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Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Cult?

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Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Cult?

When I think of cults, I picture the Manson Family. But there are other people who picture Alcoholics Anonymous.


AA is the backbone of so many recovery stories. The 12 Step program has helped countless people get and stay clean and sober. However, the fellowship still rubs some people the wrong way. There are many who are quick to point fingers and shout that AA is nothing but a religious cult, brainwashing addicts into being perfect puzzle pieces of the AA lifestyle. Well, I am here to tell you that AA is not a religious cult for those who participate appropriately.

What is a Cult?

The main reason people mistakenly label AA as a cult is because they’re not entirely sure what a cult is. Sure, we picture the Manson Family or the Branch Davidians, but why?

Cult: noun; a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object

While cults weren’t always seen as antagonistic, today’s society connotes the word negatively. The extreme devotion that cult members dedicate to their respective figures, objects, or goals is seen as detrimental to the members and to society as a whole.

Now Let’s Look at AA…

cultAlcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship devoted to helping alcoholics stay sober. Membership is free and the only requirement is that members have a desire to stop drinking. AA doesn’t enforce the devotion to a certain idol. However, the 12 Steps that are the backbone to AA’s program ask that participants surrender to a higher power. Members attend meetings in their local area, share stories, and help sponsor other recovering addicts.

The success rates of Alcoholics Anonymous are hard to come by, primarily because the program is supposed to be anonymous (hence the title). But there are also so many active factors that affect addiction and recovery, such as relapse, level of function, and resulting illnesses. These factors all convolute success rates. However, everyone’s life is individual. So, if AA helps you recover from alcoholism, that’s the only success that really matters.

Despite AA’s effectiveness, people have recently been withdrawing their belief and support for the program. The most prominent claim is that AA is a religious cult that doesn’t actually work.

Reasons People Might See AA as a Cult:

Belief in a higher power

Step 2 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” The rest of the steps go on to label that higher power as God. This is the first red flag for many AA non-supporters.

  • Debunked: The steps may use God as their representation of a higher power, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to. Yes, God is the most traditional higher power. But AA only asks that you acknowledge that a higher power exists and has a role in your life. That can be God, science, reason, the goodness of humanity, spirituality, etc. You don’t have to believe in God for AA to work for you. You just need to be able to define what your higher power is to yourself.

Addiction substitution

Some people look at AA members and claim that they’re giving up their addiction to alcohol for an addiction to the AA lifestyle. They have to follow steps, go to meetings, and uphold certain traditions.

  • Debunked: Yes, members of AA do follow the 12 Steps and uphold the 12 Traditions. But if this has become their whole life, that problem is with the individual, not the program. Recovery should be your top priority, but it doesn’t consume your whole life. In reality, it should work seamlessly into your daily activities and beliefs. The steps, traditions, and meetings are just support tools to help that happen.

“Only addicts can help addicts”

From the outside, it seems that AA doesn’t welcome the support or opinions of other people. They encourage recovering addicts to find another recovering addict to be their sponsor as well as sponsor others when they’re ready. While this isn’t explicitly stated as a membership requirement, it can give off the vibe that outsiders are inferior.

  • Debunked: For the most part, AA holds open-mindedness over most other things. They also encourage anonymity so that judgment won’t happen. However, AA recognizes that recovering addicts need empathetic support. Support from loved ones, medical professionals, and treatment facilities are also important. But it’s crucial that addicts realize they’re not alone in their struggle. That’s why closed meetings exist. However, AA also holds open meetings, which are open to alcoholics, other addicts, normies, and loved ones. It is not an exclusive, secret society.

If you’ve had a bad experience with AA, whether you’re an alcoholic in a closed meeting or a loved one looking in from the outside, it’s likely specific to that one meeting or the telephone-game stories of non-supporters. I would suggest giving AA another chance or at least accepting (without judgment) that it can help others.

When it comes down to it, we need to stay open-minded. AA is not a cult but rather a fellowship that has helped many people maintain their sobriety and better their lives – at no expense to others, might I add. Now, the Manson Family and their nightmare-ish Helter Skelter prophesy… that’s a cult.

Whether or not you decide to go on to find fellowship through AA, the first step to recovery is seeking help. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, call us at 855-737-7363 or reach out to us on our live chat. We want to help.

Posted in Addiction, Alcoholism, For Loved Ones, Recovery