We are just beginning work on this module. This is very important, and we would love some feedback on it, either as email to or on our Facebook Group.

Some critics of Twelve Step groups claim that they are, or are similar to, cults. Most of these critics are disillusioned members of those groups, but that doesn’t mean that their criticisms might not have something to tell us.

What is a Cult?

It seems to depend on who’s making the judgment. Generally, it is a religious or social group whose beliefs and practices are judged deviant or destructive enough to present a real danger to at least some of its members.

Here are some examples of groups that have often been indentified as cults, listed roughly by age:

Ku Klux Klan Originally formed in the Reconstruction Era beginning about 1865, later in 1915, and then again in 1946. The “Third KKK” is still operating today. The KKK is responsible for numerous lynchings and deaths for African-Americans and those who tried to help them.

Scientology Formed about 1954. Founded by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986).

Unification Church Founded in South Korea in 1954 by Sun Myung Moon (1920-2012).

People’s Temple Founded in 1955 by Jim Jones (1931-1978), leading to over 900 suicides (and some murders) in November 1978.

The most infamous cults result in members committing suicide, donating all their worldly belongings to the groups, isolation from family and friends, and absolute adherence to the dogmas of the group, especially those handed down by one or a small number of gurus.

Spectrum or Continuum

Many groups will fall on a spectrum or continuum somewhere between clearly not a cult, and obviously a cult. Even the Rotary Club, which has rigid attendance requirements for its members, has been mentioned as having some cult-like qualities. Twelve-Step groups fall somewhere on this spectrum, and in fact individual programs and groups may be far closer to the “cult” label than other, healthier ones.

The nature of addiction is that the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of the disease it difficult for a therapist or a group to be effective in helping recovery without some movement in the direction that some might see as leaning toward a “cult.”

Preventing Cultism

Understanding this tendency means that we should probably build in some safeguards to keep Twelve-Step groups from moving too far in that direction.

Our goal here will be to give some suggestions as to how you can evaluate your own group, and how you can make it less like a cult, or keep it from drifting that way.

Temporary Sources

Here are some links for sources. We won’t need all these after we are basically done with the module.


AA: Not Religious, Not a Cult

Do People Think AA Is a Cult?

Is AA a Cult? (no)

Shared Ideology in AA (Wright)

Somewhat positive or mixed:

AA, Cult or Culture

AA: Cult or Cure?

Cult or cure: the AA backlash

Lost in the OA Wilderness

I Left OA

Fairly negative toward AA or OA:

Carbohydrate-Phobic Food Nazis

My Run-In with OA

Extremely negative toward AA or OA:

AA as a Cult (Orange)

AA: Of Course It’s a Cult

AA Is out of Step with Research

Is AA a Cult? (Ragels)

Is AA a Cult? (Sheckels)

Creative Commons License
Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.