Claiming that an organization that has unquestionably improved and saved innumerable lives is in any way a cult – a word with harshly derogatory connotations – will predictably stir up quite a bit of controversy amongst its members. Therefore, I will avoid stating outright that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult; partially to avoid a wholly negative reception, and partially because I do not believe that it entirely is. I will assert, however, the approach and practices claimed by the vast majority of AA groups indefinitely provide the ground in which cult-like behavior can flourish with absolute impunity.
In my personal experience and opinion, AA has most of the ingredients necessary to formulate a fully functioning cult, lacking several components that elevate iffy groups of mentally ill individuals into Kool-Aid guzzling maniacs. I have never been in attendance at any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in which members listen honestly and open-mindedly to the voices of those who may seriously question the 12-step approach and are open to taking alternative suggestions as to how people can best help themselves.
Is AA Super Culty?
I did some serious research on what specifically differentiates a cult from a widespread and invariable organization, and AA happened to share nearly half of the “cult guidelines” with other less productive and accepted assemblages.
Cult-Like Aspects of AA:
- An individual can’t make it without the group
- Dependence on the group
Meeting makers make it.
- Black & white thinking
To drink is to die.
- Death to someone who leaves the group
Many don’t make it back.
- Work long hours for free
Service work keeps you sober.
- Promised powers of knowledge
- The guru is always right
Bill W. – the guru of Alcoholics Anonymous.
- You are always wrong
First thought wrong.
- No exit
You can leave… but you will likely drink and die.
- No graduates
Once you are a member, you are a member for life.
- Suspension of disbelief
Do you believe that I believe?
- Use of guilt to manipulate members
Don’t steal from the program – sponsor a newcomer.
- Appeals to “holy” or “wise” authorities
Bill W., again – more than an excellent creative writer?
- Instant community
Immediate sense of welcome, love, and family.
- Instant intimacy
Those who pray together, stay together.
- Surrender to the group
We need each other.
- Starry-eyed faith
It works if you work it.
- Personal testimonies of earlier converts
- Thought-terminating clichés and slogans
Keep coming back.
- Sense of powerlessness created
You cannot do it on your own.
- Don’t trust your own mind or feelings
You don’t know anything about anything.
Despite all of these blaringly obvious similarities between AA and a fully diagnosable cult, it is still hard for me to attach any negative connotations to the program in general. Alcoholics Anonymous has helped thousands of men and women across the globe, leading me to believe that even if it is a little cultish, it really doesn’t matter as long as things persist in the manner they have been.
Many AA members will deny vehemently to the oblivious outside that the program is a cult, arguing that it saves lives. But mind-control seems to be a key component of the program, an opinion that has been bolstered every time I am introduced to a stranger and the first thing they ask me, with no hesitation is, “How much time do you have?” Pretty drone-like. Well, hey, maybe Alcoholics Anonymous is simply America’s largest and most successful cult, and if it’s helping Uncle Randy stay off the booze and keeping Heroin Heidi off of the streets who really gives a shit. As long as group members keep the primary purpose in mind and avoid detrimental, discriminatory or narrow-minded behaviors, there is no true danger in what has quickly become the largest quasi-cult in the world.