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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu

As an addiction medicine psychiatrist, I believe that to change a behavior, we must first recognize that a problem exists. This approach applies whether it's a habit to break or an addictive behavior to stop. Addiction occurs for various reasons and can manifest itself behaviorally or emotionally. Once help is sought, then intervention can begin. 

Given the physical and psychological dependence that accompanies addiction, professional treatment is one of the most effective ways to treat alcohol use disorders. A medically-supervised recovery plan is quicker, less stressful, and safer than a solo attempt. A professional treatment program helps alcoholics manage their cravings, cope with emotional highs and lows, and learn how to maintain sobriety.

What Are the Symptoms of an Alcohol Use Disorder?  

There are certain symptoms and signs which can signify that an individual has an alcohol use disorder and would benefit from treatment. Some commonly occurring symptoms include:

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

I haven’t posted any new material for well over a year. Apologies. I’ve suffered from horrible writer’s block, and until today I couldn’t move past my current ‘block’ 

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you know that 1) my grandparents survived Auschwitz, 2) my grandmother was my first sponsor, 3) I revere my grandparents and 4) I strive to embrace their model of recovery which includes me being both useful and kind. 

I have been sober for over 35 years and have worked as a mental health and addictions counselor for over 31 years. While I have not provided direct clinical services for over a year, I have worked as a consultant with various orgs in the Seattle area the last 18 months. To earn a living and pay my bills I drive limo. I’ve been driving limo on and off for the last 30 years. 

Driving limo has provided me with ample opportunity to be of service to others. I’d like to tell you about one interaction which has affected in a huge way and created an immense sense of gratitude for my passenger.

Over a year ago I picked up a woman from a local cancer center. ‘Denise’ was a lovely woman with porcelain skin, a slight build, and red hair. I’d guess she was about 55 years old. Initially I didn’t think she was a patient, rather, an executive working for the organization as her fare was paid through a company account. Seven weeks after our initial meeting, I met her again and understood she was undergoing her fourth round of Chemo. During the ride home she let me know that she had been sober for four months and was certain this was to be her last attempt at saving her life. My sense is that many times treatment for cancer often extends the quantity and not the quality of life. My thoughts about cancer seemed to comfort Denise and she came to understand that I understood her point-of-view.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

The debate over the nature of alcoholism has been around long before anyone perfected the recipe for a manhattan or shook a vodka martini and poured it into a frosted glass. There’s no blood test, and no x-ray to provide solid answers. When it comes to alcohol addiction, only the problem drinker can diagnose himself as an alcoholic.

No one likes to admit they need help. Most alcohol detox centers and treatment programs have undoubtedly seen countless people come through the door with a great deal of denial about their alcohol abuse. Typical statements are “it’s not that bad. I can handle it. It’s not like I got a DUI and got thrown in jail!” Or the passionate plea, “leave me alone already!!!”

When confronted before or during detox and alcohol rehabilitation over their issues and shortcomings, more often than not the person will fight back, in fear that their substance of choice will be “taken away” from them. Their experience may be marked with hostility, fear, belligerence, defiance and/or violence. It may sound extreme, and while it’s painfully obvious to the person’s family, friends and workers at alcohol rehab, the end is (or should be) hopefully near.

Alcohol was their last and only friend. And for the person who’s been beaten down by alcohol into a reluctant state of submission, depending how far down the road they’ve gone, facing detox from alcohol and ending up at an alcohol rehab center feels like an extended stay at the last house on the block.

Again, this is clearly an extreme example… but is it?

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 

In a recent blog a few days ago I challenged some of Gabrielle Glaser's "evidence" in her article   “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous “, which purported to demonstrate the so-called effectiveness of "controlling drinking".

Glaser cited the following in her article

“ To many, though, the idea of non-abstinent recovery is anathema. No one knows that better than Mark and Linda Sobell, who are both psychologists. In the 1970s, the couple conducted a study with a group of 20 patients in Southern California who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence.

Over the course of 17 sessions, they taught the patients how to identify their triggers, how to refuse drinks, and other strategies to help them drink safely. In a follow-up study two years later, the patients had fewer days of heavy drinking, and more days of no drinking, than did a group of 20 alcohol-dependent patients who were told to abstain from drinking entirely."

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

I recently called a friend to talk with her about a choice I needed to make. I've learned through the program of recovery how valuable perspective beyond my own helps assure I’ll do the next right thing.

However there are times, like this one, when I already know what I want to do yet I go through the motions anyway.

Bad idea.

Sure enough things didn't pan out the way I had wanted. When I ran into my friend, I had to fess up about the result. This is pretty much how that conversation went:

FRIEND:  So how did everything work out?

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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

I'm sure that many of you can relate to coincidences like when you learn about a new word, you find that you hear it more, but when in reality it's just something new that has come into your awareness, it was really there all along.  This is of course something that happens to me often, but has certainly been my experience since I have been writing this blog, as it is now always in my awareness to look for opportunities for what to discuss next and they just keep popping into my life!

Working in the addiction field, and the job I have in particular, keeps me very focused but also very isolated.  Working in addiction also creates a sort of bubble, being that my clients are all trying to get out of their active addiction, my co-workers are all in recovery, and the doctors are addictionologists.  I had been in California for four or five years and didn’t realize that I was protecting myself in a way, by not branching out of my comfort zone.  So it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I started to go out to new places and interact with new people that have never struggled with an addiction.  (People that experience temporary stress instead of chronic anxiety are still a wonder to me!)

The benefit, however, of the bubble realization was that all of that prep work that I had been doing (working with a sponsor, doing the steps, going to multiple types of therapy to figure out the core issues as to why I was using inhalants, then working on those core issues) was in preparation for returning to the real world and all its challenges and this time having a more positive impact, on myself and on those around me, and it was time to use them!  The tools I have learned (especially emotional regulation, coping skills, and trigger identification) and the resources I have developed have been crucial in my relapse prevention, because life sure does throw me some curveballs and when I did come out of hiding, I found that some of my wreckage from my past was still there waiting for me.  I am definitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a second chance, to get to be the same person, but a better version.  By doing the footwork, it allows me to look at the same situations but have different reactions and therefore different outcomes than I would have in the past.

I feel that in order to be effective in communicating with people who are also struggling and/or looking for solutions or education, I need to write about things that truly affect me emotionally, because if what I'm writing doesn't induce some sort of feelings for me, how could it in someone else?  So full disclosure in the hopes that someone can relate and hopefully allowing me to be of service.

The reason that the ability to have different reactions that produce different and better outcomes is on my mind is due to some events that occurred in my week.  I felt discouraged this week for two reasons, and I feel like they have happened while I have volunteered to write this blog for a reason.  I am a person that falls victim to a certain type of mental trap, where your brain immediately jumps into negative thinking or disaster mode when you hear certain things that are not ideal.  In the treatment facilities I work with, we refer to it as addict brain.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

volunteers needed1. Get a commitment at a meeting you regularly attend.

2. Use a phone list from a meeting to reach out to strangers.

3. Call a fellow addict and focus on how they are doing.

4. Call your local Central Office; there are often opportunities to help... Phone shifts often need covering.

5. Go to your local Hospitals and Institutions meeting; get a panel, or volunteer to speak on one.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

man-on-bed sponsorship AASponsorship is an extremely important part of the Twelve Step programs, both for the newcomer and the sponsor. As the A.A. pamphlet, Questions and Answers on Sponsorship says about the newcomer, "Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed the most. Sponsorship also provides the bridge enabling the new person to meet other alcoholics - in a home group and in other groups visited."

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous points out the importance of sponsorship for the sponsor on page 89, "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much sure insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics." Sponsorship is an integral part of the program for both sponsors and sponsees.

Picking a Sponsor

When picking a sponsor, there are many things that people consider: time, involvement, gender, age, similarities and more.

The Pamphlet on sponsorship reminds us, "An old A.A. saying suggests, 'Stick with the winners.' It's only reasonable to seek a sharing of experience with a member who seems to be using the A.A. program successfully in everyday life." When picking a sponsor, this is a very important issue to consider. Is the person we would like to sponsor us using the program wisely? A most beneficial sponsor will work the program in all aspects of his or her life, and be able to offer experience on how the program can work for us.

Often, newcomers look for a sponsor that shares a similar story and have similar hobbies. Although finding a sponsor who you can relate to may be beneficial, it is absolutely not necessary. The aforementioned pamphlet points out, "Often, a newcomer feels most at ease with a sponsor of similar background and interests. However, many A.A.s say they were greatly helped by sponsors totally unlike themselves. Maybe that's because their attention was then focused on the most important things that any sponsor and newcomer have in common: alcoholics and recovery in A.A." Having a sponsor with a different background may force us to really look at the similarities.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 

After reviewing a few pages on characteristics of cults, I found a list that I found to be the best summary. I covered each point in AA is a Cult! (Part 1), investigating if AA fit these characteristics. I could not help but noticing something interesting: active alcoholism may be closer to a cult than Alcoholics Anonymous is. Let's go through the points again...
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
When we are out drinking and using, we do not really have a human leader. However, we very much have a leader: alcohol. So, just for the purpose of these characteristics, let us call alcohol our leader. As Bill says on page 8 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, "Alcohol was my master." For many alcoholics this is the case.
So seeing alcohol as our leader, this characteristic is about half true. We are excessively zealous and show an unquestioning commitment to alcohol. Even when all the evidence shows us clearly that alcohol is unhealthy for us, we continue to drink. When we do question, we turn to alcohol itself to kill the questioning. Alcohol doesn't really have a belief system, ideology, or its own practices. However, we do change our belief system and ideology to fit alcohol's needs.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
At first, I believed this to be the absolute opposite of alcoholism. Everyone encourages us to question, doubt, and dissent from our alcoholism. However, we must take this characteristic in context. The questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished BY OTHER CULT MEMBERS. So in this instance, we must investigate if members of the alcoholic "cult" are discouraged for questioning, doubting, or dissenting. My strong experience is that other alcoholics consistently discouraged me from questioning, doubting, or dissenting. My fellow alcoholics encouraged me to drink more, and told me drink whenever I began questioning the lifestyle. This one has been absolutely true in my life while using and drinking.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
Mind-altering practices are used in excess. I believe drinking and abusing drugs qualifie as mind-altering practices, and we certainly do them in excess. We also use them to surpress doubts about being an alcoholic and about alcohol itself. When we have problems with alcohol, we turn to other substances to try to quit. Or, as the Big Book says, we may turn to sedatives to help us with alcohol addiction.
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
Alcoholism most definitely dictates how we should think, act, and feel. As we drink, our thoughts, action, and feelings change dramatically. It is the basic nature of addiction. Our entire lives become controlled by alcohol. We date different people, cannot hold jobs, are unable to stay in healthy relationships, change our clothing, decide where to live based on where the bars and liquor stores are, don't have children because we don't want responsibility, etc. Alcohol for the alcoholic is absolutely controlling, probably as much or even more so than most cult leaders. Alcohol tells us to "drink the Kool-Aid," even when we know it will kill us.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
Grandiosity is a common personality trait seen in alcoholics and can either be a cause or a consequence of alcoholic drinking.¹ Although alcoholics neither usually think alcohol is a Messiah nor that they are on a special mission to save humanity, they absolutely are elitist and claim an exalted status for themselves. It is a bit silly that alcoholics, who are often thought of as the bottom of the barrel of humans, are elitist. Anyone who is an alcoholic or has a loved one addicted has seen this behavior. Alcoholics believe they are different. They have to drink because of this or that. They are smart and are drinking to fit in. Alcoholics exhibit this in all kinds of ways.
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
This one is really easy. Alcoholics absolutely create an us-versus-them mentality. Alcoholics often believe the outside world doesn't understand them, they are not able to be a part of society, or that the world is against them. Obviously, alcoholics have a tendency to create conflict through this with wider society. Alcoholics shut themselves off from the world and behave horribly, creating this gap between themselves and non-alcoholic members of society.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
Alcohol is not accountable to any authorities except the laws that govern its usage. This makes this a tough characteristic to give a firm opinion on. Yes, alcohol is accountable to the law, but it realistically is consumed beyond these authorities' knowledge.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
Alcoholics absolutely claim that their means justify the ends. When confronted with the reality of their addiction, alcoholics and addicts often claim that they need alcohol in order to medicate, sedate, or deal with emotions and trauma. Furthermore, alcoholics often break laws in order to get substances or money. This most definitely results in alcoholics participating in reprehensible and unethical behavior. From stealing money from family to burglary, alcoholics are infamously unethical.
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Alcohol definitely creates shame and guilt, which influences alcoholics greatly. It actually creates a cycle causing dependence, as alcoholics deal with the shame and guilt by drinking even more. Alcoholics experience peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion as well. Alcoholics are always encouraging others to drink more and to fit in. Of course, many alcoholics succumb to alcohol only to fit in in the first place. This is a great example of peer pressure.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
Alcohol absolutely requires that alcoholics cut ties with loved ones. Although these cut ties may not be permanent (as some of us get sober), alcoholics often do this in order to continue using the way they would like to. Alcoholics also radically alter their personal goals and activities. Again, this is in the nature of addiction. We begin to lose sight of the things which used to bring us happiness. School, work, family, relationships, and much more fall by the wayside. In return, we look to alcohol, getting loaded, and partying to make us happy.
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
I wouldn't say that alcoholics are preoccupied with bringing in new members, but they do enjoy bringing in new members. Many alcoholics have encouraged others to drink the way they do. Alcoholics do this so they are surrounded by fellow alcoholics, and do not have people telling them to stop drinking. Although it is by no means a preoccupation, alcoholics are definitely concerned with this.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
Alcoholics are fairly consistently looking to make money. As with the previous characteristic, they are not necessarily preoccupied with it. However, alcoholics need money to continue drinking the way they do. We all know the archetype of the alcoholic: the homeless man begging for change in front of the liquor store. Here is an example where alcoholics are concerned or even preoccupied with making money. However, the preoccupation is generally not on the money, but on acquiring alcohol or drugs.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Alcoholics absolutely devote inordinate amounts of time to alcohol.  Nobody expects nor demands them to do so, but they do. We drink all day and night, abandon other activities, and even when we aren't using we are recovering from using.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
Members of the alcoholic classification do usually live and socialize with only other alcoholics. Although this does not happen at first, it develops over time. As people become tired of the alcoholic's debacles, the alcoholic either turns to other active alcoholics or flies solo. Nobody really requires us to live or socialize with only other alcoholics. However, the shame and guilt cause us to do so.
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
This one made me chuckle a bit. Most true alcoholics experience this feeling at some point during their drinking careers. They feel they cannot live without alcohol, as the Big Book says. Alcoholics become addicted, and lose sight of another way of life. We become so accustomed to our lives and in fear of our feelings that we have great difficulty even entertaining the idea of returning to life before alcohol.
In conclusion, I would like to make my experience and opinion very clear: IT SEEMS TO ME THAT ALCOHOLISM IS FAR MORE OF A CULT THAN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS IS.
1. (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1300/J358v05n03_17#.UdXnRz7wJPs)

 

 

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

 

hat a cult really is, what it isn't, and basic characteristics of a cult. I found an interesting list that I am going to go through here...
Alcoholics Anonymous: A Cult?
"The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law."
This one is pretty self-explanatory: cult members listen to the leader and laws with complete faith. In a way, we do this in AA. We take the Twelve Steps, we abstain from drinking, and follow sponsor direction. However, this really doesn't fit AA at all. First, we have no central leader, despite arguments of Bill W. or Dr. Bob being our leaders. Our sponsors are also not our sole leaders. AA's Third Tradition states, "For our group purpose 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." There are no leaders, just service positions. Although the use of the word "God" here may be cult-like, it is simply stating that your own Higher Power is your authority. More on this later...
Second, Alcoholics Anonymous does not require that we regard our sponsor, the founders, the Big Book, nor anything heard in meetings as absolute truth nor law. We are simply hearing the experiences of others. Although we are greatly encouraged to get sponsors, to work the steps, and to stay sober, none of these are laws or absolute truth. As the Second Traditions says, "The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking." Yes, that is a rule or "law," but this is really the only requirement for membership. There are many examples of going against the teachings given in AA. I don't have one sponsor. I have four men that I call regularly and we work together: a Buddhist teacher, a therapist (not mine), my original sponsor who is a Big Book thumper, and an old family friend with whom I have always been very close with. They all offer my different perspectives, and I am proud to not have just one sponsor. Also, I don't believe that alcoholism is a "disease." Yes, it may be inherited in the form of an addictive personality or anxiety. But I simply do not see the evidence that alcoholism is a disease. Finally, many consider me an atheist. I don't have a "Higher Power" other than the Three Jewels. I use the Buddhist teachings, the community, and my own Buddha-seed as my Higher Power. I believe that everything that people perceive as a Higher Power has a true scientific explanation. Just as there were times when stars and the wind were seen as Gods, I believe that science will advance to explain "energy" and the power of the AA rooms. These are just a few personal ways that I do not take the teachings of AA as absolute truth; there are many more examples in any random meeting.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
This characteristic really touches on what we previously discussed. The only requirement is to have a desire to stop drinking, and everything else is up to you. Yes, it is discouraged to be atheist, not have a sponsor, or not go to meetings. They are never punished but are certainly discouraged. However, I have found a group of fellow alcoholics that are interested in questioning the program like me. In this way, I am no longer discouraged, but actually encouraged to find my own truth.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
I couldn't help but laugh as I read this one. Yes, we meditate and pray, but definitely not in excess nor to suppress doubts. Used appropriately, meditation does the opposite of "surpress." It brings these doubts to our attention and helps us address them, however that may be. We use "mind-altering" practices to bring us into touch with the world, the present moment, and our emotions. However, most of us used mind-altering "practices" in excess before we got sober!
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
This one is pretty easy. We do have a Big Book and sponsors that tell us greatly how to act. It is full of many pieces of advice. However, neither of these are our leaders. Furthermore, we do not need permission for any of these things, nor take prescriptions. We are only given suggestions and the experience of others. Nobody rules our decisions like these.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
This is a classic characteristic of a cult. Cults most often claim to be chosen ones. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is no such claim. Furthermore, we do not believe that any leader is a Messiah. The founders were simply alcoholics who found a way that worked for them. Our sponsors are simply people who would like to share their experience with us. Nobody is hoping to save humanity, just to help other alcoholics.
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
This is the first one on the list that I came across that my first thought was that this is actually true. My biased mind searched to find a way this was not true for AA, but I really think it is. In AA meetings we hear the word "normies" or "normal people" all too frequently. Although AA does encourage us to become a part of society, there is a huge undertone of this us-versus-them mentality. It is not horribly negative as with most cults; it has more to do with sticking with those that are sober.
Obviously when we get sober it is healthier to spend time with other sober people. Even as sobriety progresses, it is often easier to be friends with like-minded people. However helpful this may be, it is exactly what this characteristic is talking about.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
This one is simple. AA does not have a leader.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
This is ABSOLUTELY not the case in Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous is pretty close to the opposite in this regard. AA teaches us to watch all of our actions very carefully. We hear many times about the importance of rigorous honesty; we cannot tell white lies nor lie by omission. The means do not justify any ends. Our means must be loving and kind. We absolutely are not performing negative, hurtful actions. In fact, we begin behaving far better than before we got sober.
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Again, AA has no leader! There is no essential part of the program that is inducing shame or guilt. My personal experience is that the group induces feelings of hope in order to influence people, and it is often done through peer pressure and (sometimes subtle) forms of persuasion. The room does influence the newcomer greatly. Giving the newcomer experience, strength, and hope is a way to influence him or her. We certainly don't encourage guilt or shame. As the 9th Step Promises states, "We no longer regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it." Alcoholics Anonymous helps us to come to terms with our past, leaving shame and guilt behind. Furthermore, it is often done through peer pressure outside of meetings. There are three points here: AA has no leader, AA does not induce shame or guilt, and AA does in fact influence members via peer pressure.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
First of all, we are neither subservient to the leader nor the group. However, we do sometimes have to cut ties with family and friends, especially while newly sober. We must take care of ourselves first, and this sometimes involves spending time with fellow sober alcoholics. When we cut ties with friends, we must be mindful of the fact that many of our friends are often sick alcoholics and addicts. This cutting of ties is extremely healthy, and is not obscenely hurtful and irrational as is done in cults. We also do radically alter our goals and activities we had. Again, this is a good thing, as we are no longer drinking and driving, and are now riding our bikes to AA meetings. My opinion on this one is that AA pretty much fits this characteristic (with the exception of the subservience to the leader part), and I am grateful for these things!
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
This does not apply to AA. We are not preoccupied with bringing in new members. Alcoholics Anonymous does not promote in any way, nor push people to join. Most often, we wait until somebody asks us for help. Our main preoccupation is on helping the new members. Unlike many cults, AA does not greatly benefit from more members financially.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
This is obviously not applicable. The Seventh Tradition reminds us to be self-supporting. The chapter on the Seventh Tradition in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions reminds us of times in the past when AA was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars and declined it. Alcoholics Anonymous does not want a lot of money, so they can avoid the problem of finances. Groups are self supporting, and do not need more money.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not expect we devote any crazy amount of time (although a newcomer may disagree!). Even with those who recommend 90 meetings in 90 days, AA does not demand very much time. We attend meetings that are an hour or two, do stepwork, and help others. Otherwise, this AA does not at all expect us to devote a lot of time, and certainly not "inordinate amounts of time."
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
This one is, in my opinion, mostly true. As alcoholics, we are most certainly encouraged to socialize with other sober alcoholics. As far as living situations go, we are often encouraged to live with other sober people. However, neither of these suggestions actually appear in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is one characteristic that I feel AA definitely has to some degree, and again I am grateful for this.
I can't keep track of how many times I have heard this in my sobriety (and before). I hear this all the time from friends and often newcomers. My go-to defense is that, unlike a cult, AA has no central leader that we all worship. After hearing somebody say this recently outside a meeting, I decided to do a little research. I found a lot of information about what a cult really is, what it isn't, and basic characteristics of a cult. I found an interesting list that I am going to go through here...
Alcoholics Anonymous: A Cult?
"The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law."
This one is pretty self-explanatory: cult members listen to the leader and laws with complete faith. In a way, we do this in AA. We take the Twelve Steps, we abstain from drinking, and follow sponsor direction. However, this really doesn't fit AA at all. First, we have no central leader, despite arguments of Bill W. or Dr. Bob being our leaders. Our sponsors are also not our sole leaders. AA's Third Tradition states, "For our group purpose 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." There are no leaders, just service positions. Although the use of the word "God" here may be cult-like, it is simply stating that your own Higher Power is your authority. More on this later...
Second, Alcoholics Anonymous does not require that we regard our sponsor, the founders, the Big Book, nor anything heard in meetings as absolute truth nor law. We are simply hearing the experiences of others. Although we are greatly encouraged to get sponsors, to work the steps, and to stay sober, none of these are laws or absolute truth. As the Second Traditions says, "The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking." Yes, that is a rule or "law," but this is really the only requirement for membership. There are many examples of going against the teachings given in AA. I don't have one sponsor. I have four men that I call regularly and we work together: a Buddhist teacher, a therapist (not mine), my original sponsor who is a Big Book thumper, and an old family friend with whom I have always been very close with. They all offer my different perspectives, and I am proud to not have just one sponsor. Also, I don't believe that alcoholism is a "disease." Yes, it may be inherited in the form of an addictive personality or anxiety. But I simply do not see the evidence that alcoholism is a disease. Finally, many consider me an atheist. I don't have a "Higher Power" other than the Three Jewels. I use the Buddhist teachings, the community, and my own Buddha-seed as my Higher Power. I believe that everything that people perceive as a Higher Power has a true scientific explanation. Just as there were times when stars and the wind were seen as Gods, I believe that science will advance to explain "energy" and the power of the AA rooms. These are just a few personal ways that I do not take the teachings of AA as absolute truth; there are many more examples in any random meeting.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.
This characteristic really touches on what we previously discussed. The only requirement is to have a desire to stop drinking, and everything else is up to you. Yes, it is discouraged to be atheist, not have a sponsor, or not go to meetings. They are never punished but are certainly discouraged. However, I have found a group of fellow alcoholics that are interested in questioning the program like me. In this way, I am no longer discouraged, but actually encouraged to find my own truth.
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).
I couldn't help but laugh as I read this one. Yes, we meditate and pray, but definitely not in excess nor to suppress doubts. Used appropriately, meditation does the opposite of "surpress." It brings these doubts to our attention and helps us address them, however that may be. We use "mind-altering" practices to bring us into touch with the world, the present moment, and our emotions. However, most of us used mind-altering "practices" in excess before we got sober!
The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
This one is pretty easy. We do have a Big Book and sponsors that tell us greatly how to act. It is full of many pieces of advice. However, neither of these are our leaders. Furthermore, we do not need permission for any of these things, nor take prescriptions. We are only given suggestions and the experience of others. Nobody rules our decisions like these.
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).
This is a classic characteristic of a cult. Cults most often claim to be chosen ones. In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is no such claim. Furthermore, we do not believe that any leader is a Messiah. The founders were simply alcoholics who found a way that worked for them. Our sponsors are simply people who would like to share their experience with us. Nobody is hoping to save humanity, just to help other alcoholics.
The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
This is the first one on the list that I came across that my first thought was that this is actually true. My biased mind searched to find a way this was not true for AA, but I really think it is. In AA meetings we hear the word "normies" or "normal people" all too frequently. Although AA does encourage us to become a part of society, there is a huge undertone of this us-versus-them mentality. It is not horribly negative as with most cults; it has more to do with sticking with those that are sober.
Obviously when we get sober it is healthier to spend time with other sober people. Even as sobriety progresses, it is often easier to be friends with like-minded people. However helpful this may be, it is exactly what this characteristic is talking about.
The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).
This one is simple. AA does not have a leader.
The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
This is ABSOLUTELY not the case in Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous is pretty close to the opposite in this regard. AA teaches us to watch all of our actions very carefully. We hear many times about the importance of rigorous honesty; we cannot tell white lies nor lie by omission. The means do not justify any ends. Our means must be loving and kind. We absolutely are not performing negative, hurtful actions. In fact, we begin behaving far better than before we got sober.
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.
Again, AA has no leader! There is no essential part of the program that is inducing shame or guilt. My personal experience is that the group induces feelings of hope in order to influence people, and it is often done through peer pressure and (sometimes subtle) forms of persuasion. The room does influence the newcomer greatly. Giving the newcomer experience, strength, and hope is a way to influence him or her. We certainly don't encourage guilt or shame. As the 9th Step Promises states, "We no longer regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it." Alcoholics Anonymous helps us to come to terms with our past, leaving shame and guilt behind. Furthermore, it is often done through peer pressure outside of meetings. There are three points here: AA has no leader, AA does not induce shame or guilt, and AA does in fact influence members via peer pressure.
Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
First of all, we are neither subservient to the leader nor the group. However, we do sometimes have to cut ties with family and friends, especially while newly sober. We must take care of ourselves first, and this sometimes involves spending time with fellow sober alcoholics. When we cut ties with friends, we must be mindful of the fact that many of our friends are often sick alcoholics and addicts. This cutting of ties is extremely healthy, and is not obscenely hurtful and irrational as is done in cults. We also do radically alter our goals and activities we had. Again, this is a good thing, as we are no longer drinking and driving, and are now riding our bikes to AA meetings. My opinion on this one is that AA pretty much fits this characteristic (with the exception of the subservience to the leader part), and I am grateful for these things!
The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.
This does not apply to AA. We are not preoccupied with bringing in new members. Alcoholics Anonymous does not promote in any way, nor push people to join. Most often, we wait until somebody asks us for help. Our main preoccupation is on helping the new members. Unlike many cults, AA does not greatly benefit from more members financially.
The group is preoccupied with making money.
This is obviously not applicable. The Seventh Tradition reminds us to be self-supporting. The chapter on the Seventh Tradition in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions reminds us of times in the past when AA was offered hundreds of thousands of dollars and declined it. Alcoholics Anonymous does not want a lot of money, so they can avoid the problem of finances. Groups are self supporting, and do not need more money.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.
Alcoholics Anonymous does not expect we devote any crazy amount of time (although a newcomer may disagree!). Even with those who recommend 90 meetings in 90 days, AA does not demand very much time. We attend meetings that are an hour or two, do stepwork, and help others. Otherwise, this AA does not at all expect us to devote a lot of time, and certainly not "inordinate amounts of time."
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
This one is, in my opinion, mostly true. As alcoholics, we are most certainly encouraged to socialize with other sober alcoholics. As far as living situations go, we are often encouraged to live with other sober people. However, neither of these suggestions actually appear in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. This is one characteristic that I feel AA definitely has to some degree, and again I am grateful for this.
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.
Cult members fear leaving a group for other members may come after them or their family trying to cause pain. This certainly does not happen in Alcoholics Anonymous. Also, loyal members know there is life outside the group. AA is not our entire lives; it is simply a place and program where we can learn to help ourselves and others out in the real world. Some people call AA a gas station for refueling our spirituality.
In conclusion, it is pretty obvious AA is not a cult. Claims that AA is a cult are most often from those that don't try the program and who are resentful toward it. Reading pieces about how AA is a cult, I find that I often disagree with the points made. AA holds close to none of the characteristics of a cult. In our next piece, we will discuss how our Alcoholism is more cult-like.
This list of qualities of a cult can be found at http://www.csj.org/infoserv_cult101/checklis.htm. Thank you for allowing us to use this information.

 

 

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