The Cult Called A.A.


The whole A.A. program hinges upon the alcoholic's acceptance of what A.A. calls a "higher power." Conversely, adherents to the twelve-step program are expected to renounce any personal responsibility for, or control over, their problem. This blatant renunciation of the concept of free will is also a characteristic of every single other cult I can think of — the individual counts for nothing, while the non-existent, the illusory, the hypothetical, is all. Self-respecting, proud, analytical achievers do not make good cult members. A cult follower must be stripped of his sense of individual worth — in many sects, he is humiliated sexually, deprived of sensory stimuli, sequestered from the larger community, or otherwise manipulated to look upon himself as degraded and worthless. In A.A., you are plopped in a ring of cultists every evening and pressured to place your entire destiny in the hands of some "higher power."

Pretty concise and precise dissertation on why AA is probably not the recovery method of choice for godless freethinkers, nor any other 12 step based program for that matter. Echoes my sentiments very closely. I've knocked up enough detox frequent flyer miles to have an opinion about this stuff, and all I can say is AA drove me to drink just to drown the dumbness out. Do not believe the AA evangelicals that drill it into you that it is the only program that works, because that's horseshit. There are others, SMART Recovery for example. Any competent counselor should have available alternatives. If they don't, get another counselor because they're not doing their job.

I know there are atheists here for whom AA does work. This is not meant to be a criticism of you. If it works for you, then good for you and keep on going. This is for everyone else out there that may not be coping and being told AA is the be all and end all.

Tags: 12 step, aa, alcohol, alcoholics anonymous, drugs, gambling, narcotics anonymous, recovery, substance abuse

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Good point, good link, good post. There's also a group on Nexus for people who A.A. didn't work for: Atheists, Addictions, 12 Step Recovery, and Alternatives.
It seems like most of the people in that group are saying A.A. worked for them?
Oh, sorry... I didn't even bother to look before I posted the link.
Felch thank you for this post. I suspected AA was a cult when I was a member off and on over many years.

I agree The Orange Papers have a good explanation of how AA is a cult and it's roots in an organization called moral re-armament which was a fundamentalist christian sect. Not only that but studies have shown that AA really is not all that effective and in some cases maybe harmful for addressing alcohol addiction.

I also think SMART recovery is a far better alternative to AA for an Atheist.

For the most part AA is a faith healing organization that calls alcoholism a disease and then prescribes a "spiritual" solution to arrest the disease's development.

Also the courts of the US have taken to forcing people who get a DUI into going to AA which is a direct violation of the separation between church and state.
Correction to the above. A.A. came from the Oxford group a fundamentalist branch of the Episcopalian Church. A.A.'s roots were in this group which A.A. obfuscates . After the Oxford group fell into disrepute partially due to the founders (Frank N.D. Buchman) praise of Adolf Hitler they renamed the group Moral Re- Armament.

Here is another good website/ blog critical of A.A.:
Why AA is NOT a cult

Disclaimer: I speak only for myself and of own experiences as a sober atheist member of AA. I have been sober for 7 years,8 months 3 weeks 2 days. I attended AA for 3 years then stopped going as it no longer met my needs. I will return without compunction if I feel the need.

AA was ONE of the tools I used to get sober.None those tools included 'a higher power' unless I include the acceptance and support of other members.My home group had just over 30 members. Around half were atheists.

There is ONE requirement to join AA: A desire to stop drinking. There is NO OBLIGATION TO: attend meetings,believe in a higher power or 'work the steps' although all are encouraged. AA is a theistic programme, NOT a Christian one. There are over 100 12 step programmes other than AA all over the world the world,found in all major religions

I did as I was advised; "Don't pick up the firsts drink. Come to meetings and,most important, take what you need and leave the rest".

I have never had a higher power,never bothered with the the steps and think much of "The Big Book' is fatuous nonsense.

I have always been mindful that anyone speaking from the floor is expressing his or her own views,not those of AA. I sometimes felt obliged to say so when chairing a meeting after someone said something especially loopy. (A LOT of AA members are quite mad) I left when I felt like it and no one has bothered me.

AA is deeply flawed.My experience was that it seems to offer some relief to most people. However, its long term success rate (over 2 years sober) is between 2% and 5%, about the same as all other addiction rehabilitation programmes. (many of which also use the 12 steps of AA)

For many people AA is the refuge of last resort;THERE IS NOTHING ELSE. I encourage any suffering alcoholic to attend AA. One day's relief is worth the effort in my opinion.

I consider the claim that AA is a cult ignorant and irresponsible.It most certainly does not reflect my experience.

The above is my opinion expressed as clearly and as honestly as I can.I'm not willing to argue the point.
AA is a cult. I have been in and out of it for over 20 years. I have been in a genuine cult (because of my involvement in AA) as well and the similarities are remarkable. I won't argue with you about it either - because obviously we have a difference of opinion. My experience is different than yours and I was harmed by my involvement in AA. There is evidence that suggests that quitting on your own is more effective than AA. Not to mention the fact that AA posits that alcoholism is a disease and suggests a cure via a spiritual awakening. Just because they tolerate atheists does not mean that they are not religious or a cult. Some christian churches and cults tolerate atheists as well. In fact there is a whole chapter in the Big Book devoted to converting atheists and agnostics to a belief in god - called "To The Agnostic".

I will stick with evidence based, secular programs, that take scientific advances into account and that offer mutual support like SMART recovery over AA any day off the week.

In my opinion AA does more harm than good for a lot of alcoholics and there is some evidence to support this opinion (not to mention my personal experience) . To suggest that offering alternatives like SMART or to criticize a religiously based program on an atheist message board as ignorant and irresponsible - is sort of hmm...

"A Washington, D.C., Alcoholics Anonymous group is being accused of turning into a cult of personality, with members encouraged to cut off ties with outsiders and have sex with other members of the group, Newsweek reported in its May 7 issue.

Former members like May Clancy charge that members of the Midtown AA chapter, one of the city's oldest, deviated sharply from the base philosophy of AA, which avows that there are no program "leaders" and explicitly discourages sex between members. Clancy said the Midtown group seemed to attract older men and younger women, and was initially welcoming." ...
The thing is that in the US the abuses in the Midtown group of AA are commonplace and not unusual at all.
The base philosophy of AA is the underpinning of it all.
Under the influence of alcohol-treatment evangelists, courts, employers, and parents are forcing people into 12-step programs for the slightest of reasons.

Archie Brodsky
Boston, MA

Stanton Peele
Morristown, NJ

A high-level delegation from the Soviet Union recently visited Quincy, Massachusetts, to learn how District Court Judge Albert L. Kramer handles drunk drivers. Kramer routinely sentences first-time driving-while Intoxicated (DWI) offenders to Right Turn, a private treatment program for alcoholism that requires participants to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The Soviet visitors enthusiastically embraced Kramer's program, which is also a favorite of the American media.

One would think that the Soviets were ahead of us in therapeutic coercion, given their history of incarcerating political dissenters under bogus psychiatric labels. But from their perspective Kramer's approach is innovative: A.A. treatment is a process of spiritual conversion that requires submission to a "higher power" (a.k.a. God). By adopting compulsory A.A. treatment, the Soviets would be shifting from a policy of enforced atheism to one of enforced religion. ...
AA as I understand it is fairly decentralized. Given that, it seems entirely plausible to me that local AA groups could be cults, cultish, branches of the local church, vaguely spiritual, or downright atheist, depending on local demographics and who shows up to the meetings and takes a leadership role. It seems to me that Tarquin and Warren could just be looking at opposite ends of the same elephant.
Jason, What you say is true to some degree. Yes it is decentralized. Each group has autonomy and it is as the founder Bill Wilson called - a benevolent anarchy. This also presents problems as well because the central organization (AA Central Office) will not stop abuses in the groups and there is very little or no accountability for abuses in many of the groups.

There are definitely milder groups in AA that have less cult like characteristics and there are more extreme groups in AA that are full on cults of personality with members who are sponsored/ controlled very rigidly by a chain of command via sponsorship.

I have experienced both types of AA. Whilst the milder groups were pleasant enough. I still had to rap my mind around some pretty irrational ideas even to remain a member of those groups. The cognitive dissonance for an atheist is quite troubling even in milder versions of AA.

That being said I think that AA is a fundamentally dishonest organization. They say they are not a religion when they are clearly a religiously based organization. Courts in the US and Canada sentence people with alcohol problems (sometimes even their first DUI) to AA even though it is not the best approach for many. Courts in the US have ruled that AA is a religious organization therefore in the US sentencing people to attendance in AA is a violation of church and state.

The whole basis of AA is founded on supposedly "spiritual" principles and many in AA claim that it is the most effective treatment of alcoholism when there is no evidence to support this position. This is partially used to attract and retain membership.

The meetings and members spout thought stopping cliches and threaten desperate people by saying that without AA they will surely die an alcoholic death.

If I would have known of alternatives to AA like SMART. I would have avoided many years of subjecting myself to religious quackery and lived a much happier life. Sadly, AA dominates the treatment for addiction field in the US and alternatives are rarely discussed in the mainstream. Thankfully, access to the internet is changing that and some people in the field are beginning to really question the wisdom of using an approach to addictions cobbled together by a stockbroker in the 1930's.


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