Power" is left vague enough that other atheists comfortably follow A.A.'s approach to recovery.
A.A. was started by two alcoholics who first met in 1935. One was Bill Wilson (William Griffith Wilson), a New York stockbroker; the other was Dr Bob Smith (Robert Holbrook Smith), a medical doctor and surgeon from Akron, Ohio.
Wilson had been sober for some months when he met Smith, although he had struggled with sobriety for years. In that time he had made several important discoveries about his own alcoholism. Firstly he had learned from a New York alcoholism specialist, Dr William Duncan Silkworth, that alcoholism was not simply a moral weakness. Silkworth told Wilson, during one of Wilson's admissions to his drying-out clinic, that alcoholism had a pathological disease-like character.
Wilson also discovered that some alcoholics had been able to recover on a spiritual basis. This approach had been advocated to a friend of one of Wilson's drinking buddies by the famous Swiss psychoanalyst Dr Carl Jung.
Finally, Wilson found that by talking with other alcoholics and trying to help them get sober, his own sobriety seemed to grow stronger.
These were the ideas that he presented to Smith, who had been struggling with his own chronic drinking addiction. The two struck up a solid friendship and together they put Wilson's discoveries into practice.
Some members of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that its success lies in the sense of support and community its members gain from attending regular meetings. It is sometimes suggested that those in the earliest days of sobriety attend at least one meeting every day for at least 30 days. However there is no minimum number or frequency of meetings that members are required to attend.
The growth of A.A., especially in its early decades, was striking. In 2002, the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.aa.org/) reported that there were more than 100,000 A.A. groups worldwide, with a combined membership of approximately two million alcoholics.