Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is AA a cult?

Alcoholics Anonymous holds a heavily veiled influence over the general population. Criminal courts readily mandate offenders to attend AA. Treatment centres across the continent and abroad ship their clients to 12 step groups en masse. Celebrities swear by it. When devoted members step forward and sing AA's praises, society is largely sold on it. AA issued pamphlets like "Is AA for you?" and "It sure beats sitting in a cell." push the propaganda into the mainstream. But much of what society perceives about AA is severely lacking. If it weren't, then there would be no reason for blogs such as this, which thankfully are growing in numbers while AA's membership is entering a historical decline.

I'm not of the view that Bill Wilson necessarily had in mind for his brainchild a dictatorship driven by madness, but it's safe to say that he had a large ego and like his co-founder friend Dr. Bob, was heavily biased toward hard line religious tenets which both he and Bob found in the fanatical Oxford Group. Bill removed all original references to a christian god from the early drafts of AA's literature in order to build the membership numbers. It was a business move; a bait and switch. Don't disenchant people with religious zeal; let the alkys get their foot in the door first, then lay the heavy stuff down when a level of conditioning can be achieved. Dr. Bob took things to the extent of forcing newcomers to get on their knees in front of him to surrender to god. This act in itself trumped even the extreme behaviour of the Oxford Christian movement.

So is Alcoholics Anonymous a cult? Is it harmful to its members?

Throughout this post are many quotes taken from AA literature, most of them penned by Bill himself.

Some common cult characteristics...


Every cult has a purpose that is held up to be revolutionary and divinely inspired, even when logical, reasonable thought brings the protocol into question. Bill Wilson made no bones about the fact that he had found the answer to the crisis of alcoholism-the only real answer. He occasionally side-stepped his own convictions in his "Big Book" by humbly claiming to not have all of the answers, but the deeper the reader journeys into the book, the more he or she realizes that AA is an absolute, not a suggestion. Bill's 12-step dogma has actually been proven to be emotionally damaging to most people who apply it to themselves, yet the AA wheels turn, 75 years later, in complete obedience to Bill's doctrine. While he does make a small allowance in his book for alternative thoughts on recovery, that allowance is put in a very weak light:

"If he (the prospective member) thinks he can do the job in some other way, or prefers some other spiritual approach, encourage him to follow his conscience." (give him enough rope to hopefully hang himself and see things our way.)

A few lines down from that, we read:

"If you leave such a person alone he may soon become convinced that he cannot recover by himself."

The below passage cements Bill's true mindset, and the resulting attitude within AA. In this passage, he quickly dismisses the notion that any alternative to AA will actually work.

"Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of be­ing honest with themselves. There are such unfortu­nates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasp­ing and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty." 

Here, Bill declared AA to be the absolute solution. This is a cult characteristic. Loyalty to any cult can only be extracted by claims of perfection. In what was his typical fashion of being intolerant of opposing ideas, he deflected any suspected glitches in his program by stating that if one could not accept it at face value, it was simply a matter of the individual not possessing "rigorous honesty". Furthermore, he added to that the insult that such people were sadly "born that way".

That's odd; in the same book, Bill told us that AA was merely a suggested program of recovery, and that surely he didn't have all of the answers to the mystery of alcoholism.


"If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it—then you are ready to take certain steps." 

The absolute requirement- you must be willing to "go any length" with no room to bargain. This is typical of cults. Without unwavering loyalty, the society cannot survive and regenerate. When you accept your role, you're handed the program and all of its disciples. You're one of the "family". 


Most cults strive to grow. Power is in numbers. The higher the numbers, the easier it becomes to hold sway over the general population. Bill charged all disciples with the task of going out into society and seeking out new believers.

"Continue to speak of alcoholism as an illness, a fatal malady. Talk about the conditions of body and mind which accompany it...explain that many are doomed who never realize their predicament."

"Many are doomed who never realize their predicament" Classic baiting; hell fire awaits you. You may not even know the severity of your plight. It's a good thing AA stopped by.

"Do not be discouraged if your prospect does not re­spond at once. Search out another alcoholic and try again. You are sure to find someone desperate enough to accept with eagerness what you offer."

"The more hopeless he feels, the better. He will be more likely to follow your suggestions."

The art of cult recruiting: hand someone a personal dilemna; convince them that they are in crisis then offer them the solution.

Many fanatical groups, such as the Jehova's Witnesses and The Mormons, will go door to door with literature, fishing for new blood. When people reject their offer of salvation, they're branded as unbelievers and sinners. AA goes to hospitals, prisons and detox centers with equal vigour. AA takes out radio time and press space. When potential members reject their offer of salvation, they're branded as unbelievers and sinners. AA claims that its program is based on "attraction rather than promotion." Nothing is further from the truth.

Repetitive phrasing/chanting

In any cult or dictatorship, very simple key ideas are repeated often. When they are ingrained in the followers, they become truth. This is a proven propaganda tactic down through history. Bill Wilson didn't likely draft too many of the slogans that AA has adopted, but nonetheless, these words hold lethal power in AA.

Some of the most common AA slogans and sayings...

K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid...don't question things. Accept the doctrine...stupid.

Keep coming back...you can't succeed apart from AA.

Hang with the winners...don't link yourself to those who don't fall in line with the program.

One drink, one drunk...you have a terminal disease. You must fear alcohol.

First things first...the program comes first. Family, career and personal goals can wait.

Jails, institutions or death...your only alternatives to AA.

Powerlessness is empowering...double-speak. Nonsense. A reminder that your inner will is not acceptable.

Defeat is victory...more mind control.

The door is always open...you'll eventually see that you're wrong for leaving.

We'll gladly refund your misery...misery is all you'll experience if you leave AA.

On top of that, AA's "preamble" is commonly read aloud to open the meeting. The preamble contains that whole rambling about rigorous honesty, as well as a three point conclusion on the condition of the alcoholic, one of those points being: "we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives." 
(Remember that you're helpless; AA will manage your life for you.)

To close most AA meetings, the Lord's Prayer is said aloud in unison, usually with members all holding hands. But AA swears that it is not a religious body.

Not accountable

Cults are not accountable to any form of authority. This is to ensure that the actions of the group remain free from outside influence or scrutiny.

"With respect to its own affairs, each AA group should be responsible to no authority other than its own conscience."  AA has very little collective conscience. Much is done and said within the groups in the name of god...things that are often outright heartless.

"The General Service Board has no authority, legal or otherwise, to control or direct the behavior of AA members and groups."

The latter of those two quotes has opened the floodgates to all out abuse within AA groups. Women are often targeted for sexual purposes. Many groups isolate their members from outside influences, via constant telephone contact, home visits and insistence on faithful, often unreasonable amounts of attendance at meetings. AA "clubhouses" have spawned like weeds, turning tidy profits on recovery by running lotteries, bingos, selling food and charging membership fees. They neatly tuck the 12 steps into their agenda as a supposed afterthought; it's only a coincidence that an AA meeting, which is non-profit by rule, is held at the clubhouse. These clubhouses operate tax free under the guise of "charitable" foundations, using AA as a guise. So much for a "spiritual" way of life!

Instilling guilt/ commanding obedience

"Some of us have tried to hold onto our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely." 
Surrender your free thought

"Half measures availed us nothing."
If the program isn't working for you, it's your fault. Again, this is Bill deflecting responsibility. His program is perfect.

"As the Oxford Group before them, Alcoholics Anonymous uses guilt to bring about conversion to membership. Alcoholics Anonymous has the added benefit of manipulation through fear. With these tools at its disposal, indoctrination proceeds. This is all to get a person with a drinking problem to join what has been called, and AAs own statistics back up, “a society of slippers.”"
From the Book "A critical analysis of Alcoholics Anonymous and the twelve steps" by Ken Ragge

"Admit your faults to Him (God) and your fellows"

"When you're ready for help again, we'll be here." 

That last quote came from a 12-step "friend" of mine, when I left AA for good after 25 years. I'd forged many close ties in AA over the years, but they were all severed when I left the groups, and not by me. This is par for the course. Members will not be unequally yoked. You are inferior if you reject their way of life. Furthermore, when a person leaves the program, the undercurrent of insecurity within AA members surfaces, whether they recognize it or not.

Imagine for a moment that you're in an unstable relationship. Someone comes along and questions its validity. You secretly become hostile. You decide to never speak to that person again. Deep down, you too suspect that the relationship is unhealthy, but you refuse to admit it. You refuse to acknowledge that this fear is the source of your reaction. This is the nature of the rejection offered up by hard-line steppers when someone walks away from the fold.

AA defies logical thought. It condemns in members their instinct to question its validity. AA attempts to squash those inner voices within its ranks by labelling such thinking as "self will", "over analyzing" and classic "denial".

Bill Wilson always wore the gentleman's hat and claimed that AA was but a suggested way of life, but his facade is weak. Even his literature contradicts itself blatantly. Anyone who has spent even a minimal amount of time at the 12-step tables and is truly honest about their experience can attest to AA's unwavering demand for discipleship and submission to its way of life.

Is Alcoholics Anonymous a cult? You decide.