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.