Alcoholics Anonymous:
Of Course It’s a Cult!

by Jack Trimpey

Reprinted from The Journal of Rational Recovery,
Volume 9, Issue 5, May-June, 1997

Used with permission; all rights reserved.

For a number of years, [my wife] Lois and I have been aggressive critics of Alcoholics Anonymous and its recovery group movement because we believe strongly that AA is a primary cause of mass addiction in America. We know that hearing open criticism of the 12-step program is enormously helpful to people who have struggled in recovery group bondage, and we also believe that the recovery group movement is harmful to American society.

It is understandable that we have gained quite a reputation for AA-bashing. Many perceive Lois as a mild-mannered, cheerful person who is much more reserved about attacking the addiction system, and that I am a grumpy old meanie with an ax to grind. Personalities aside, we are equally devoted to the destruction of Alcoholics Anonymous, the recovery group movement it has spawned, and its business arm, the addiction treatment industry.

Oddly, we have not, until now, taken a public position on the much-asked question. In spite of our outspokenness, we avoided the “C”-word, i.e., “cult.” It has seemed needlessly inflammatory to say that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult — until now.

Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? is the title of a book by Chaz Bufe which examines the history, development and current practices of AA with that question in mind. Bufe applies seventeen criteria commonly used to define a cult from an academic viewpoint, but he equivocates, noting that AA does engage in some, but not all, typical cult practices. He concludes that AA is cultish in some ways but does not truly deserve the label, cult.

Academic inquiry into the possible cult identity of Alcoholics Anonymous is just that — academic. Therein lies a chief weakness of the Bufe book. For decades, millions of people have suspected, believed, or known that Alcoholics Anonymous is religious. Anyone can see that it is, yet an entire nation accepted its sophomoric disclaimer, “Not religious, just spiritual.” Recently, however, federal courts have asserted, “AA is unequivocally religious.” They only looked at AA’s doctrinal literature, and unhesitatingly declared what is obvious to anyone. No academicians determined that AA was religious; no academicians are going to divert the river of public cash away from addiction treatment into worthy projects. No academicians will steer the nation away from its unholy union with AA, nor will academicians solve the crisis of runaway, mass addiction.

For the record, here is our position: Of course AA is a cult! AA is not only a religious cult, it is a radical cult, an evil cult, a widespread cult, and a dangerous cult. AA has become an engine of social decay posing as a noble, altruistic fellowship. Its perverse philosophy of sin-disease and deliverance by faith in a heterogeneous deity contradicts the fundamental values of a free society, but is uniquely appealing to people addicted to substance-pleasure. AA is a cancer on the soul of the nation, producing no pain to the populace as it eats away at the foundation of society. Its victims are its members who become grateful to their captors. AA is causing the problem is says it helps. Its 12-step program suggests nothing on how to quit an addiction except to stop trying, and its members love the cult more than any newcomer. Each cult member shares a vision of a better world resulting from propagating the steps — not from the effects of abstinence upon society. The AA cult has infiltrated our federal and state bureaucracies and now nests in every social institution, setting policies that funnel new members into its craw. It expands for its own sake, and cannot change from within. Therefore, it must be destroyed by forthright public education and expose.

Lois and I rarely tell callers that AA is a cult; they tell us that it is. We look through a window into the soul of America, a window that is not available to others. At the national office, telephone calls are continuous every day, many from callers who have been trying to get through for days. It appears that our phone lines are two or three deep with callers at any given time, although we cannot determine how many are attempting to ring in at any moment. The calls are primarily from readers of Rational Recovery: The New Cure for Substance Addiction, calling to say thanks for making the vital information on planned abstinence available to them. For the most part, they are recovered as a result of reading about AVRT [Addictive Voice Recognition Technique], after which they pop out of the trance induced by 12-step and psychological recovery groups.

Here are some telephone snippets from callers all over:

“I knew from the start there was something creepy about those people.” “They aren’t of this world; they’re way out there.” “I kind of got a shiver during one meeting when they were putting one guy down for arguing against the powerless concept.” “When they said my family also was diseased, I knew something was wrong.” “When they started this thing about anything being my Higher Power, it felt wrong, like it was going against something very important inside of me.” “After I stopped going to meetings, no one I knew from the groups would have anything to do with me, even though I wasn’t drinking.” “My brother quit drinking by going to AA, but he’s become so weird. I hardly know him any more, and almost miss the way he was when he was drinking. At least he was sincere, and could talk about something besides himself.” “Our son went to a treatment specialist for drug addiction, and now he says we are satanic child molesters.” “I’ve been telling my husband that the meetings aren’t helping, that he now calls his binges relapses and feels less guilty afterward. He admits he is drinking more and more often, but says relapse is a normal part of recovery. When he goes to meetings after a relapse, though, he feels ashamed and depressed.” “A year after I quit drinking, my wife went to Al-Anon with a friend. Now she won’t communicate with me unless I go to AA.” “The counselors at the treatment center were poorly-educated and acted like robots reciting every word.” “I heard one man say, ‘I pray to God every day that I never get the idea that I can run my own life.’ When I heard this, I felt sick inside because I felt unable to leave the group.”

These comments, and the sometimes lengthy stories they tell us, are convincing anecdotal evidence that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult. AA exudes cultism. It looks like a cult, acts like a cult, and sounds like a cult. It is a cult that has risen meteorically from its origins as a splinter from yet another radical cult, the Oxford Group. They found dark niches in society — our jails, hospitals, and dead-end missions — to pronounce the drunk diseased and beyond the expectation to quit drinking or using. They invented the malleable Higher Power, the alcoholics’ deity-of-convenience, to sanction them and guide them along the cult’s thin ledge of tentative sobriety, and they are directed to constantly seek new members to justify their own cult affiliation.

AA is not a cult because it meets certain objective criteria established by academics; it is a cult because it appears to be one. Social and behavioral scientists do not often make new discoveries, they typically exploit discoveries by quantifying, describing, referencing, and analyzing discoveries made by common people. They know little of the real phenomena about which they expound, each building upon the ignorance of their esteemed colleagues. AA has thrived on account of everyone’s hesitancy to say what it is that they see, i.e., the Emperor’s New Words. Therefore, it is time to call AA a cult, and wait for the academicians to catch up.

To help them, I will apply the seventeen academic criteria of cultism chosen by Bufe, and reach a clear, unequivocal conclusion based on the daily experience of the national office of Rational Recovery:


1. Religious Orientation, Supernatural Beliefs

As predicted in [my 1980s book] The Small Book, the federal courts now refer to AA doctrinal literature, the steps themselves, as “Exhibit A” showing that AA is “unequivocally religious.” AA is intensely religious; what religion would call for 90 meetings in 90 days? What’s going on here? “The Big Book” [AA’s text Alcoholics Anonymous] is regarded as divinely revealed, sacred scripture within the step-cult; all disagreements are settled by citing passages from it. Gaetano Salomone’s extensive, ongoing analysis in JRR [The Journal of Rational Recovery] shows the purely religious identity and origins of AA. One of his unique contributions is his comparison of the surface structure and the deep structure (what you see and what you get) of the 12-step religious conversion program.

Families split apart based on AA membership, just as religious conflict often disrupts family ties. At least one Methodist church has gone belly-up to “those people who meet in the basement,” who arose to conduct Sunday services with a teddy bear affixed over the altar where the image of Christ had been. The Church of Serenity, as they called themselves, worship using a special Bible written for alcoholics.

[A woman] called two days after reading The New Cure, excited that she would never return to AA, of which she said, “Now I know why I always felt uncomfortable at the meetings. They say that the step program is not religious, but spiritual, but they place no value on religious worship whatsoever. They claim to respect all religions, but believe that no religion is adequate to solve problems of alcohol or drug addiction. To me, this means that AA believes itself to be superior to Christianity when addictive ‘disease’ exists within the family. They diagnosed my entire family as codependents or enablers who must enter their plan of salvation, as if they were sick. This was extremely disruptive, but I continued meetings and gradually replaced church connections with the recovery fellowship. Although they claim there is no conflict between churches and the program, in reality it is impossible to maintain both. From AA, I learned to look at God differently from the teachings of my church. After attending step meetings, I was spiritually self-conscious while worshiping at my church, because my perception of Jesus Christ in church was radically different from the Higher Power I was, in effect, worshiping at recovery meetings. I could not express this problem at meetings or at church, but Rational Recovery has reunited me with my religion by showing that drinking is not a disease; it is sin, and AVRT is the nuts and bolts of Christian repentance.”


2. Irrationality, Rigidity, Anti-Intellectualism

To AA believers, AA doctrine must be correct, as it is written. No one may speak of the incoherence of AA doctrine, and group interaction is designed to prevent or contain skepticism. “Your best thinking got you here.” “There’s no one too dumb to get this program, but many are too intelligent.” “Expect a miracle.”


3. A Charismatic Leader

Few would disagree that [AA co-founder] Bill W. has become a folk saint, revered and idolized by the 12-step community. His home has become a shrine, and his personal memorabilia have become sacred artifacts. He is regarded by some as the reincarnation of Christ, guiding the world into the Age of Sobriety, a millennium comparable to the Kingdom of God spoken of in the Bible. AA lifers trace their lineage back to Bill W. through a genealogy of sponsors, and speak with great pride to say, “Bill W. was my sponsor’s great-gransponsor.” Core members of AA are referred to as “Trusted Servants,” despite disclaimers that AA has no leaders. This image-making label endows such individuals with enormous moral authority, for they are, in fact, representing AA’s lineage to Bill W. and ultimately to the Loving God AA obediently serves.


4. A Hierarchical, Authoritarian Structure

While AA appears to the casual observer as a nonprofit corporation that sponsors autonomous, community-level cell groups, it has evolved far beyond that level of organization. Its members, shielded by anonymity and presenting themselves as concerned addictions experts, have infiltrated federal and state bureaucracies, where they manipulate social policies and funding patterns affecting America’s social service system. Hundreds of nonprofit organizations exist purely for the purpose disseminating disease-treatment propaganda and networking within communities to create political support for the 12-step agendas described in AA doctrinal literature. Now in possession of the American social service system, including the prisons and courts, the professional disciplinary and licensing boards, the medicaid and social welfare programs, and the military health care system, AA can be seen as a powerful hierarchy of professional AA’ers employed in positions of social responsibility. AA is a cult which has spread into a bureaucracy, which I call a “cultocracy,” for the lack of a standard word to describe this anomaly. The funding for the AA cultocracy is not from the free-will donations of grateful alcoholics, but taken from each taxpayer by the force of national tax laws. The AA cultocracy enlarges AA’s membership by using the authority of social institutions to force vulnerable people into their recovery groups, where they are indoctrinated under conditions that should interest Amnesty International. The penalty for resisting AA participation may be imprisonment, death from the lack of organ transplant, imprisonment as in parole and early-release policies, loss of social welfare and health care benefits, loss of child custody as in domestic court cases, loss of livelihood as in impaired professional programs, and loss of employment as in employment assistance programs.

It has been known for a long time that persons who test high on authoritarianism relate best to the rigors of the 12-step program and are more likely to become devoted, long-term members. The sponsor system assures social stratification, self-debasement, and gratification of the need for control over others. Beyond this, members achieve status and credibility based on time since last drink, so that someone with five years of sobriety might feel diminished in the presence of someone a decade sober. The result is a core membership of “true believers” whose identities are at one with AA.


5. Submission of the Individual to the “Will of God”

Quitting drinking is not nearly enough to satisfy the demands of the step program. One must accept the god of AA, the Higher Power, as one’s personal savior. Nearly all cults have God-control at the core. Jim Jones, David Koresh, and lately the HeavensGate cult are typical of other cults that have taken what they liked from legitimate religions and left the rest. Cults are usually Godly fellowships interpreting the word of God in a unique fashion, always undermining critical thought and making their members progressively more submissive to the will of God. AA’s emphasis on God-control is total, as one AA’er pathetically demonstrated during a call to RR. He asked, “Does RR think I can lead my life independently?” The answer was, “Yes, if that is want you want.” He said, “Since learning about RR, I pray for only one thing, that I never get that idea in my head. If that ever happens, I’m finished.”


6. Dogmatism, the Ultimate Truth

Reading AA’s central document, “The Big Book,” will show beyond any doubt that AA, despite some polite disclaimers, claims to have the ultimate truth. Anyone who has attempted to argue against AA doctrine during meetings will quickly find out that they are wrong, that the Steps are absolutely true, and to hold opposing beliefs is tantamount to a death sentence. [One person] called to say, “As soon as I told the group I was reading the new RR book, they started rejecting me like I had the plague. It was as if I had betrayed everyone present, or carried the seeds of their destruction.”


7. Separatism

No cult has succeeded in stigmatizing its members to the extent AA has. Even the HeavensGate cult, requiring uniforms and castration, failed to gain the support of the scientific community to support its bizarre concept of a rescuing UFO hidden in the tail of comet Hale-Bopp. AA has hypothesized the existence of a sacred disease, and found substantial support. Neither Ti nor Do, the cult leaders, obtained the sanction of organized religion to support their conceptions of salvation and heaven. When the 39 cult members died of their own actions which were predicted by cult doctrine, they were not seen to be victims of a hypothetical disease, but to a large extent they were seen as victims of a dangerous cult.

It isn’t much of a stretch to imagine a more highly developed and better organized HeavensGate cult, in which a good number of M.D.’s and psychologists had become devout members. (Heaven knows something more bizarre than that has happened in the “addictionology” field.)


8. Exclusivity (The Only Path To Salvation)

Throughout the AA scriptures, there appears to be no direct reference to an afterlife, but there is one higher state of being, akin to heaven or nirvana — serenity. Serenity is achieved by diligent step-study which leads to a spiritual awakening, an ineffable and divinely inspired religious conversion experience. Serenity is the state of personal salvation by faith, and is the highest aspiration within the world of the steps. From serenity comes all that is good, good works, good feelings, goodness itself. Serenity is simply divine, and towers above the religious experience of traditional, hierarchical religions. The general attitude of AA society to traditional religion is snobbish humility, once again reflecting the pervasive, inherent contradictions that permeate AA.


9. Self-Absorption (Primary Focus Is the Cult Itself)

AA lore is replete with injunctions to devote one’s life in every way to the cult itself. One may not take credit for abstinence or relief from despair; the only benefactor is AA or God, and the only proper attitude is gratitude. [The AA book] Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions sets forth Tradition One as, “Our common welfare should come first.” AA presents itself as necessary to life itself: “...without AA we will perish.” Any criticism of the Program or of AA is regarded as heresy that endangers the lives of AA’ers everywhere, and must be silenced by admonitions or mottos. Members dwell upon themselves endlessly, working steps on themselves, and attending [meetings] as part of methodical spiritual growth. Step meetings focus on philosophical minutia, and an endless stream of new books on step-recovery, many [published by] Hazelden, are found in bookstores for the struggling recovering alcoholics.


10. Economic Exploitation

It appears likely that AA has destroyed the economic foundations of more families than addiction itself has. The incestuous relationship of the recovery groups and the treatment centers, where the referral traffic sustains the interests of each, has run up bills that no person or family can pay. Treatment centers have materials for credit applications and mortgage arrangements to pay for the re-admissions of chronic relapsers. If the services were in any way effective, the cost would not be exploitive, but treatment centers are acutely aware that only about five percent of those who come through the turnstiles will remain abstinent for long. Repeat business is the best business in the addiction treatment industry, but claims of “success rates” of 60 to 70 percent are common by the treatment centers.

AA itself has set a suggested limit on how much members can give at meetings (in 1990 it was $500 per year), but in the atmosphere of meetings this is akin to a pledge goal. In just one of AA’s many districts, the amount actually sent to AA, not just dropped in the basket, in 1989 was $11 million.

The economic exploitation denied with, “No one makes a dime on AA.” Not so.


11. Possessiveness (Go To Great Lengths to Retain Members)

Acclaimed libertarian talk-show host, Gene Burns, noted during a program on Rational Recovery in 1990, “AA has a proprietary interest in every living person who drinks too much.” In our work since then, we have talked almost every day to people who say, “I finally quit because the groupers seemed to think they owned me.” “They kept calling between meetings, and kept telling me I would go crazy or die if I didn’t make more meetings.” “At the meetings, they made me feel naughty for missing meetings.” One man, depressed and frightened but apparently sober, said, “I need help. They’re coming for me.” Believing police or paramedics had been summoned, Lois asked, “Did you threaten yourself or someone else?” He said, “No, they’ve been looking for me. I’m at my sister’s house and they just called and they’re on their way over.” Lois asked, “Who are they?” He answered, “The AA people. They won’t leave me alone. They’re on the porch.” Lois told the caller he could send them away, but he said, “It’s no use. I can’t go against them when they are here,” and hung up.

We receive many calls from people who have been securely abstinent for years, but are now required to enter treatment programs. This occurs with professional licensing programs, with drunk driver programs, and in child custody cases.

It is commonplace for AA-dropouts to receive calls from AA members asking, “Haven’t seen you for a while. Are you okay?” These calls are not from concern or friendship, but only to manipulate people back into meeting attendance. When the dropout makes it clear that he or she will not be returning, there is no possibility that the grouper will continue to associate or call for other reasons.


12. Mind Control Techniques; Intimidation

While some cults jinx or curse departing members with divine or karmic punishments, AA promises refuseniks hell on earth, either from inevitable drinking or using, or from a malady called dry drunk. The dry drunk concept is one of the most sinister mind-traps ever devised to retain errant cult members. Knowing intimately how addicted people cannot imagine a satisfactory life without the substance, and understanding well the insatiable appetite to continue drinking or using, cult novices are told that quitting drinking or using is useless since addicts cannot be happy, cannot cope with normal stresses of life, or will simply self-destruct after prolonged suffering and deterioration.

AA has a well-known reputation as “slogan therapy,” but all cults use repeated phrases as an indoctrination technique. Like all cults, each and every slogan or motto of AA is an inversion of the truth or a platitude to cover an atrocity. The meeting structure itself forbids two-way communications, allowing for one to “share” whatever, with only marginal or no commentary from the group. Approval and disapproval are communicated slyly with acerbic comments from groupers, or nonverbal gestures and cues.

The fact that all newcomers suffer the same functional problem, i.e, ambivalence with repeated reversal of intent, makes them easy prey for seasoned old-timers who can anticipate addictive thought processes. Instead of freeing people from addiction by telling the simple truth they all must know, they exploit the weakness of newcomers to induct them into the cult. Each abstinent AA’er knows very well that drinking and using is a matter of free choice, and that self-recovery is not only possible, but commonplace. Acting out of loyalty and guilt, they repeat the official dogma, that AA is a lifeboat for all addicted people, and to leave the fold is tantamount to choosing death. So zealous has the recovery group movement become, that every single group insists, “Anything can be your Higher Power — a teacup, a doorknob, a stone.” In their zeal, all respect for common sense and self-determination is abandoned in favor of coercive logic approaching absolute mind-control. “At first you come because you have to come,” they say, “but later you come because you love to come.”

No cult on record has achieved such sophisticated means of mind-control that the casual onlooker either doesn’t notice or doesn’t mind the coercion. This is accomplished primarily through the following means:

  1. Defining the addicted person as sick, incompetent, in denial, deserving of radical methods and forced humility, i.e., humiliation. Observers will perceive what is actually abuse as necessary and appropriate, as if watching a surgeon slice a person open.
  2. The confidence game. The use of legitimate authority symbols, e.g., doctors, psychologists, professional associations, etc., to support the use of the 12-step program. If the state licenses them, they must know something, and if they say it’s okay, then it’s okay.
  3. The big lie. Massive denials of reality, such as “AA lends its name to no outside organization,” while virtually all treatment programs are run by professional AA’ers who forcefully indoctrinate participants in the 12-step program. The use of mass media to repeat nonsensical phrases over and over, i.e., “addictive disease,” “treatment works,” “one-day-at-a-time,” “recovery is a process,” “in recovery,” “recovering,” “in denial,” “addiction treatment,” etc., to inure the public and prevent moral outrage over the actual content of American-style addiction recovery.
  4. Steptalk, that polished explanation steppers provide when questioned about their odd beliefs and suspicious proclivities. “It isn’t religious, it’s spiritual.” “No one makes money on AA. We are a fellowship of concerned people supported entirely by our own donations.” “Take what you like and leave the rest.” “The 12 steps,” upon which survival is said to depend, “are only suggestions.”
  5. Pathologizing inquiry, criticism, and dissent. The Program is divinely inspired, and may not be criticized. Persons who object to cult doctrine are ostracized, reprimanded, regarded as sick, diseased, in denial, in relapse, constitutionally incapable of honesty, or simply doomed. Critics of AA are always angry, in denial, paranoid, sick people. Skeptics and others who test the coherency of AA doctrine are advised, “Take the cotton out of your ears and stick it in your mouth.”


13. A Closed, All-Encompassing Environment (Physical)

We hear daily from people telling about being detained in treatment centers, deprived of all reading materials except AA doctrinal literature, deprived of any contact with family or friends, and prohibited from using the telephone. When the facility is not locked, subjects are threatened with direct billing for services because insurance will not pay the front-loaded hospital bill if the patient leaves against medical advice. Moreover, resistance to treatment is recorded into medical records which are released in advance at the time of admission. The record becomes evidence for later repercussions in court and before professional boards. Family members are required to also submit to codepedency indoctrination as a condition of payment.

Ninety meetings in ninety days, an industry standard, makes the cult an all-encompassing environment, allowing scant time for anything but cult participation. Although the subject may sleep and eat at home, the effect of daily cult participation results in social disorientation to the extent that subjects feel as if they are at meetings while in their homes. When this bizarre, coercive arrangement is not mandated by a court, it is reinforced by the group (its established members working in shifts, of course), which constantly remind subjects that if they relent in meeting attendance they will self-destruct.


14. Deceptive Recruitment Techniques (Deception; Set Up “Fronts”)

The fundamental deception of AA is that it is an organization devoted to helping people defeat addictions. AA is not about recovery, AA is about AA. The First Tradition, which values the welfare of the group over its totally dependent members, is a red flag that is carefully shielded from public scrutiny. The steps themselves deceive the observer, seeming to convey an antidote for the degeneracy of addicted people. Ominously, the steps contain not even a hint on how an individual might cease and desist from the use of alcohol or drugs, but only instruct the member to stop trying to quit and shift that responsibility onto the cult and its deity-of-convenience, any Higher Power of one’s conception. This amorphous Higher Power, although called God, is entirely unique to AA, as it is intended to metamorphose into an Alcoholic’s God that intervenes at the level of voluntary motor control. “At times, there is no human defense against the desire to drink,” they explain, “but your Higher Power will protect you. Let go and let God.” Submission to the will of the Alcoholic’s God is the benchmark of working a good program, and is the antithesis of free-will, self-determination, self-will, i.e., denial. Since members are a self-selected group in the long-term grip of pleasure, continued intermittent drinking or using is the actual group norm, even though the stated norm is complete abstinence. Drinking bouts are then integrated as “relapses,” “slips,” or innocent symptoms of the group disease. This seductive, deceptive arrangement allows members to continue drinking, which they are impassioned to do, while appearing to be committed to abstinence. Essentially, AA is a drug-cult which holds various substances to be “desecrating sacraments” which are necessary for eventual cleansing of the soul. It is clearly not an organization devoted to teaching people any means to end substance addictions.

The “treatment intervention” is a surprise party set up to trap unsuspecting substance abusers at vulnerable moments. An emotional ambush, orchestrated by a professional AA’er, is planned ahead of time by inviting the subject’s significant others, including distant relatives, old friends, neighbors, family members, present and former bosses, and anyone else who would maximize the intended humiliation to the subject. Each is told how the subject has the dread disease of alcoholism and is “in denial” — penetrable only by total embarrassment and tough love. They have rehearsals, each person dredging up examples of the subject’s poor behavior or moral transgressions. Often, a van from the interventionist’s place of employment, a nearby treatment center, pulls up just as the meeting ends, and the subject is led sobbing to the vehicle. We are not aware of any person who has been helped by this intrusive, brutal practice, including those who later give rehearsed, glassy-eyed testimonials of being gratefully intervened alcoholics.

We receive many calls from people who were deceived by addiction treatment centers as to the nature of the services provided. Many people who have had painful or disgusting experiences in AA ask specifically to have no further exposure to AA, and state they will not enter the facility if that is what is provided, some asking specifically for Rational Recovery. The admissions personnel, always AA members, lie straightforwardly, promising no AA, and then later explain that AA doesn’t lend its name to any organization, but that the only thing that works with addictions is the 12-step program. Some hospitals even state that they offer Rational Recovery, and the patient later finds that what is offered is some form of cognitive, feel-good therapy, which they say blends with their 12-step program. (These agencies, of course, receive standard cease and desist letters from RRS, Inc.)

The endless inversions of truth, starting with the “spiritual-not-religious” deception, are a path of progressive self-betrayal culminating in collapse of critical judgment and surrender to the cult, i.e., “snapping.”


15. Manipulation Through Guilt

The “intervention” is a graphic example of the AA cult’s use of emotional brutality to get new recruits, but every meeting of AA is a guilt manipulation. Most AA escapees we hear from tell of the intense guilt generated during meetings, particularly while working the steps involving moral inventories and making amends. One disturbing but frequent observation is that of callers who have spent many painful years, even decades, in the revolving door of relapse and keep-coming-back, and who have been greatly inspired by learning about AVRT. In spite of renewed hope for secure abstinence, and even a sense of complete recovery, they are loathe to criticize AA in any way, or even to admit that they were misled by the step doctrine. “As long as AA helps some people, it shouldn’t be bashed. There are different roads to recovery...” Many years ago, we recognized this aberrant defensiveness and included it under the list of signs of recovery group disorder, not unlike the classical nonchalance of cult members toward self-sacrifice.


16. Millennarianism (The End Is Near)

AA now has a faction which believes that Bill W. was Christ reincarnated, that the original Jesus was an alcoholic who authored the 12-steps, that the Last Supper was the first AA meeting, that Old Testament prophecies predict that AA will rise as the dominant world religion during our times, and that the Age of Sobriety, actually the prophesied Kingdom of God, will commence on the year 2000. The book Mark as Recovery Story, by William Mellon, dovetails AA with Christianity through linguistic feats and Biblical re-interpretation, drawing out shocking assertions about the character of Christ and the nature of salvation. Galilee, Mellon asserts, had a good number of 12-step groups started by Jesus when he fled there following his mock-crucifixion. Yes, this is bizarre and offensive, but there’s no business like cult business.


17. Violence and Harassment

If by violence we include intellectual violence, all cults are violent, and AA surpasses most of them. Denial-hazing, in which any suggestion of self-determination is made into a symptom of the group’s disease, is figuratively an intellectual “kneecap job,” in which the legs are shot out from under newcomers with the intention of crippling them for life. Interventions are emotionally violent, and the entire pattern of predicting death and destruction for program-resistant members is a form of violence. Court-mandated AA participation is inherently violent, since court orders are backed by guns.

Here I must address the issue of character defects, the subject of much recovery group movement discussion. The 12 steps appear to be laced with something that makes people mean and arrogant. The more seriously people take them, the weirder they become, in comparison to their pre-cult personalities. They also appear more inclined to mistreat their fellow beings — all in the name of treatment or recovery, of course. One caller likened the AA cult indoctrination to vampirism, in which, once-bitten, one will go on to bite others.

The tens of thousands of people who have called us in despair have been mistreated by members of AA — by fellow groupers, by sponsors, by step-oriented counselors and therapists, and by stepping judges and physicians. The abuses are surprisingly similar and few in type, the most common being the insistence that AA is the only possible remedy for addiction, leaving the subject depressed and hopeless. The use of death threats is universal within the recovery group movement, drawing on the tone and passages from “The Big Book” which predict death for nonbelievers and dropouts.

The admonition, “If you don’t (whatever) you will drink,” is the foundation of the entire recovery group movement, and it is commonly understood that if you drink, you will end up “in jails, hospitals, and asylums.” While there may be some statistical support for this prediction, it is not on account of anyone’s failure to work the step program that one might drink. Indeed, it is far more likely that the prediction itself is more instrumental in a drinking outcome than not enough program compliance. The cruel irony is that when the prediction of drinking is accepted and acted upon, it appears to all that the drinking was the direct result of program noncompliance. Relapse is program compliance!

Chemical dependency (CD) counseling is a professional guild created by AA in order for its members to practice stepcraft in public institutions and agencies. Few CD counselors dreamed of becoming counselors until they joined AA and saw the chance to work a Good Program and get paid for it, so it is understandable that as a group they are poorly educated and do not demonstrate the skill and poise of trained professionals. Their philosophical orientation, at sharp odds with all of the health and helping professions, defines their clients as fundamentally defective, lacking in sound judgment, and riddled with character defects that add up to sociopathy. They see their clients, whether on the street, in their offices, in prisons, or in their homes, as not deserving the same measure of dignity and trust that would be afforded others, and always in need of more treatment or AA meetings. They manage dependent caseloads of files that are never closed, but at some stage of the disease of addiction, and they spend inordinate amounts of time on psycho-social fishing expeditions, interviewing and compiling records and evidence “assessing” and proving hypothesized pathology. Their counseling skills do not exceed the limitations imposed by the 12-step program itself, so they are unable to form genuinely therapeutic relationships.