Is AA a Cult or A Truly Remarkable Therapy Group?

Medically Reviewed By Nicole Arzt| Last Edited : February 02, 
| 4 Sources

Alcoholics Anonymous Cult
Is Alcoholics Anonymous a beneficial and effective support group for alcoholism, or is there something more sinister going on?

People who have been asking, "is AA a cult?" have began to raise doubts among those who want to give Alcoholics Anonymous a try. There is no doubt that Alcoholics Anonymous has helped some alcoholics (but not as many as you may have been led to believe) turn their lives around. This fact alone is enough to commend them. Yet, there are those who claim that AA is nothing more than Alcoholics Anonymous cult, dressed up as an alcoholic support group.

This cult assumption comes from the belief that AA may impose extreme beliefs onto people. Because AA tends to enforce strict guidelines about what members can and cannot do, some people are quick to assume their behavior is cultish. Additionally, some experts present concerns about how, at times, AA defies common evidence-based treatment approaches, like harm reduction or medication-assisted treatment. 

This page examines AA in light of these claims by identifying the elements common to Alcoholics Anonymous cult.

Alcoholics Anonymous Cult?
What Is A Cult Exactly?

Cults aren’t always straightforward or obvious, which explains why many people become consumed by them. It can be challenging to understand the key warning signs. 

With that in mind, a comprehensive definition of a cult generally includes several premises:

  • Individuals are deliberately placed in distressing situations
  • Potential members are usually recipients of effusive and emphasized attention from other members
  • Vulnerable new members have immediate access to a new identity provided by the group
  • New members are isolated from family and friends and the only information they receive is provided by the group
  • Problems that bring new members to the group are simplified; one solution is offered (the groups' belief system) for these problems and is constantly reiterated.
Cults also tend to systemically create a sense of psychological dependency. In other words, the group reinforces you to need them. They may indoctrinate you with rigid ideas that you can’t succeed without their support. In trying to convey this message, they may evoke ongoing psychological harm to various members and their community.  

Depending on how you interpret it, every one of these statements can be easily applicable to Alcoholics Anonymous..

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Why You Might Want To Look For Another Way"

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Alcoholics Anonymous Cult
AA Resembles a Religious Cult

As a group which does not tolerate any kind of individuality or freedom of thought, AA exhibits characteristics of religious affiliations which have been called "cults" because of the emotional and cognitive harm they do to their members.

Let’s explore some of the major concerns. 

No Thinking Allowed

Individuals attending AA meetings who express skepticism towards the group's principles say they have immediately been charged and lambasted by diehard members who spout such cultish maxims as "utilize, don't analyze" or "fake it until you make it". Even if they express concern about the validity of a certain statement, they may be shamed or ridiculed. Some might accuse them of not being “ready” for making a change. 

In other words, they are instructing new members in a subliminal way to accept AA's belief system without questioning it and eventually, they'll "get it". Members reinforce one another for accepting the status quo- those who ask questions tend to be disregarded or criticized for being too challenging. This can be a negative cycle- you may have concerns, but you feel scared to voice them, causing you to withdraw from others altoogether. 

It is chillingly similar to a popular slogan from Reverend Moon's cult group which said "You think too much." Thinking for yourself is not permitted in a cult and it is not permitted in AA, either.

Extreme Dogmatism

Dogmatism is another factor in identifying a cult.

While AA's 12 steps are supposed to be "suggestions", they are perceived by members as being just as important as the Ten Commandments are to an evangelical Christian. Many members believe everyone needs to take these suggestions literally if they want to achieve sustainable change.

Questioning the usefulness of shame, guilt, humility and faith in a higher power in alcohol recovery is strictly prohibited. AA has been accused of extreme dogmatism by those who have wanted to try their program.

Those who cannot accept the almost remorseless rigidity of their 12 steps have themselves been blamed for refusing to join AA, they are told they have a "character defect" which prevents them from giving themselves totally to the program.

Additionally, members are adamant about needing to surrender and give their lives to a Higher Power. They use the term, God, although most members agree it can be a “god of your understanding.” That said, if you do not subscribe to the notion of a higher power, you are often called out for being defiant, “in self-will,” or unwilling to change. 

No Other Way

In general, addiction recovery statistics tend to be grim. Research shows that recovery represents a lifelong process, and that relapse can be a common experience for most people. 

But recovery is multifaceted. In fact, most research suggests that individuals need a combination of clinical approaches to stay sober. These approaches may include AA, but they also tend to entail formal treatment, psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle changes, and peer support.

Unfortunately, AA often disregards additional evidence about sobriety. Many times, they  continue to preach that their way is the only way to recover from alcoholism.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a three year success rate of 5% - in other words only 5% of those in AA remain sober for three years. That is pretty dismal.

Obviously, possible alternatives deviating from norms do not exist in cults, nor do they exist in AA.

Alcoholics Anonymous Cult
There Are Other Ways

Contrary to what Alcoholics Anonymous would have you believe. there are plenty of other groups/methods/therapies and medication that can assist an alcohol dependent in quitting drinking. You have probably not heard of them because AA has drowned them out.

Most of all, it’s important that you find a strategy that works for you. Some people experience great success in AA. They enjoy the fellowship and the structure within these groups. Others benefit from a different method altogether. 

Below you can find a list of links to other pages on this site that look at these alternatives in more depth:

  • Alcoholism cure. Those in AA laugh at the idea of a cure for alcoholism, they might not be laughing for long.
  • Medication for alcoholism. AA frowns upon the use of medication, however, there are pills that can assist alcoholics in recovery.
  • AA Alternatives. There are support groups/alcoholic rehabs out there that do not subscribe to the 12 step way.
  • Holistic Alcohol Treatment. Alternative therapies have a place in the treatment of alcohol dependency.

There are Other Ways to Beat Alcoholism!

If Alcoholics Anonymous isn’t working for you, don’t worry! There are many other treatment options to help you recover! Contact a dedicated treatment provider today!

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


Medication-Assisted Treatment provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

What is a cult provided by Cult Recover:

I was a Moonie cult leader provided by The Guardian:

Pathways to Long-Term Recovery: A Preliminary Investigation provided by the Us National Library of Medicine:

Return From Alcoholics Anonymous Cult To The AA Way 

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