Although the idea of "illness" helped many early and later members of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) to understand their alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous neither originated nor promulgated the disease concept of alcoholism.
The main contribution of A.A. in this area was the broadening of the extant concept to one of " threefold" malady [Spiritual, mental and physical], with an emphasis on "the spiritual."
Examining the political and medical historical contexts of the time as well as A.A. literature shed light on the culture’s changing understanding of alcoholism in the second half of the twentieth century.
Given the issues and prejudices involved, it is unlikely that the question of the historical relationship between A.A. and the disease concept of alcoholism will ever be definitely resolved. But this does not mean that study of the topic is useless.
AA members have had a large role in spreading and popularizing that understanding.
The closest that AA doctrine comes to defining alcoholism is "an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer."
Research report; Kurtz, E. Alcoholics Anonymous and the disease concept of alcoholism. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 20(3-4):5-40, 2002. (170428)