Alcoholics Anonymous Cult... Or Not?

By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited: December 06, 2021 | 4 Sources

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

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 a cult dressed up as an alcoholic support group.

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

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Alcoholics Anonymous Cult?
What Is A Cult Exactly?

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.
Every one of these statements is easily applicable to Alcoholics Anonymous.

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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.

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". 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".

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.

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.

No Other Way

Research has shown time and time again that AA is not an effective treatment program. The group, however, continues to disregard any evidence available and even ignores the results of its own surveys, which simply reveals what is already known--that recovery rates are dismal. Yet, 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.

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.

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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

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