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Friend of Bill (FOB): definition, role, and misconceptions

Reading time: 13 mins

Friend of Bill (FOB) is a euphemism used by members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – a mutual support group for individuals recovering from alcohol addiction – to keep up with the AA tradition of protecting group members’ anonymity. 

Other twelve-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), that take a similar stance to Alcoholics Anonymous have also embraced the phrase. In these programs, participants may refer to themselves as members of the recovery community by using the terms “Friend of Bill” or “Friend of Bill W.”

What is Friend of Bill (FOB)?

Friend of Bill (FOB) is a phrase used to refer to a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) who refrains from drinking alcohol in particular or from using any type of drug that alters mood, including alcohol, according to a page on the definition of Friend of Bill from Urban Dictionary.

The term “Friend of Bill” is used to let other attendees know that the speaker or user is also in alcoholic recovery. Through this, people can connect with others who have had similar experiences and receive assistance without having to publicly discuss their own difficulties with addiction.

What is the origin of the term “FOB”?

The term FOB originates from the name of Bill Wilson, sometimes known as Bill W., one of the founding members of AA, along with Dr. Bob Smith. By default, anyone who is a friend of Bill W. is also a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

It is a custom in AA meetings for members to only give their first names and not their last names, making ‘Bill W.’ the proper way to address Bill Wilson in the organization. AA believes that it is easier to be non-judgmental of people if anyone can be anonymous as they speak to the group. 

How does one become a “FOB”?

hands holding an alcohol

One becomes an FOB when he or she is a recovering alcoholic, particularly if they frequent AA meetings. If this person is spotted outside the meeting place peering through doors or windows, they might be asked if they are a friend of Bill’s. 

By asking you this code word, the person wants to know if you are looking for the AA meeting in a way that will keep your identity secret. It is also a sort of secret verbal handshake between former alcoholics that can also be used outside of AA. 

For instance, when someone is in a public place, and they might want to introduce themselves to someone who they think might be a member as well, yet they do not want to risk being judged by exposing themselves as an alcoholic, they can simply ask the other person if they are a friend of Bill.

It is unlikely that anyone outside of AA would recognize the connection, so if they do not happen to be someone you know, your secret is still safe.

What is the role of a “FOB” in addiction recovery?

The role of an FOB in addiction recovery is to serve as an ally and offer a relationship that is based on trust, support, and mutual understanding. 

In many situations outside AA, the code may be used to make themselves known to other friends of Bill’s. At the airport or on a plane, for instance, there may be a call over the intercom asking for any friends of Bill W. This means that a fellow former alcoholic may be in need of support and wants to reach out for help. 

In this case, helping another FOB and supporting them in times of need are just some working principles of AA that an individual should fulfill as an ally. Having connections to other people while maintaining anonymity also ensures that the relationship is based on trust, support, and mutual understanding.

How does “Friend of Bill” approach mental health in addiction recovery?

The Friend of Bill method approaches mental health in varied ways that are beneficial for the affected person. Friend of Bill approaches mental health in addiction recovery in ways that are listed below.

  • Emotional support
  • Shared experiences
  • Seeking professional help
  • Therapeutic value of meetings
  • Self-reflection
  • Personal growth

1. Emotional support

Emotional support entails caring and showing sympathy for another individual. It could use words or body language, and could also entail doing things like assisting someone in calling a therapist or offering a hug to a crying friend, according to a 2022 article from Medical News Today entitled, “How to show emotional support”. 

The Friend of Bill approach understands that as social beings, people in recovery need emotional support. As a result, people who have spent a lot of time sober often attend AA meetings so they may serve as role models for the good behaviors connected with abstinence. This can help restore the social connections that someone might have lost after avoiding locations or people that might trigger substance use. 

Having this positive change in social networks greatly benefits AA members, as it can make a substantial difference on how they handle difficult emotions and triggers that may lead them to drinking.

2. Shared experiences

An article entitled, “The Art of Creating Shared Experiences” published in states that shared experiences involve seeing, hearing, or doing something with another person. Despite being a straightforward idea, shared experiences have a significant influence on human interaction, since they enrich each person’s unique experience.

In the case of alcoholics in recovery, one important shared experience among them is their problem with drinking. The FOB approach offers its members the opportunity to get to know each other’s similar experiences through its gatherings. 

During meetings, people can share their experiences, thoughts, and struggles with one another without the fear of being judged, and while being able to offer support and advice to those who need it.

3. Seeking professional help

Seeking professional help means pursuing or trying to get counseling or treatment from a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. 

AA may not offer medical services, but it understands and promotes the significance of getting expert assistance when trying to stay sober. In fact, some clerics and medical professionals assisted its very founders. 

The Friend of Bill approach recognizes that some self-defeating habits and thought patterns may take a while before they completely resolve, and consulting with mental health professionals may help address those difficulties.

4. The therapeutic value of meetings

The therapeutic value of meetings lies in the opportunities it offers to people to share their stories and struggles, and the safe space it provides for attendees to be comfortable around each other. 

One important therapeutic value of an AA meeting is the reduction of depressive symptoms. A 2015 study on the effects of long-term AA attendance and spirituality on the course of depressive symptoms in individuals with alcohol use disorder by Wilcox et al., published in the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that AA participation was linked to reduced depression over time.

 Moreover, a 2020 study on the therapeutic change factors in Alcoholics Anonymous written by Cohen et al., looked at 52 counseling students’ perceptions of and responses to AA meetings. They discovered that AA provides unequaled socialization and support for a person in recovery and that students frequently reported feeling a sense of belonging and coherence there.

5. Self-reflection

Self-reflection refers to a mental process one can use to gain a deeper awareness of who they are, what their values are, and the reasons behind their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, according to an article entitled, “Self-Reflection: Definition and How to Do It” from the Berkeley Well-Being Institute.

The FOB method incorporated in AA meetings provides attendees with an opportunity to engage in self-reflection and to gain knowledge from others’ experiences. The 12 Steps of AA also nudge an individual to examine their conscience and accept responsibility for any hurt they may have caused others. 

These parts of self-reflection encourage commitment to one’s own development and well-being while lowering the danger of relapse.

6. Personal growth

Personal growth is defined as the process of improving one’s skills, attitudes, knowledge, habits, and other personal qualities to increase overall well-being. 

The Friend of Bill approach teaches coping skills that help avoid relapse and tips on how to make the most out of social support, which can significantly help someone maintain their abstinence and provide them with the necessary skills they need during recovery. 

These positive gains can also boost an individual’s self-confidence and increase their resiliency, leading to a renewed and more optimistic view of their future.

How has “FOB” affected addiction recovery and support communities?

friends sitting and talking

FOB has affected addiction recovery and support communities in various positive ways through its use of sponsorship and the Twelve-Step program, the way it shapes long-term recovery, and the endless opportunities it offers for sharing experiences. 

According to a 2022 article entitled, “12 Questions About the 12-Steps: What is a Sponsor? From the American Addiction Centers, a senior AA or NA member who has been sober for at least a year typically serves as a sponsor. 

Your sponsor will guide you through membership, provide information, guide you on the 12 steps, and hold you accountable. One of the many benefits of sponsorship is that you get reminded every time that recovery is possible because your sponsor is living proof of it. AA sponsors serve as a reminder that total recovery is achievable, despite how difficult it may seem to withstand temptation.

The 12-Step program of AA also greatly benefits those in recovery, as the steps offer a direct and structured route to recovery. The stages can serve as a guide to assist you in identifying risk factors, ideas, and actions that might tempt you to resume alcohol abuse. 

A comprehensive analysis of alcoholics anonymous and other 12-Step programs for alcohol use disorder published in 2020 in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews determined that AA and Twelve‐Step Facilitation (TSF) programs were almost usually more successful than other established treatments, such as psychotherapy, in achieving abstinence, which is predictive of long-term or sustained recovery. 

Finally, FOB improves addiction recovery and support groups by encouraging sharing of experiences through weekly meetings in a safe space where there is understanding and acceptance. Resulting values, such as accountability and self-discipline, can help reduce the likelihood of relapse. 

What distinguishes “FOB” from other addiction support groups?

What distinguishes FOB, or Friend of Bill, from other addiction support groups is its reliance on its guiding literature called the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

The 164 pages of this text provide guidance, personal stories, and practical tools for recovery. Many individuals in 12-step programs find inspiration and guidance through the literature and the program’s established principles.

Another characteristic of the FOB approach that makes it different from other support groups is its spiritual component. The Friend of Bill strategy includes a spiritual element even though it is not exactly religious. It helps people to locate and get in touch with a higher power that they can relate to. People on their road to recovery may find solace, direction, and strength from this spiritual aspect.

Are there any specific groups or programs associated with “FOB”?

Yes, the phrase Friend of Bill is commonly associated with 12-Step recovery programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These programs are based on the ideas and practices contained in Bill Wilson’s (commonly known as Bill W.) book “Alcoholics Anonymous” (also known as The Big Book).

People who identify as “Friends of Bill” in AA and NA meetings are revealing that they have overcome an alcohol or drug addiction and are familiar with the 12-step program. They communicate to the other members of the group that they have a common grasp of the recovery process and can provide support and fellowship by using this term.

What are some common misconceptions about the FOB concept?

Some common misconceptions about the FOB concept is that ‘Friend of Bill’ refers to a specific person, it is a secret society, and it applies only to Alcoholics Anonymous. 

It’s a common misconception that “Bill” represents a friend or acquaintance that one must know in order to be a part of the recovery group. In reality, “Bill” is actually Bill Wilson, one of AA’s first founders. A “Friend of Bill” is someone who identifies as being in addiction recovery and is knowledgeable about the 12-step program’s tenets and practices.

Another misconception about the concept is that it is some kind of secret society. The term “Friend of Bill” is not a code name or a member of an exclusive group. It is merely a technique for people in recovery to covertly introduce themselves to people who could be in the same recovery group. It is a method to interact with others who are in recovery, exchange stories, and offer support.

Many people also think that FOB applies only to AA. While the term “Friend of Bill” was initially used in Alcoholics Anonymous, other 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous have now embraced it.

It serves as a means of interaction and mutual support for participants in all of these programs. In addition, there are recovery programs and support groups outside the 12-step paradigm, where people can find community and support without using this word.

Who were the famous individuals known as FOB?

Famous individuals who previously struggled with alcoholism and are considered FOB or alcoholics in recovery include Mel Gibson, Gary Oldman, Demi Moore, Al Pacino, and Tobey Maguire. 

Talented actor, producer, and director Mel Gibson has spoken about his battle with alcohol addiction and told The Sun in a 2016 article entitled, ‘YOU DIE OR YOU QUIT’ Mel Gibson speaks out about his battle with alcohol after nearly a decade of silence,” that he has spent many years attending AA and that if it wasn’t for the group, he wouldn’t have survived his drinking problems.

Gary Oldman, who played Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series, also had his share of issues with alcohol, which he was able to curb after joining AA in 1995. The actor admitted that he made a “few enemies” due to his problematic habits with alcohol back then. 

Demi Moore is another star who has opened up about her history with alcoholism. Following the death of Patsy Rugg, her sponsor, extensive media coverage of her stay in AA came next. 

Al Pacino, who started drinking when he became famous due to lack of family support, admitted that he is not ashamed to have attended AA meetings, sharing that he found it supportive and meaningful, according to a 2023 article entitled, “Celebrities who attended AA meetings,” from Stars Insider.

Finally, Tobey Maguire, who is best known for playing the role of Spider-Man, was also not spared from the effects of alcoholism. However, he was able to conquer it in 2003 when he joined Alcoholics Anonymous. Since then, he has remained sober.

How can someone support a friend or loved one who is an FOB?

One can support a friend or loved one who identifies as a friend of Bill by educating themselves on alcohol use disorder (AUD), creating a non-judgmental environment, and respecting their loved one’s anonymity. 

friends standing and talking to each other

Educating yourself about AUD entails learning about addiction, rehabilitation, and the 12-step program’s guiding principles. You’ll find it simpler to relate to the struggles, setbacks, and accomplishments of your loved one through this information.

Making a safe space where your friend or loved one feels at ease discussing their experiences, emotions, and worries also helps. Encouragement of an honest and open dialogue is one way to achieve this. 

Respecting your loved one’s right to anonymity is extremely important, and it is critical to respect their demand for secrecy and privacy. Avoid bringing up their 12-step participation or divulging private information without their consent. 

How can Friends of Bill help non-alcoholic drug addicts recover?

Friends of Bill can help non-alcoholic drug addicts recover by providing guidance and support through shared experiences. Friends of Bill can discuss their own adversities and triumphs in recovery with people who struggle from drug abuse

Although the substances involved may vary, the fundamental ideas behind addiction and recovery frequently overlap. For non-alcoholic drug addicts, hearing about other people’s experiences can be a source of encouragement and hope.

An FOB can also offer advice on understanding the 12-step programs’ tools and resources, working the 12 steps, and navigating the recovery process. They can impart knowledge on laying a solid recovery foundation and provide techniques they have found useful.

Can a non-addict be an FOB?

Yes, a non-addict can be considered a Friend of Bill, or a support of those in recovery. Despite the fact that “Friend of Bill” was first used by AA members and is frequently attributed to addicts in recovery, it can also be applied more broadly to express sympathy and support for other addicts.

Being a friend of Bill as a non-addict implies that you believe in the ideals and principles of recovery and are willing to be there for those who are trying to become sober. It entails supporting individuals who are attempting to maintain sobriety by being sympathetic friends and allies.

Being an FOB as a non-addict helps the recovery community, lessens the stigma surrounding addiction, and gives those who are trying to become sober the social support they need.

Can a non-FOB support addiction recovery?

Yes, a non-FOB can support someone else’s addiction recovery. In fact, anyone can help and support someone in their fight against addiction. Some ways of doing this include offering emotional support, encouraging professional help, and assisting with practical matters. 

Individuals in recovery may have difficulties, emotional peaks, and valleys, or feelings of loneliness. Making yourself available to listen, encourage, and reassure can make a big difference.

You can also encourage the use of professional resources, such as therapists, support groups, or addiction counselors. Encourage them to seek out expert advice as necessary.

Provide assistance with any practical issues that may occur during their healing process. This can entail guiding them toward treatment alternatives, going with them to appointments, or, if necessary, providing support with daily duties.

Can FOB contact and assist each other online?

Yes, Friends of Bill can certainly contact and assist each other online. In fact, the post-pandemic era has allowed people in recovery to find support and camaraderie through online forums and platforms.

Online meetings have grown to be common among many 12-step organizations, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and others. FOB can take part in these online gatherings, share their stories, give support, and interact with other recovering individuals.

There are also many online discussion boards, chat rooms, and social media groups devoted to recovery. These platforms allow FOB to engage, discuss struggles and victories, get advice, and assist other members.

How can the Minnesota Model of addiction benefit Friends of Bill’s recovery?

The Minnesota Model of Addiction incorporates ideas from the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and includes various components that could benefit Friends of Bill’s (FOB) recovery. These include a structured treatment environment, a multidisciplinary treatment team, ongoing care, and aftercare planning. 

friends standing next to each other hugging

The Minnesota Model frequently uses settings for residential or intensive outpatient therapy that offer a regulated and encouraging environment. As it provides a controlled environment for rehabilitation, including therapeutic activities, counseling sessions, group treatment, and regular attendance at AA meetings, this may be advantageous for FOB.

The method also frequently employs a multidisciplinary team of experts, including 12-step facilitators, therapists, and addiction counselors. This all-encompassing strategy supports holistic rehabilitation for FOB and tackles numerous elements of addiction.

To assist long-term recovery, the Minnesota Model places a strong emphasis on the need for continuous treatment and aftercare planning. This may entail putting FOB in touch with services like sober living facilities, outpatient treatment, alumni support groups, and continued 12-step program participation.

How can Friends of Bill help early-recovery Pink Cloud Syndrome patients?

Friends of Bill (FOB), who are themselves in the early stages of recovery, can be a great source of support for those with Pink Cloud Syndrome. According to a 2021 article entitled, “Pink Clouding | What Is Pink Cloud Syndrome?” from English Mountain Recovery, the term “Pink Cloud Syndrome” describes a time of exhilaration, optimism, and great energy that some people go through in the initial phases of recovery. 

FOB can help individuals experiencing Pink Cloud Syndrome through sharing of experiences, offering them a reality check, sharing coping strategies, and fostering long-term recovery goals. 

FOB can discuss their own early recovery experiences, including any difficulties they had and how they overcame them. Friends of Bill can help others gain a sense of perspective and remind them that recovery is a journey with ups and downs by sharing their personal experiences.

It can also be beneficial for an FOB to present a realistic viewpoint to someone who is thrilled while on their Pink Cloud phase. The Pink Cloud might not continue forever, and recovery also entails overcoming obstacles. These are things that FOB should gently remind people of.

Those who are friends with Bill can also discuss coping mechanisms that they’ve discovered to be effective in managing the Pink Cloud Syndrome and sustaining sobriety. This can involve practicing appreciation, receiving advice from a sponsor or mentor, reflecting on oneself frequently, practicing self-reflection, and being involved in the recovery community.

Finally, Friends of Bill can help Pink Cloud Syndrome patients set their sights on longer-term healing objectives. FOB can motivate others to create a strategy for sustained sobriety, participate in continuing care or aftercare programs, and look into chances for personal growth beyond the initial high of early recovery.