Alcoholics Anonymous has changed through the years, but AA might be facing bigger challenges in the 21st century than it did in the latter part of the 20 century. AA in the 21st century faces secularism and a general trend of suspicion of all institutions that appear traditional. AA has become an American institution and tradition is important to AA. Through the years AA has been attacked for being too religious, too much like a cult, too unwilling to change with the times, too insistent on the need for total abstinent from all drugs, even prescribed drugs, etc.
AA in the 21st century, in many ways, looks like AA in the 1930s when it was created. AA is still based on a set of principles, traditions and concepts that have not changed. The make up of AA has changed, though, and how members talk about alcoholism and recovery has changed. In most cities with any size, AA members are usually poly0drug users, with alcohol as only one of the drugs with which they had a problem. Most groups don’t talk much, if any, about the Christian concept of God, but rather a generalized “higher power”. There are even meetings that cater to free thinkers, agnostics and atheists.
AA groups have changed in many ways — there are gay groups, women’s groups, Hispanic groups, etc. There has been controversy about specialized groups, because many AA members believe that alcoholics of any race, gender, religion, etc., have a common bond in recovery. If specialty groups help individuals find sobriety and recovery, though, most AA members take a live and let live attitude.
AA in general doesn’t react in a knee-jerk style to criticisms, public controversy or demands to change. The AA central office basically stays clear of public controversy, avoiding politics or public displays of defense. AA simply says, this is what we do, and alcoholics are free to try it if they think it will help. There’s actually a libertarian streak in AA that’s attractive to most people. AA sticks with certain principles that are considered timeless and certain traditions that have worked to keep groups together, but AA leaves it up each group to be autonomous in its own affairs unless it harms AA as a whole — even, then, a renegade group that violates all traditions will simply not be recognized by the central office as an AA group — AA has no power to force the groups to conform. There’s enough latitude and flexibility in AA groups for AA to be wide enough and deep enough for any individual seeking help. If an individual doesn’t like one group, they can find another, or start one. I think AA in the 21st century will do just fine.