AA and other 12-step programs. Opinion on being called a cult

I don’t think it warrants being called a cult. I didn’t join AA to be controlled. And I didn’t join AA necessarily with the desire to be told what to do. Mainly I joined to kick my habit and I wanted for someone to tell me HOW to do it. Sure, later they told me to follow some simple steps and some simple principles. I have been slacking on my meeting attendance. But I have not given up. It’s funny about the cult thing. I got serious in AA in 1990. AA has been around since the 30’s (40’s ?). I didn’t hear the word “cult” used to describe it until a few years ago. Now you hear it occasionally. Why did it take more than 70 years for it to be called a cult? Did it sail along for 70 years and then overnight it was deemed a cult? That;‘s what it seems like. The program is basically the same as 70’ years ago. Now it’s kind of trendy to label it a cult. Why? I don’t know. Disgruntled people who it didn’t work for? People who don’t have the discipline to follow simple rules? People who like to jump on the bandwagon of denouncing it? People who don’t really know a lot about the program? I don’t know. In 24 years it never crossed my mind that it may be a cult. And I’m not stupid. No one forced me to do anything.I could come and go as I please. I can leave any time with no fear of repercussions. I can go to a meeting every day or I can go for once a month. Donations are voluntary.They don’t want sex from me, they don’t want all my money. They don’t brainwash kids.They don’t isolate their members and try to run the members lives. They have no real power over anyone.It doesn’t have a charismatic leader that everybody looks up to. There’s no Reverend Moon, no Jim Jones. Atheists and Agnostics are as welcome in the program as anyone else. I can pick which meetings to attend, if I don’t like one meeting or the people in the meeting than I can go to another meeting somewhere else. Everybody is entitled to their opinion but I would hate to see some poor, needy, suffering addict or alcoholic who can’t afford rehab but is scared away from AA, CA, or NA by all the cult talk and misses out on his chance for recovery.


I attended AA when I stopped drinking. I was in a really bad shape. It was so peaceful to be there at the meetings. I od:d once, ended up in ER. Got out in the evening and my sponsor took me straight to a meeting. Noone said anything bad to me. I was welcome there in any shape. I was not allowed to share my story because I had done drugs. But I joined the group and felt accepted and forgiven.

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First time I hear the AA, and Google result yields as “Alcoholic Anonymous”. Totally new to his. Not available in my country (most probably).

Yes, it’s Alcoholics Anonymous I’m talking about and I know it is in many countries around the world. It may be in your country, I don’t know.

I have looked it up at (Find A.A. Near You) locator — It has set up bases in my neighboring countries (Thailand-north, Singapore-south, Indonesia-west&southeast) but not in my country. Muslims form the nation’s 3 out of 5 population(if not mistaken) and they are prohibited to consume alcoholic beverages. So it has no (cult or not) issue in my country.

AA is not a cult. It is single mindedly devoted to the purpose of helping people quit drinking if they want to. AA has no opinion on other issues. It is part of 12 step dogma that a person has to put faith in a higher power as he understands it in order to recover. There is no stipulation as to the nature of the higher power the person must believe in.


AA has had amazing success - so much so that many other programs directed towards other addictive behaviours have been modelled on it. Where there’s success, there’s also criticism by people who are uneducated as to what a cult actually is - they use the term flippantly.

I’m a big believer in ‘whatever works, works’ - alcoholism is a pesky disease, many people don’t get out of its grips so to have a relatively inexpensive, member-run program that has a proven track record and provides members with a non-judgemental, safe and pressure-free environment is a pretty great thing.


Muslims form even more of a majority in Iran in which I’ve read that alcoholism is rather rampant. Perhaps some form of AA could be of use in these countries. Prohibited or not people still do it.

Yes, I agree with that, people might be doing it unchecked.

Because the structure of these are very similar to AA.

It is a common complaint (although not cult talk) but comes down to a lot of the recovery programs are funded by church groups. The religious side isn’t always pushed but I agree it is very prominent. Be nice to see some bigger name organisation get involved and remove the religious equation from recovery.

Are you including AA? Because I believe it runs itself through a World Office and has no affiliation with organized religion.

I know some call it a cult but I think it’s borderline…It is the aspect ofbeing required to go to meetings and if you don’t they probably think you are slipping…also they encourage you to have a sponsor who will sort of look after you but I have heard a few horror stories about those… they have a Big Book which is sorta like their Bible, and the guys who started it are sometimes revered as prophets even though those guys themselves would have never wanted it that way. i also hear it has really changed since it started and is something different now.
Just having to say “My name is _____ and I’m an alcoholic” smacks of mind control because you are confessing to something you no longer are if you quit drinking… it’s not a disease, its an addiction, like nicotine…do people quit smoking and continue to say they are a smoker or a nicotine addict? No. then why say you are an alcoholic when you have gone through the withdrawals and are sober?
If they claim to base a lot of stuff on the Bible then they should consider the verse…2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

OLD THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY AND ALL THINGS NEW…period… so if people want to keep in bondage by claiming they are alcoholics after years of sobriety, so be it…that’s not what the scriptures tell us to do…

I wouldn’t call it a cult myself, no more than I’d call the dual diagnosis program I went to a cult…okay that place may have been a cult hahaha…

I just find it interesting that Bill didn’t consider his experiments with LSD a relapse while most members of AA now consider taking drugs to be a loss of sobriety. Imagine AA if Bill had gone ahead and recommended it’s use within the program as he was considering…interesting meetings those would have been.

Yes, the meetings are an integral part of the program. The meetings are there for ongoing support. But they serve the same function as groups we schizophrenics might belong to for group therapy, support being the key word. I am wracking my brains but I can’t think of any horror stories about sponsors. I’m not dismissing what you’ve heard but I personally didn’t have problems with mine. I had a good sponsor for about four years and had no problems with him. He guided me through the steps and I could call him any time day or night. Maybe you can LOOSELY compare the Big Book to the bible but there are many key elements that are VERY different than the bible that I think are obvious to anyone who had read or studied it. Bill W and Doctor Bob are well respected and revered in AA history but can you really say they are treated as prophets? They are treated as very human people who a lot of people know they are indebted too. But Prophets? I don’t think they are elevated to that status.Again, if that’s what you’ve experienced than I can’t deny that experience.
Mind control? I don’t see it that way. It’s said in meetings to remind us of our condition. To make the point that once you become an addict or alcoholic that you are one for life. We may be recovering addicts and alcoholics but we will always be addicts and alcoholics nonetheless and we are one drink or hit away from our active disease. Not that we have to live in constant fear that we will relapse, we just have to stay aware that once you cross that line you and you become an addict you can never use successfully again. And announcing ourselves as that reminds us that we have a potentially fatal disease. And it reminds us of where we came from and don’t want to go again. We can let the doctors argue it out if addiction is really a disease. there’s arguments on both sides about that.Who’s right? I will stick with AA because it has worked for me for 24 years and they make convincing arguments to ME that it is a disease. I am naturally prejudice in favor of AA because it works for ME. I don’t take the bible literally.You can quote things out of context or try to apply the bible to addiction but show me in the bible where it says that it deals with the medical model of addiction. I’ll use the oldest arguments there is to refute that claim. The bible is made up of talking snakes, people who live to be seven hundred years old, the practice of stoning adulterers, and promotes incest. Am I going to believe everything in the bible? The answer is no. I don’t think they have the final word on everything. We could argue about the bible and go back and forth about it for a week.But my opinion is that it has good intentions and it has a good message of tolerance, practicing honesty, living morally etc but if you quote the bible as a reason to deny AA’s sucess than we have every different of points of view. Which is OK.

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No one is required to do anything in AA. You don’t have to pay anything, sign anything, commit to anything, etc. I can stop going to meetings whenever I like. I can go to as many meetings as I like. It has never caused me an issue, except insofar as how it affects my own health. Pretty strange to hear an organization that is so adamant about granting as much freedom to the individual as possible called a cult, because that is the complete opposite of how a cult works.

I’m pretty sure I’m still an alcoholic, and believe my condition – or whatever you want to call it – is in remission. There are times when I very badly want a drink. Usually social situations that I have no business being part of. They trigger cravings.

Um, actually, I rarely have a meal and fail to crave a good cigarette. Sadly, I think that will be with me for life. I do smoke a pipe about once a month and I probably shouldn’t as I have horrible cravings for a couple of days following that.

Pretty obvious you haven’t read it and don’t really know much about it, then. Alcoholics Anonymous (originally called ‘The Big Book’ as it was originally printed on thicker paper to make it look bigger and more impressive years back) is up to its fourth edition. The first 164 pages of the book haven’t changed much since the first edition. The individual stories are regularly updated to keep the book in touch with the times. The most controversial change in the fourth edition is the inclusion of the story ‘Tightrope’. It’s about a member struggling with both their alcoholism and gay identity. To say including this story pissed off AA’s Christian friends/members would be something of an understatement.

I personally found the story to be a bit of a turn off, but in AA you ‘take what you need and leave the rest’. If it helps someone else sober up, coolio, but I’ll stick with my third edition that my first sponsor gave me. It’s been doing the job for over twenty years.


I know AA has helped and continues to help those struggling with alcohol abuse. I am not an alcoholic, but I probably would have a difficult time committing myself to a program where they make you acknowledge a ‘higher power’.
Schizophrenics Anonymous does the same thing. For me this comes too close to religion and religious belief.
I chose not to get involved with Schizophrenics Anonymous because of the ‘higher power’ thing. Very much a turn off and trigger for me. Believing in a ‘higher power’ is a very personal choice - I do not want any organization telling me to believe in a ‘higher power’ (God?) I will decide for myself what to believe in or not believe in - Lets leave God and spirituality out of it.
I am sure there are a lot of Atheists who have a hard time with this - (I am not an Atheist by the way)

I’ve had the same Big Book for about twenty years too. And I’ve had The NA Handbook and CA’s basic text called, “Hope, Faith, and Courage” for about 15 years. I am an addict but I got clean in AA and continued to go to AA all throughout my recovery. In 24 years I’ve only had two people complain about an addict attending AA meetings.One guy was an old sourpuss who got mad at me, but later on I made him look bad in a meeting with a rare clever comment. Everybody laughed at him. The other guy was an annoying marine who pissed of other people. He brought up the fact that I was an addict in an AA at a meeting level. I got up to talk after he sat down and I asked if anyone else was bothered by me being there. A lot of people stuck up for me and the marine got up and ate crow and apologized. I don’t want to say I enjoyed making those guys look bad-- But I really did enjoy it…

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