Claim: An Alcoholics Anonymous member can exchange his sobriety medallion for free drinks at any bar.
[Collected via e-mail, January 2007]
Is it true that if you bring a one year sober AA chip to a bar and give it to them they will give you a free drink?
[Collected via e-mail, August 2009]
I've often heard about bars that offer free drinks in exchange for Alcoholics Anonymous X-days sober medallions.
Origins: Addiction is not something that is fought once; it is a foe that needs be wrestled with constantly. It is for this reason that many who have successfully availed themselves of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program choose to carry in their pockets small tokens that serve to constantly remind them of the importance of their sobriety, lest a fleeting instance of complacency prompt them to forget the nature of the battle they must wage each and every day.
The most popular of such mementos is the sobriety medallion or chip. One of the earliest AA members carried such a token (Clarence H. Snyder, founder of AA group #3 in Cleveland in 1939), but the practice of bestowing sobriety chips is attributed to the Oxford Group in Elmira, New York, in 1947.
While each group within AA operates by its own rules, it has become somewhat the norm for a member's home group to present a successful newcomer with a medallion on the first anniversary of his last drink. Said disc will likely be engraved with the date of the member's sobriety and either a generic statement (e.g., "The day my
new life began") or the member's favorite of the standard AA slogans, one that he particularly drew strength from in his first year.
Additionally, many groups make it their practice to hand out poker chips or marbles at the one-week, one-, three-, six- and nine-month milestones. These less formal tokens of recognition, while of no appreciable monetary value themselves, are treasured nonetheless because they are peer group recognitions of the struggle the individual is engaged in. For someone fighting day by day to maintain his newfound sobriety in the face of all life has to throw at him, they serve as tangible reminders that others (particularly those who have also weathered these storms) have noted the newcomer's progress and are cheering him on. They also serve as tangible reminders of his promises to himself.
The belief that either AA sobriety anniversary medallions or their ersatz mid-year counterparts are redeemable for free booze at local bars has been around for decades. (I first encountered it in the early 1980s when it was told as an "everybody knows" tale among folks in the program, but it is likely far older than that).
As to why this belief thrives, society views the alcoholic as having created the hell he inhabits via his poor personal choices and lousy impulse control rather than by the addiction that drove him. The notion, therefore, that the promise of free drinks would be all it would take to get him to kick over the traces and return to his
former ways fits with the general view of alcoholics as irresponsible children who can't see past the glitter of short-term gain to appreciate the natural
consequences of their actions. Their disease is regarded as a matter of moral weakness rather than as a physical malady.
Finally, there's the specter of frustrated predatory bartenders just waiting to pounce upon hapless ex-drunks as they ruefully watch their profits shrink thanks to the town souse's new-found sobriety. Business is business, says this aspect of the tale; the cost in terms of human misery is nothing against the loss being suffered by the till. In this we find echoes of any number of retail urban legends which position various large corporate entities as heartless to the point of not caring what harm they visit upon consumers, provided they continue to get their hands on the almighty buck.
Are there such bars where chips and medallions can regularly be traded for free hooch? If there are, we've yet to encounter any credible reports of them.
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.