Is Alcoholics Anonymous a cult?

Over in this thread several dopers have referred to AA as a cult.

Googling “AA is a cult” brings up several web sites which argue that AA is a cult.

Here is a good one.

Is there a reason AA isn’t criticized as harshly as Scientology?

It certainly can’t be considered a Christian group. Using a doorknob or some other inanimate object as a “higher power” is heretical as well as idolatry.

AA can’t be considered a medical treatment. We rightfully scorn Christian Scientists who won’t take their child to the doctor. We ridicule anti-vaccine nuts as well. Praying to a doorknob higher power to cure your “disease” can’t be considered a valid medical practice.

Thus, AA is a cult. You can’t leave. You’re worthless without the group. Repeat the sayings, over and over. There is only one way. The more times you visit the group, the better you “treat” yourself.

I have sat through too many open AA meetings and I think I can safely say, if it walks like a cult, talks like a cult, then it is a cult.

I don’t have any experience with alcoholism or or its treatment, so I won’t presume to offer an informed opinion, but is there any medical alternative to AA? To put it bluntly - does anything else work?

I know it doesn’t have a 100% success rate, obviously, but then neither do other medical or psychlogical treatment. If AA can offer concrete results, and there’s no better alternative to it, then logics dictate that it’s worth doing, no matter how kooky it may be.

In other words, if AA is a cult, then it’s far more successful than any other cult - or religion - I’ve ever heard of, in terms of actual results. That’s enough of a reason to become a believer.

If you believe AA is a cult, then it is. If you believe it ain’t, then it ain’t. It you have time to worry about if it is or if it ain’t, go out and rake the yard or something. Please understand that by “you” I mean the entire human race in general and not you specifically. I suppose all good Christians should immediately stop attending AA meetings and go back to whatever kept them sober before the found AA.

How many is too many? This statement is quite insulting for someone who finds solace and help with a group such as AA, no?

You went to too many open AA meetings huh? Different ones or the same one? I’m highly suspect of someone who shouts the absolute: "AA is a cult because it walks, talks etc…etc…like a cult".

I would go on, but I’m not 100% sure you’d understand. No offense, but your OP doesn’t speak too highly of your understanding of AA.

I think the definition on Wiki’s pretty good.

“Cult typically refers to a cohesive social group devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture considers outside the mainstream, with a notably positive or negative popular perception.”

AA definatly is a cohesive social group. I think it’s practices are pretty much mainstream. I don’t think AA is seen by many people as being an especially negative thing. So that leave the religious aspects of AA. Here are the 12 steps.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

There is quite a bit of religion there but they are not really out of the mainstream at all.

No I wouldn’t say they are a cult.

Helluva cult. No leaders, no dues, no members roster other than a voluntary phone contact list, one is a member when one decides one is, and can join and quit over and over again, whenever they want. You drank again? We understand. You’re welcome back if you want to come back.

Its steps are suggested only, and people are told that if they have another way that works for them, great, and more power to them. But if one decides that one wants what AA members have, then they are encouraged to take the AA steps.

AA isn’t medical treatment? I thought most doctors looked pretty well on group therapy and support groups of various kinds. While it isn’t treatment administered by a doctor, it can certainly aid recovery.

Personally, I’m of the view that AA is great for those that benefit from it. I’m happy now that there are other approaches as well, since I don’t think recovery is a one-size-fits-all process.

Refraining from consuming alcohol worked pretty well for me.

Not since 1996, when the SCOTUS found that people cannot be ordered to attend AA.

I think “cult” fits. But then I think all churches are cults, the distinction is only made by church goers.

How well AA works is a matter of major debate. Some critics give data and statistics that its success rate is no better than any other treatment program if as good, while AA of course maintains it’s the best. The wiki links to some studies on both sides. (Penn & Teller’s program BULLSH!T! dedicated a program to AA and found it seriously lacking, but they’re hardly an objective or reliable source- I’ve found many errors in their info and logic in other episodes.*)

IANA Substance Abuse Counsellor or anything like (I’m about 6 drinks per year removed from being a teetotaller in fact) but my understanding as a layman is that “mandated treatement” in general doesn’t work well; the cliche that the person has to want help is true. Also, one of the major critiques of AA that is shared even by some of their supporters is that they don’t really distinguish between true alcoholics and people who periodically abuse alcohol (and there is a difference). I don’t know if there’s any way to tell if a person is an actual addict, but to a person who is, say, going through a rough time in their life and is hitting the bottle a lot more than they should, but isn’t actually addicted (may be moving that way, but they’re not there yet).

Some people really can go from wild raging drunks to mostly sober people without actually giving up alcohol (they just reduce the amount they drink a lot) while for others abstinence is the only way they can be responsible. No idea which are more common but would be interested to learn.
*Particularly their segments on environmentalism. I’m hardly a green-freak, but even I know that the fact there are more trees in America now than there were a century ago means nothing as far as the ecosystems that were destroyed, because they’re not the same kind of trees. BULLSH!T makes lots of simplifications like this (and many of them either borrowed from or by John Stossel as you’ll see the same arguments and claims on his show).

Much more eloquent than I. :slight_smile:

I’m fairly certain that would be not only unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause, but that if it happened to you, you could sue the authorities for damages.

Do you have a cite for this happening to someone sometime in the last decade?

ETA: the money quote for those not wanting to read the article:

Okay, but it’s better than nothing. It’s free, and it doesn’t demand that you do anything other than show up. (Even the Hari Krishnas give you something to eat.) Usually courts tell you to do these things because of domestic violence or drunk driving. It doesn’t cost the taxpayer or the person convicted any money. Can you think of anything better? The worst is that you go and just fall asleep. It’s better than jail time, which never makes a person a better citizen, spouse, or driver.

This is a pdf. handed to people ordered to AA by the court. I’ve seen it many times, it happens a lot. Go to the second page and read about the chair person signing a card from the court.

Weeeelllllll, yeah, but …

Alcoholism is an addiction. Depending on how strong the addiction is, “just refraining from consuming alcohol” may be from relatively easy to darn near impossible.

Getting help and support from a group can be very helpful for those whose addiction is stronger.


p.s., I have felt the pull of this addiction – thinking in the morning “I’m not going to drink tonight” but not being able to follow through. Luckily, I opened my eyes soon enough and got terrified enough that I was able to stop drinking myself without AA. (22 years and counting) But I can easily see someone further down that path having enormous difficulties without some kind of support.

Well, that’s an eye-opener.

  1. AA mentions “God,” but doesn’t prescribe to any one particular religion. If they took the word “God” out of their screed, would it then be constitutional?

  2. A judge, if he or she wants to, can order you to do a lot of things besides go to jail. A judge can order you to sit at the beach and look at the ocean for 5 hours a day if he or she wants. She or he can even send a bailiff to make sure you comply.

From the article I cited, I’m almost positive no one is ordered to attend AA meetings. I suspect the card in question is merely to show that someone has fulfilled a court requirement to attend any of a number of court approved treatment options, and that at least one of those options must be secular in nature.

The way I see it is that society might find there is good reason to ensure that some individuals refrain from drinking - habitual drunk drivers, for example. I can’t see why any particular treatment should be mandated, however, or even any treatment at all.

You’re partly correct when you say that AA “doesn’t demand you do anything other than show up” - in fact, AA doesn’t even demand that, although meeting attendance is strongly encouraged.

Still, the idea is to remain sober, and on that score, we’re on our own. No-one else prevents us from picking up a bottle and consuming it. AA or otherwise, this is a fight we all have to win for ourselves.

That’s why I found it superfluous: once I’d stopped drinking, I had no need of daily meetings where the main activity is to talk about booze. But some folks say it helps them, so OK.

I don’t see it as a cult, though some aspects concern me. The “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” thing, for example - although no-one can give any useful definition of the word “alcoholic”. Sampiro somewhat alludes to this upthread. Many people object to Step 1, the declaration of “powerlessness” - I certainly do. It was the fact that I knew I was not powerless that led me to take steps to quit.

There seems, to my mind, to be a lot of unnecessary self-abasement involved in the Steps. There are also some weird mind traps which, to be fair, many AAers don’t take seriously. I’m thinking of ideas like the “dry drunk”, which pretty much means any sober person who doesn’t attend AA. There are also “interventions”, a disgusting concept.

In the last few years, I’ve met many sober folks, both in and (like me) outside of AA. As with any group, I’ve met a few raging loons in AA, something that isn’t too surprising for a group made up of alcohol abusers. But I’ve also met many sensible, grounded people. The sensible people, when they hear I’m not AA, usually wish me all the best. The loons call me a Satanic dry-drunk who’ll be dead in a gutter by the time I’m 40. Strikes me that plenty of other groups of individuals, drunks or not, would have the same spread of opinion.

Yes, its the religious nature of AA that makes coerced attendance unconstitional. Also note that neither side in the case (pdf of the decision here) contested that AA was a religious organization or that forced attendance broke the Establishment clause.

They can force you to sit on a bench, but not on a pew.