If you have experienced problems with alcohol, or you know somebody that has, then you’ve likely heard of the group Alcoholics Anonymous.
Alcoholics Anonymous, often referred to as simply AA is a group of self-proclaimed ‘alcoholics’ (people with a form of alcohol use disorder) that want to achieve sobriety.
Many people, however, have the impression that Alcoholics Anonymous is a cult. Perhaps this is because of the ‘anonymous’ nature of the meetings, or the fact that outsiders don’t know too much about what goes on in the meetings. Or maybe it’s because of the religious undertones?
This is what we are going to explore on this page: is Alcoholics Anonymous a cult? Read on to learn more about the group, including what to expect from AA meetings, how to find meetings, and whether AA can be classed as a cult.
Alcohol addiction is a form of alcohol use disorder. Medical professions steer clear of terms such as ‘alcoholic’ or ‘alcoholism’ as it is considered harmful – and can stigmatise those with addiction.
Instead, the terms ‘alcohol addiction’, ‘alcohol dependence’, and ‘alcohol abuse’ all fall under the term ‘alcohol use disorder’.
Alcohol use disorder (often referred to as simply AUD) describes several conditions – with alcohol dependence/ alcohol addiction being on the more severe end of the spectrum. It can vary in severity and is diagnosed and categorised as either mild, moderate, or severe.
AUD can affect all areas of your life – your relationships, your finances, your career, your well-being and mental health, and of course, your physical health.
It can affect your organs such as your heart, brain, liver, and pancreas – which is why it’s considered a physical illness as well as a mental illness.
It is a chronic and relapsing brain disorder that affects millions of people. In the UK, in 2019, over 14 million adults had AUD.
It is characterised by the lack of control when drinking or drinking despite the negative consequences. This can involve being unable to or struggling to control how much you drink, how often you drink, when you start drinking or when you finish drinking.
Many people with alcohol use disorder will attend groups to receive support throughout their recovery and share their stories, which can be helpful. One of the main support groups in the UK is Alcoholics Anonymous – read on to learn more.
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Alcoholics Anonymous is a group of people that regularly attend AA meetings to address and solve their problems with alcohol. It is a hugely popular group with over two million members around the world.
The fellowship was founded in 1935 and is a 12-step program that is designed to help those with alcohol use disorder.
It offers a safe and ‘anonymous’ space for people to share experiences with other members with similar problems – and ultimately encourages life without alcohol.
The requirements for AA are pretty relaxed – there are no age requirements or education requirements – and it doesn’t cost anything to attend or become a member of AA.
AA membership is for anybody that wants to gain an understanding and level of control over their negative drinking habits – with the key goal being achieving sobriety.
The AA Twelve Steps are a set of principles that members should aim to follow – essentially a way of life that can help to relieve the compulsion to drink.
They are often referred to in Alcoholic Anonymous: The Big Book – The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism, published in 1939, shortly after the group was founded.
The book contains stories written by the co-founders, from a wide range of members that have AA to thank for their recovery.
Now you have a brief understanding of what exactly AA is, it’s time to find out what happens in the meetings – and what AA members do or talk about in meetings.
Attending any group meeting for the first time can feel daunting and overwhelming – but it’s certainly scarier if you don’t have a clue what to expect. You may feel reluctant to join if you aren’t sure what occurs in the meetings – especially if you already have the impression that AA is a cult.
Although some members decide to share their stories in front of everybody, it isn’t a necessity – it’s a choice. That being said, if you feel comfortable sharing your story or thoughts, then you are encouraged to do so.
People believe that AA is a safe space for people from all walks of life to share their experiences with alcohol, and many recovering addicts find comfort knowing that they aren’t alone with their alcohol problems.
You may have a preconception that AA is religious. Although there are frequent references to spirituality, AA claims to be not affiliated with any religion in particular – instead, it is a spiritual organisation. Any references to ‘God’ simply refer to a higher power – not necessarily a Christian God.
You don’t have to be a religious person to attend AA – the only requirement is your desire to stop drinking, or wanting to gain control over your alcohol consumption.
You don’t even have to be an ‘alcoholic’ to attend meetings- you’ll still be welcomed into an AA program as an AA member.
Although this isn’t part of AA’s program, some members of AA choose to meet with each other after the meeting has concluded.
This can be a great opportunity to make friends with fellow people in recovery – and give and receive support throughout the recovery process.
Whether it be meeting for coffee or going for food, it can be helpful to meet with other sober people. After all, you don’t need to go out drinking to have fun.
A cult has many negative connotations – for example, The Manson Family (Charles Manson), The People’s Temple (Jim Jones/ Jonestown), Heaven’s Gate, and Sullivanians – all of which resulted in suicides, homicide, or extreme distress.
Let’s talk about Charles Manson and The Manson Family. Back in the 1960s, Charles Manson assembled a group of young adults, welcoming them into his family. The general activities of the group included taking drugs and having sex.
However, Manson also shared his beliefs that there was going to be a race war – and led his followers to go on a killing spree.
In 1969, several members of the Manson Family murdered five people in Los Angeles, California – including actress Sharon Tate, who was heavily pregnant at the time. Later, some of the members were imprisoned – and Manson was convicted of first-degree murder.
Other than the distress – what do these groups have in common? What makes them a cult? And more importantly, is Alcoholics Anonymous a cult? Read on to find out.
Well, a cult is essentially an organised group that asserts dominance over members by using psychological manipulation or pressure – often a combination of the two.
Most cults have one or two leaders in a clear position of power, which often works to isolate the cult members from the rest of society.
People in cults often don’t realise that they are in a cult – they think that they are benefitting from being a member. However, people that try to leave are often pressured into staying, or manipulated into remaining a member of the cult.
The term ‘brainwashing’ is thrown around when talking about cults – which typically refers to the manipulation tactics used by the cult leaders.
The leaders are often likeable and charismatic, which is helpful when luring people into the cult. However, ex-cult members often report seeing a darker or even aggressive side to the cult leader or leaders.
Historically, the word‘ cult’ was used to refer to groups that worshipped a deity. Because AA was founded on a religious footing, some people see a connection between AA and cults. Read on to find out whether AA is a cult.
In short, no, AA is not a cult. Even though some people take their meetings very seriously, the key aim of AA is to recover from alcoholism and live a sober life.
Cults often have a firm and unquestioning devotion to their leader – but there is no clear leader of AA – only founders and those that lead the meetings. Likewise, Alcoholics Anonymous members have free will and aren’t told what to do or manipulated.
Many cults have an ‘us vs them’ mentality – which separates members from the rest of society. AA can help to integrate those with alcohol problems back into society and help them to recover.
AA doesn’t appear or attempt to separate members from society, which is something that cults do. Likewise, cults and unethical behaviour often go hand in hand – but AA focuses on recovery and sobriety.
That being said, some people do criticise AA – simply because some members suggest that Alcoholics Anonymous and The Big Book are the only real solutions to alcoholism.
Addiction is an isolating illness, and AA members can provide each other support. However, some members may take it too far, and suggest that leaving will lead to relapse.
So, to conclude, AA is not a cult-like organisation, but some members may reflect a cult mentality. However, this is a very select few, and is not encouraged by the founders or group leaders.
People can openly challenge the teachings of AA in the meetings without repercussions – the group promotes open discussion.
If you’re considering joining AA, we suggest that you approach Alcoholics Anonymous with an open mind, and leave any preconceptions about the group at the door if you want to get the best out of it.
AA meetings take place all over the country – there are so many that it can be overwhelming trying to find the right one for you.
However, if you chat with your doctor, mental health professionals, or primary care physician, they should be able to point you in the direction of your local AA program.
The AA website also has helpful information that can help you decide which program is right for you. Simply put in your postcode or intergroup, time and day, and you’ll find the next group that is happening near you that is open for you to attend.
There are two main types of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings – open meetings and closed meetings.
Open meetings are open for all – alcoholics and non-alcoholics, such as family, friends, and those simply interested in learning about AA.
Closed meetings are solely for those with an alcohol problem – for those who want to attend simply to stop drinking and receive support.
At Help4Addiction, we can also find the right treatment program for you. Whether you’re looking for a rehab program involving drug rehab or alcohol detox and addiction therapy, or simply aftercare (e.g AA, counselling, or group therapy), we can take the time to listen to your story, preferences, and requirements to find the right place for you to receive addiction treatment.
If you’re looking for an AA alternative but for drug addiction, you could attend Narcotics Anonymous (referred to as NA or UKNA).
It follows a similar structure to AA, but instead, focuses on breaking the addiction to narcotics such as cocaine or prescription medication.
AA is not the only way to recover – there are other options out there. You’re not alone when it comes to alcohol addiction, and there is help out there for you.
If AA isn’t for you, there are many support groups out there for those recovering from alcohol addiction/ alcohol use disorder. Here are just a few of the most popular alcohol support groups:
Recovery International – a cognitive behaviour system that can help you gain control over your impulses and thoughts.
LifeRing – a secular social support group that is free to attend.
SMART Recovery – an organisation with sessions in 600 locations that helps people in recovery maintain motivation and deal with urges, encouraging self-change and resilience.
Moderation Management (MM) – an organisation that opens people with issues with alcohol, not just alcoholics. It doesn’t focus on abstinence from alcohol but teaches moderation techniques and responsible drinking.
If you’re a woman and you’d prefer to join a women-based support group, why not check out Women for Sobriety, Inc?
Some people receive therapy and counselling to help build their resilience and well-being and gain an understanding of their addiction. Others receive therapy as part of a larger treatment program – for example, alcohol rehab.
Many alcoholics choose to attend rehab sessions to gain control over their drinking or live an alcohol-free lifestyle – and then attend group sessions such as AA after completing rehab successfully, as a form of secondary treatment/ aftercare.
We are in contact with alcohol rehab centres located all over the country – and can find your local rehab clinic. Help4Addiction was founded by a former addict who needed rehab to save his life – and aims to find the right rehab treatment for those with addiction.
We can take the time to understand your story and circumstances and help you to decide which will work best for you.
Although the process can vary from clinic to clinic, the first stage of the rehab process, whether it be for drugs or alcohol, begins with detoxification.
Detoxification aims at dealing with the physical aspects of addiction (the physical addiction) rather than the social, behavioural, or psychological aspects.
It aims at cleansing your body of the substance – in alcohol rehab, this is alcohol. This means that you’ll have no access to alcohol.
Many people prefer to detox from alcohol on an inpatient basis, as the temptation is removed as alcohol is banned in rehab centres. This can also help to control cravings.
Some people undergo a medical detox/ medically-assisted detox with medical supervision and are given detox medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant when detoxing from alcohol – and the severity of the withdrawal symptoms often mirrors the severity of the addiction.
Upon detoxing from alcohol, and when your withdrawal symptoms have peaked and are under control, you may move on to the next stage of alcohol rehab – addiction therapy. Therapy is not just for those with existing mental health disorders – it can be extremely beneficial when treating alcohol addiction and drug addiction.
There are many different types of therapy available in alcohol rehab. Different centres will offer different treatments, but most will offer at least two of the following:
Private rehab centres may offer different types of therapy – for example, holistic therapies. Some holistic therapies can include sports therapy, art therapy, and meditation/ mindfulness.
Therapy aims at building your resilience and confidence, as well as giving you a deeper understanding of your addiction.
Therapy can help you to understand your triggers as well as any root causes of your addiction. Learning about yourself and your addiction is an important step in addiction recovery.
Once you have finished therapy, your recovery journey truly begins. The transition from rehab back to your ‘everyday’ life can be tough – and of course, there will be temptations. This is why it’s so important to receive support throughout your recovery.
Secondary treatment not only aims at easing the transition from alcohol rehabilitation back to your daily life but also aims at preventing relapse – allowing you to live a sober life.
Aftercare/ secondary treatment can give you support throughout your addiction recovery journey.
Some forms of aftercare include group therapy, counselling, other forms of therapy, and of course, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Contact our dedicated team today to find the best rehab treatments for you, and the best secondary treatments for substance abuse in your local area.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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