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Are Treatment Centers Using Twelve Step Programs Actually Cults?

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Alcoholics Anonymous gets called a cult often. To be considered a cult, a group has to meet a specific set of criteria. Here we will examine each cult-criteria and debunk the damaging myth that the worldwide program of recovery is a cult.

Criteria #1: There’s An Authoritarian Leader Everyone Worships

Cult leaders tend to be charismatic and manipulative, demanding loyalty and worship. In a cult, everyone’s “recovery” or “miracle” is completely dependent upon the leader. The leader runs everything and has all the power, delegating to others. Rather than encourage “followers” to find a higher power, cult leaders become the higher power. To maintain loyalty, they typically demand their followers to leave their entire lives behind and be devoted to the leaders’ cause.

According to the twelve traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, “there is but one ultimate authority- a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

Criteria #2: Cults Control Everything About You

In AA we often make a joke the only thing you have to change is everything! Typically this is referring to everything on the inside. Cults are known for forcing followers to follow strict regulation about what they eat, when they sleep, and how they dress. As anyone who has attended an AA meeting knows, this is not the case. Some meetings do require formal wear, but that is according to the rules of the specific meeting, not AA as a whole.

Criteria #3: Cults Focus On Bringing In New People And Making Money

Tradition seven of the twelve traditions says “Every AA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.” No one is required to stay and no one is required to pay. There is usually a “suggested contribution” of two dollars. However, AA meetings are quick to give away Big Books which cost about $10. As for newcomers, people who have completed the twelve steps are encouraged to “carry the message” of AA. They are not instructed to bring members to AA but to let people know AA exists and can help. Most “cults” have a leadership scheme which puts great emphasis on bringing in new people for money.

Criteria #4: Cults Are Exclusive

People bring their friends and family members to AA meetings all the time! Some parents, spouses, and children come to give their loved one a token. Since the twelve step program has been replicated among many organizations, there is nothing “novel” about AA, which is a requirement for being a cult. AA never claims to be the only solution, but a very good one. Sometimes, people can get a bit obsessed with the solitary solution to their lives being AA. However, this isn’t true for everyone. You can still read about other things, practice other programs, and try things out. AA doesn’t even have a rule about drinking. People show up to meetings drunk frequently. Some meetings are “closed” for those who are actively in recovery. Otherwise, meetings are open to anyone in need of a spiritual solution. Abstinence is encouraged but in no way regulated, let alone punished.
Design For Change offers you the freedom of recovery through treatment programs including clinical therapy, holistic therapy, and a 12 step solution. For more information, call (877) 267-3646.

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