The social transformation of self in Alcoholics Anonymous

Concetta Gallo-Treacy, Fordham University


This study examines the impact of a social group, Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), on the behavior, identities, and beliefs of members. Participation in this self-help group not only enabled its members to stop drinking but, through the utilization of specific activities and resocialization processes, to undergo a relatively dramatic change in their selves and identities, referred to here as "self-transformation."^ A group of variables used as indicators of religious conversion from studies in the sociology of religion were used. Special interest was given to processes of conversion within this perspective, including affiliation and integration of new members into the group. In large part, the theories of Peter Berger within the sociology of knowledge were incorporated into the conceptualization of the transformation process: Berger's theories of "alternation" and the "social construction of reality." The sociological perspective of symbolic interactionism was also used to conceptualize "self" and "identity."^ Participant observation and in-depth interviews were the methodologies utilized. Participant observation was conducted at "Open" A.A. meetings, as well as Al-Anon and Ala-Mar meetings. The observations were conducted over a three-year period with approximately one year at each of the different groups. A small pilot study of five A.A. members and their spouses was also conducted through in-depth interviews.^ The study confirmed the importance of specific features of the A.A. program in the process of self-change particularly, the role of a ritualized story-telling format by new and old members, and its capacity to disclose various stages of change as people engage in the construction and reconstruction of their lives as "alcoholics." Biographical reconstruction was also found to be a group process undertaken by both A.A. members together with their families and/or "significant others." In the ideal circumstances for A.A. members, self-change was accompanied by parallel processes of biographical reconstruction for family members attending Al-Anon and Ala-Mar. The study disclosed parallel processes of self-change for non-alcoholic family members as those observed for their relatives and spouses. ^

Subject Area

Religion, General|Psychology, Social|Sociology, General|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies

Recommended Citation

Gallo-Treacy, Concetta, "The social transformation of self in Alcoholics Anonymous" (1993). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9403295.