Is Alcoholics Anonymous A Cult??

Some patients say they object to the “cult” atmosphere of AA or NA. From my own observation, 12-step groups bear little resemblance to cults. Cults have a charismatic leader, who wants all of its members’ money, and he or she attempts to control the lives of cult members.

But in NA, there is no leader. Every recovering person is considered an equal in the group, regardless of the amount of clean time. There is no “Head Addict” or “Head Alcoholic.” Responsibilities for chairing meetings, making coffee, and setting up the meeting rooms are shared by the whole group. The people who lead meetings are considered “trusted servants.”

Twelve step groups don’t ask for all your money, like cults do. In fact, it’s optional to place a dollar in the basket that goes around at most meetings, which is collected to pay for coffee, supplies, and rent. Some groups pointedly ask newcomers and visitors NOT to put any money in the basket.

Every addict is treated with respect, and newcomers are told that they are the most important people at the meetings. It’s through helping new addicts that the members of NA stay clean themselves, and contact with new members prevents older members from getting complacent about their disease. Recovering addicts in NA don’t give advice, but rather share their own experience, strength, and hope with the expectation that this will help other recovering addicts, struggling with similar issues.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous do not recruit members, as cults do. No one forces membership upon anyone. In fact, one of their traditions prohibits this. “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion…”

To me, it appears that 12-step groups are the exact opposite of cults.

But don’t go to a meeting expecting saints, either. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings are not” bastions of mental health,” as a close friend put it. These meetings are filled with people who have been ill with a potentially fatal disease. Some members may also have severe mental illness. Some may still be physically shaking from withdrawal. Some may be warm and welcoming, and others may be just plain mean. These people are like people anywhere. They are imperfect, but trying to get better. But if you want to know how to make it through the day without drinking or drugging, while retaining peace and serenity, these people can help you.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Great post – Its a question I oftened asked myself. For years I blamed my sisters addiction to heroin on that fact that she attended NA. It is there that she met the man with whom she subsequently used with. To my knowledge she had never previously done anything but coke.

    I was synical about NA. I wasnt sure how recovering addicts could help each other. Did it not keep the main focus of their lives on drugs? I longed for my sister to define herself by something other than her addiction.

    A few months ago, my sister relapsed on heroin under my roof. She was visiting us abroad and we were away from her regular support network. The first thing I did was find a local NA group – I couldnt think of anything else to do. That night, we drove through the snow on icy roads to a tiny group lit only by candle light. As my sister was wafting in and out of what looked like consciousness this group of people brought me comfort and hope.

    I can grow tired of the NA language and I have lost faith in it a little bit as my sister has been in and out of the rooms for years. But if it provides a safe haven, hope for those in need and a success rate however small then its got to be a good thing.


  2. Excellent post! Thank you for pointing out the benefits of AA and NA. I have seen so many people who do in fact comapare these groups to a cult. Usually it is people who have never been to a meeting.


  3. Posted by Anonymous on September 16, 2020 at 1:43 am

    The leaders are different in various areas. They’re the ones with the most clean time and sponsees. The ones who can have you shunned from the whole group for having a differing opinion.


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