Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a fellowship group which has helped countless people break away from alcohol abuse by supporting each other through common experiences. The group has many prominent supporters in the recovery community, but has been stigmatised as being a ‘cult’ due to its religious roots.
What is a Cult?
The word ‘cult’ was originally used to refer to groups of people who worshipped a deity. As the AA was originally founded on religious practices, some people think there is a connection. However, cults display the following characteristics, which the AA does not:
- unquestioning devotion to a leader
- members of the group develop an ‘us versus them’ mentality (they begin to believe that people outside of their group are dangerous)
- those who belong to the group are expected to avoid individuals who are not part of this group unless they are trying to convert them
- members believe that there can be no real life outside of the group
- the leader has free will, as there is no higher authority to keep them accountable
- the members of the cult are able to justify unethical behaviour because they believe it is for the good of the group
- brainwashing techniques such as sleep deprivation and ‘love bombing’ are often used to recruit new members
- the leader may use guilt and shame to control the members of the cult
- a good deal of time may be devoted to raising money for the group and recruiting new members
- questioning the leader or having doubts about the teachings are strongly discouraged; such behaviour may even be punished
Evidence that Alcoholics Anonymous is not a Cult
While some people take their AA meetings very seriously in order to remain in successful recovery from alcoholism, the meetings don’t share any of the characteristics of a cult. Not only is there no obligation to be there, there is no leader.
People have criticised the group, as some members try to portray AA as the only real solution to alcoholism. Members are encouraged to spend time with other attendees and it is usual to hear members predicting relapse for anyone who leaves the group. The reason for this is addiction is an isolating illness, and without the support of others that understand what you are going through, it can be difficult to control cravings. The group is also based on following certain steps in ‘the big book’, to connect with your behaviour and promote healthy ways of coping with trauma, which some people aren’t ready for.
Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Cult?
While members of AA that can be passionate in their promotion of the fellowship, it is very misleading to describe the group as a cult. There is no obligation to believe in anything or do anything; the programme is based on suggestions of what has worked for other people. It is also possible to openly challenge the teachings of AA at the meetings, which is a frequent occurrence. The fact that this fellowship has such a high turnover of members also makes it an unlikely candidate for any type of brainwashing cult.