Why do People Think AA is a Cult?


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has helped millions of people traverse the challenges of sobriety. AA originally became prominent because it was established before other options were widely available and engraved itself on the worldwide consciousness. Although many people vouch for the effectiveness of AA and its importance, there are people who view AA as more of a cult than an addiction support group. Why is this a view some have adopted? This blog will discuss the similarities AA shares with cults and why AA detractors take this stance.

What is a Cult?

A cult is a group or movement that is bound by a shared commitment to a leader or ideology. In most cases, a cult’s belief system answers many of life’s questions and offers solutions to those who subscribe to these beliefs. Today, when people hear of cults they think of Heaven’s Gate or People’s Temple. The commonality between all cults, however, is the inability of its members to think objectively, members being unable to separate themselves from the cult, and member’s unwavering commitment to the rules and beliefs held by the cult.

AA as a Cult

Although AA does not possess the same characteristics of a dangerous cult-like that of the Manson Family, there is still some evidence that allows cult accusations to continue to arise. Unlike many famous cults, there is no real leader of AA or any enforced obligation to attend meetings and follow the 12-Step Program. That being said, there is still evidence put forth by dissenters claiming that AA does exhibit cult-like behvaiour. Some evidence supporting cult claims are: 

  • New members are encouraged to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. This could be considered an attempt to brainwash individuals
  • Some individuals refer to the Big Book as a sacred text that should not be questioned
  • There can be pressure to strictly follow the program
  • Relapse is seen as shameful and those who relapse often lose contact with members
  • People in meetings exhibit an “us versus them” mentality when referring to alcoholics as a separate group in society
  • Some members portray AA as the only legitimate solution to addiction
  • Members are encouraged to spend time with other members
  • Members often predict that if someone leaves the group that they will relapse
  • Some meetings are closed and only available to members
  • Lack of critical thinking amongst the group
  • Encourages group-think over individualism

AA, like cults, requires its members to surrender all personal power and give it up to their higher power while following the Big Book. AA embraces a “conform, or else” stance that believes that if you do not follow AA, you will not recover. You are also expected to keep coming back, although not enforced, you are told that it is the only way to ensure your sobriety. The biggest issue many have with AA is the way in which it views and responds to relapses. Many people do not return to AA after they relapse because they feel ashamed and guilty. AA does not view relapse as a part of recovery, so many people who relapse believe they have failed. 

Considering this evidence characterizing AA as a cult, it must also be considered that those who enforce and follow these rules may just be some overzealous members. There are many members of AA that believe in abstinence and attending meetings but do not conform to other behaviors and mentalities present within the group.

Alternatives to AA

For those who do not think AA is for them and think the cult-like behavior may seem too prevalent within the group, there are alternatives. Some alternatives to AA are:

  1. SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery, which stands for “Self-Management and Recovery Training”, meetings are held throughout the United States and are a popular alternative to AA. This program is based on 4 main points, combining motivation, coping strategies, cognitive-behavioral management, and living a balanced life. The main goal of this group, similar to AA, is abstinence. This program highlights the importance of science-based recovery tools, mutual support meetings, and a non-religious belief system. 

  1. LifeRing

LifeRing is a secular group that offers a network of individuals focused on staying abstinent from alcohol and drugs. This group holds meetings to help maintain their sobriety and embracing individuality. 

  1. SOS (Secular Organization for Sobriety)

SOS is a non-profit network that is made up of secular recovery-based groups. This group is dedicated to helping individuals achieve their sobriety and maintain abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

  1. WFS (Women for Sobriety): 

The New Life Program supported by WFS helps women who are seeking a sober life. The values held by WFS are compassion, connection, empowerment, love, and respect. This program emphasizes the importance of mindful living and taking responsibility for your thoughts and actions.

Staying Sober at Design for Recovery

Design for Recovery is a sober living home for men located in West Los Angeles. Design for Recovery offers a structured, safe environment to become more secure in your sobriety. Residents work hard daily to develop new skills, values, and coping mechanisms for approaching life in early recovery. During this process, residents develop close friendships with their peers and become connected with the Los Angeles recovery community. At Design for Recovery, we believe that addiction recovery involves more than just physically abstaining from substances — it involves building a new way of life. 

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