AA as a Cult
Alcoholics Anonymous is an organization that aims to guide individuals who are struggling with alcohol addiction through their path to sobriety. The program has been around since the 1940′s and is one of the most well known treatment programs for alcoholism. The key element of the program is the 12 Step approach that aims to work members through a set list of stages to help them overcome alcoholism and maintain sobriety. Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, works essentially as a self-supporting group where members share their stories and get support and guidance from other members.
Alcoholics Anonymous has been described as a cult by many critics who believe that the organization hides the true purpose of the group as being religiously affiliated. They also insist that it fails to recognize scientifically and medically proven treatments for alcoholism and does not allow meaningful discussions or criticisms of the work that they do. Additionally, some of the key elements of the organization do not allow individuals to get medical or psychiatric help for their disease and move on with their lives. One of the key mantra’s of Alcoholics Anonymous is that if a person is an alcoholic, they will always be an alcoholic. The organization believes that the 12 Step program is the only way for an alcoholic to become sober and maintain abstinence.
What is a Cult?
A cult is defined as a group of people who have divine faith in a person, belief, object or movement. What separates a cult from recognized religious organizations is that the term used in reference to a group or organization with practices and beliefs that are considered abnormal or bizarre.
Cults serve diverse purposes for individuals, including a positive sense of community with defined values. Cults offer acceptance, unconditional love and support as well as a strong sense of family within the group. For those who have been through a difficult life filled with harm, sadness and abuse, these organizations can be everything that they had hoped and dreamed of. A key element of a cult is the presence of mind control or coercive persuasion that is used to recruit and maintain members. Individuals are taught to not critically think, reason or make their own choices in life. Those who criticize or question the movement or beliefs of the cult are scorned and degraded, often being forced to conform or leave. In some groups, isolation is a significant element of the cult, with information from outside sources including friends and family members being criticized and discredited as untrue or without evidence.
Criticisms of AA
AA has been criticized by many individuals and groups who believe that the work of AA, although beneficial for some, is not a one-stop-fix for all alcoholics. They believe that when used in conjunction of other programs such as medical treatments and formal one-on-one psychotherapy, alcoholism can be overcome. Some critics believe that AA is simply the replacement of one addiction with another and members become trapped and obsessed in the cycle of AA meetings and literature. Additionally, AA is known to condemn those who do not follow the teachings to failure.
AA members are expected to go through 90 meetings in 90 days as a form of baptism from alcoholism. It is believed that only after these 90 days that a person is truly on the correct path to sobriety and can forget the past and move on to the future. However, 90 days of meetings with other AA members does little to cure or resolve the underlying cause of the drinking and does not develop skills for the person to be able to exist without support in the real world.
Abstinence is the only way that a person can overcome alcoholism according to AA. Those who have moderate drinking problems are grouped in with chronic alcoholics and all have to achieve the same goal. This is against the many other, scientifically and medically proven theories of alcoholism that acknowledge several different types of alcoholics who all drink in different ways and who benefit from different treatments. Those who have alcohol dependency and drink too much in social settings, for example, will benefit from learning skills to reduce their anxieties and recognize their triggers. These people are able to drink moderate amounts of alcohol without harm.
A key element of AA is the presence and acceptance of a higher power. The spiritual aspect of AA is identified as central to achieving and maintaining sobriety. If a person is truly to overcome their alcohol problems, they have to have faith in a higher power and allow God to lead them on the path of sobriety. Critics deem that this step is not essential in overcoming alcoholism and show that many can remain sober without turning to a higher power. Self-confidence, self-esteem, balanced living and a strong support network are all aspects that can give a person the strength and resolve to be sober.
The Big Book of AA
The Big Book is the informal title for the Alcoholics Anonymous book that is the basis of the 12 Step Program. The book was primarily written by AA founder, Bill Wilson, and has been in circulation since 1939. The book is over 400 pages long and contains many stories of success, inspiration and failures. The book aims to help recovering alcoholics see that the path to sobriety is possible with the support of AA and through spiritual awakening.
The heart of the Big Book is the concept of the 12 Steps. AA followers believe that freedom from addiction and the ability to build a healthy and successful life beyond alcohol are only possible through these 12 Steps. Addiction is only actually mentioned in the first step, and the rest of the steps are devoted to self-improvement. The individual is asked to willingly develop a new more spiritual way of living; a path that involves humility and an acceptance of whatever happens in life. Members are asked to become more conscious of their higher power and to allow this to guide their life. They are also asked to develop a willingness to make amends for any wrong they have done in the past.
The 12 Steps as outlined in the Big Book are as follows:
- Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Step 2 – We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Step 3 – We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Step 4 – We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Step 5 – We admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Step 6 – We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Step 7 – We humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Step 8 – We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Step 9 – We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
- Step 10 – We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Step 11 – We 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.
- Step 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.
Critics of the big book compare its text to the religious texts of other cults. It represents stories, lessons and guidelines for people who are overcoming alcoholism in a simple way. It provides stories to explain the faults of non-believers and shame those who have chosen other paths of recovery.