The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Join up the jolly good fellows
- Support group for alcoholics records membership spurt

Eight-year-olds join, as do those well into their 80s. Around one-third of all members are women. Total numbers across the world are well over two million. And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

These figures are a few of the basics of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) fellowship. According to the World Health Organisation, there are around 140 million alcoholics in the world. In India alone, in the past three years, 200 new groups have been formed, putting the number of chapters at 700.

To further awareness about this disease, global chairman of the organisation’s general services board in New York, Elaine McDowell, and general manager Greg M. attended a seminar on Saturday, organised by the local chapter of AA, in association with the Indian Medical Association, at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan.

“There is a rich fellowship in Calcutta,” says Greg (As an AA member, his identity is confidential, though non-alcoholic functionaries of the organisation need not be protected). The rise in numbers, he feels, is due to more people seeking help for their problem, rather than an increase in victims of alcoholism.

There are an estimated 100,000 groups in 150 countries, speaking 70 languages, though most are in the United States and Canada, where the body was formed over 60 years ago.

The 12-step programme for an AA member starts with the acknowledgement that one is “powerless” when it comes to alcohol and that one’s life has become unmanageable because of it. The “desire” to stop drinking is the only pre-condition to membership.

Much of the organisation’s work has succeeded because of the support of medical and allied professionals. “If they are aware of the problems, they can really be of help,” says McDowell, a non-alcoholic who is AA’s first woman chairperson.

At Saturday’s interactive session, one main concern surfaced: How does one convince an alcoholic to seek help' Being a supportive friend, access to proper medical counsel and linkages with an existing AA member were a few of the possible means discussed. In Calcutta, Al-Anon, an organisation for family and friends of alcoholics, and Alateen, children of alcoholics, also exist as support structures for those whose lives have been affected by the drinking problem of a loved one.

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