Benign Anarchy: Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Sharma, Manoj
Pub Date: 12/01/2011
Publication: Name: Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education Publisher: American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Psychology and mental health; Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Alcohol & Drug Information Foundation ISSN: 0090-1482
Issue: Date: Dec, 2011 Source Volume: 55 Source Issue: 3
Topic: NamedWork: Benign Anarchy: Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Butler, S.
Accession Number: 280092620
Full Text: Butler, S. (2010). Benign anarchy. Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. [pp. 272; ISBN 978-0-7165-3063-3 cloth; $79.95]

This book describes the establishment of the first European Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group in Ireland in 1946. Alcoholics Anonymous is among the first self-help and mutual-help organizations that originated in the twentieth century. Several books have been written on AA including Alcoholics Anonymous: The story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from Alcoholism (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 2002). The book being reviewed is unique in that it discusses the workings of the Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland. Historical and Irish flavor are unique qualities of this book. The book captures the functioning of AA with the health system and at the same time with the Catholic Church. The author Shane Butler is a senior lecturer at the School of Social Work and Social Policy at Trinity College, Dublin. He has also authored the book Alcohol, drugs and health promotion in modern Ireland (Butler, 2002).

The book is organized into seven chapters and three appendices. The book also has 16 plates which among various photographs include the photograph of Conor Flynn, the Irish American, who introduced AA to Ireland in 1946 and postcards from Dublin AA members. These photographs provide a sense of authenticity to the book. The first chapter is an introduction to AA. It describes the origins of AA in United States and its spread to other countries. The chapter also discusses what other chapters in the book will cover and serves as an introduction to the book.

The second chapter describes how alcohol problems were managed in Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The chapter points out that Irish drinking habits and attitudes toward alcohol are generally believed to be extreme. In this context, the chapter discusses the religious temperance movement; the lunatic asylums, prisons, and inebriate reformatories that were present in those days; the formation of the Intoxicating Liquor Commission in 1925; and the Mental Treatment Act of 1945. During those days there was no agreement regarding whether habitual drinkers suffered from a disease, or whether they were simply weak-willed.

The third chapter describes the origins, beliefs and practices of AA. AA is defined as, "a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism." The chapter includes discussion of AA as a mutual-help organization and as a spiritual movement. The organizational culture and structures of AA are also described.

The fourth chapter describes how AA in Ireland has been coexisting peacefully with the Catholic Church. The chapter describes the origins of AA in Ireland. It describes how in the initial years AA established excellent relationship with the Catholic Church. The chapter also discusses AA and the Pioneers.

The fifth chapter discusses the relationship between AA, alcoholism treatment and the Irish health care system. The chapter describes how AA avoided getting involved in the politics of alcohol and maintained its adherence to the fellowship's administrative charter and the Twelve Traditions.

The sixth chapter describes the establishment of AA as an Irish institution. The chapter presents an interesting account of how AA got established in all counties of Ireland. The chapter notes that by the end of 1970s, AA had become an established and non-controversial part and parcel of Irish social and cultural life.

The final chapter is called, "The role of AA in a nation of drinkers." It summarizes and provides a final comment on the book. The chapter has a section on, "AA: Does it work?" and summarizes several studies that have been done to gauge the effectiveness

of AA. AA in Ireland is an institution that has survived and thrived in a potentially hostile environment.

The three appendices in the book are: chronology of main events in history of AA in Ireland; the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions; and the structure of the Fellowship. On the whole this book is an interesting account of how AA originated and grew in Ireland. This case study would be of use to those interested in the AA movement or other self help movements.


Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. (2002). Alcoholics Anonymous: The story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from Alcoholism. New York:


Butler, S. (2002). Alcohol drugs and health promotion in modern Ireland. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.
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