The 3 Most Common Criticisms of AA
I have to say; when I was first assigned this article, I had one thing to say about writing it- NEVER! I say that because as much as I respect and owe 12 Steps I did not even want to dignify such criticisms with an article. Then when I looked into criticisms of AA and articles on this subject I found some criticisms of AA that bothered me a great deal because my own experience has been anything but what people have said, and also if people raise legitimate concerns they should be acknowledged and not swept under the rug. So maybe it is only right that I take this opportunity to discuss these criticisms of AA and share my own experience. NOT as an authority on the subject.
In my opinion this kind of generalization is not only unfair, but it is dangerous when dealing with people who suffer from a serious problem and need the help, and peoples criticisms of AA turn them away from something that could help save their life, like it has so many others. Criticizing the entire fellowship of AA that has helped countless men and women recover from alcoholism based on rarities or assumptions is unjust, so let’s look at the 3 most common criticisms of AA.
1. “It is a Religious Cult”
Whenever the word ‘God’ is mentioned in a 12 Step fellowship, some people immediately tune out the rest, and then the criticism for AA grows without any real substance to support it. 12 Step fellowships do have the word ‘God’ throughout their literature, but that God is not directly attributed to any specific religion or denomination. Throughout the book of AA there is a great deal of suggestions, even an entire chapter dedicated to helping newcomers and people who struggle with this concept understand that there is no expectations put forth on any member about swearing allegiance to any specific entity of the fellowships choosing. The term ‘higher power’ is also utilized through the book to emphasize the freedom to choose and develop a person’s own conception of a higher power.
Then there are those who criticize the whole spiritual aspect in general, saying that in a 12 Step fellowship that is supposed to be about quitting drinking or using drugs there should not be a ‘requirement’ for religion.
AGAIN the focus of bringing ‘God’ into it is not to isolate people, and it is NOT to convert them to a religion; it is simply to inspire the development of a spiritual life. The fellowship is open to atheists and agnostics alike. If you criticize the praying because you don’t feel comfortable doing so, then don’t partake in that aspect of the meetings. I know countless people who are active members of AA who do not believe in a religion, and they are anti-conformists to the core. The ‘cult’ mentality is a baseless argument against AA.
2. “Members are Arrogant”
One thing that is part of the common criticisms of AA is that the members of the fellowship are not as spiritual or as humble as the claim to be. Many who have had issues in the past with the fellowship say that once someone has been clean and sober for a while they become arrogant and self-righteous in their communication and actions involving the fellowship. Some people have difficult experiences where maybe they are told they NEED the 12 Steps and there is no other way they will ever stay clean and sober, and they build resentment against the fellowship one way or another.
The problem with this part of the common criticisms of AA is that the group is being judged based off the individuals, and this is exactly WHY these 12 Step programs are designed to be anonymous! Because those unfamiliar with the program who have less than positive experiences with a single member or even a small group should not be turned away from the fellowship, and the fellowship should not be tarnished because of an image that is not meant to represent them. The anonymity is in place to protect the individuals, AND to protect the group and fellowship as a whole from the opinions created by one bad experience, or one misguided individual.
AA or any other 12 Step fellowships will not make a claim that they have a monopoly on recovery. There is all the room in the world for an alcoholic to find their own way to sobriety, and it is not the right of the group or of the fellowship to tell them they MUST do things the AA way. And members who forget to remain humble and serve the newcomer and NOT judge them are those who endanger the fellowship little by little.
3. “There are Predators in AA”
This one is probably one of the most disturbing. There have been claims in the past that 12 Step fellowships are full of people who “abuse their authority” to take advantage of desperate and weakened individuals. The claim that those who have been involved in the program for long periods of time and developed support groups actually extort new members or take advantage in unethical fashion using their “powerful positions” is one that is both terrifying and depressing, to know somewhere someone felt this way about their experience.
The first problem with this aspect of criticisms of AA is that first and foremost, there is NO powerful position and authority figure in AA. There is no president, no master of the group, no one to fire or blackmail the members. These fellowships are made up of all members who are equals, and serve each other for the good of the group.
Secondly, in the event that individual members of AA or any other 12 Step fellowships at any point took advantage of another individual in any state it is NOT condoned by the fellowship, and the fellowship does NOT protect or justify these people! One person who acts on their own, against the spiritual principles of all 12 Step programs, and abuses another human being in any way is not a representative of the fellowship! They do not act or speak on behalf of that fellowship, they are an individual. Stereotyping all of AA for the actions of one person is just as bad as any other form of racial or class discrimination.
In essence all of these criticisms of AA may have in one way or another taken place somewhere at some time, there is no way one can guarantee otherwise. Again, that is in no way a reflection or a fault of AA as a fellowship of recovery. Individuals who act out and do these things are just those, they are separate from the group in their own actions. Especially with those that behave in ways that go against what 12 Step fellowships teach recovering alcoholics or addicts about humility, acceptance, accountability, and spiritual fitness.
There are so many incredible programs and fellowships out there for those who are looking for a way to recover from alcohol or drug addiction, and as with all things there will be those who disagree with their methods or have a bad experience. The truth is your recovery can only be what you’re willing to put into it, and what you are willing to do to save your life. You choose the best solution for you, because there is more than one option available to help you. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588