Using religious doctrine to enslave, ensnarl, and emotionally control others is spiritual abuse.  This happens in Alcoholics Anonymous, which has embedded itself into our mental health industry for the treatment of substance abuse, addiction, and alcoholism.  Last week, I spoke with Darlene G. Smith, the Intellectual Property Administrator with Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., who was insistent I could not call AA a religious organization because it is a “spiritual program.”  If I did not comply, AA would request that Facebook permanently shut down my Facebook page.  This is a perfect example of Alcoholics Anonymous controlling public information and opinions regarding their fellowship.

Try being an AA critic and see what happens to you.
Try being an AA critic and see what happens to you.

Imposing consequences for not accepting AA’s beliefs proves that AA is not a “spiritual program,” but an abusive, mind-controlling, enterprise that silences dissenters.  Spiritual abuse also includes “submission to spiritual authority without any right to disagree” and intimidation.  AA’s 6th step, the one that suggests a person makes a list of their character defects, and their 4th step which suggests a person blames themselves for others hurting them, is an example of humiliating and shaming the AA member.  Insisting that those outside AA “don’t understand AA” and therefore one should cut off contact with non-AA and drinking friends and family creates isolation from the outside world—Non-AA literature is banned from meetings to foster allegiance only to AA’s beliefs.  Oppressing criticism citing the critic cannot understand AA and therefore their opinions are invalid is another mind-control technique of spiritual abuse.  Instructing a person to obey AA’s belief system in order to reach a “spiritual awakening” as the 12th Step indicates forms the basis of claiming AA is the only way to some Godly level of enlightenment only the 12 Steps can provide.

This is nothing short than spiritual bullying, or using the fear of God to make people fall in line and obey the AA way of life.

Therefore, I have to disagree with Ms. Smith because AA is at least a religious program with qualities resembling a cult more than a church.  “Spiritual Abuse” was reportedly first used in the late 20th century, or earlier, as using religion to enslave the masses.  Characteristics include psychological manipulation and using doctrine to harm someone, usually children and vulnerable adults.  Sounds like an AA meeting to me, where children as young as 15 are told to find God or else, or where women are expected to accept sexual harassment because acceptance means if God didn’t want the situation to be the way it is right now then God would change it.  And acceptance is the key to everything, it is a lack of acceptance of the present that creates psychological discord and therefore may lead to resentment, even death.

Resentment is one of many pathways to death according to Alcoholics Anonymous.  Here is a short list of other death threats AA makes to its members:

  1. Resentment Causes Death: Never forget that resentment is a deadly hazard to an alcoholic. (Big Book, To Wives, page 117.)
  2. Believe in AA or Die: To those now in its fold, Alcoholics Anonymous has made the difference between misery and sobriety, and often the difference between life and death. (Big Book, Appendix I, The A.A. Tradition, page 561.)
  3. Recruit AA Members or Else They’ll Die: He should realize that we are engaged upon a life-and-death errand. (Big Book, Into Action, page 75.)
  4. Find God or Die: To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face. (Big Book, We Agnostics, page 44.)
  5. Work the 12 Steps or Die: Unless each A.A. member follows to the best of his ability our suggested Twelve Steps to recovery, he almost certainly signs his own death warrant. (12×12, Tradition Nine, page 174.
  6. Getting Angry will Kill You: If we were to live, we had to free of anger. (Big Book, How It Works, page 66.)
If you don't accept AA's definition of spirituality you will be spiritually bullied.
If you don’t accept AA’s definition of spirituality you will be spiritually bullied.

As you can see, AA states you must submit to AA and its teachings or your consequence is death.  If that’s not spiritual abuse I don’t know what is!  For the victim of 12 Step spiritual abuse, they can develop phobias about the topic of alcoholism and symptoms of depression.  If they are supposed to follow their sponsor’s advice or else be shamed into believing they are unwilling to go to any lengths to be sober, they may avoid taking medications or seeking medical or psychological help.  Even if the intent was not malicious, rather, the sponsor believes God saves the alcoholic and all psychological problems are rooted in alcoholism, it is still using a religious doctrine to convince a vulnerable person that the 12 Steps and prayer solve all of their problems.  This is criminally negligent because the sponsor is giving medical advice without a license.  They must not have read “The AA Member- Medications and Other Drugs,” a pamphlet implicitly directing AA members not to play doctor.  I’m going out on the proverbial limb here and saying this pamphlet only exists to spare AA some serious lawsuits.  However, since each local AA meeting can pick and choose which pamphlets to read, not every AA member knows this information.  Also, some in AA refuse to read anything beyond the Big Book (1935) and/or the Big Book and the 12×12 (1952).  These old timers think AA muddied the message with new literature and the original books are the “real AA.”

Children are especially vulnerable when religious doctrine is used to control them with fear and other support groups are not offered to them, like SMART Recovery or SOS.  Honestly, anyone under 18 should not be in AA and even 18 might be too young to label yourself an alcoholic for life.  Considering that AA has no safety rules or rules against sexual harassment, the young people of AA are the most vulnerable and have been victims of rape and molestation.  Shockingly, AA members have voted down protecting members from predators.  I consider it absolute child abuse to send any minor to a 12 Step meeting where the strangers they meet may be pedophiles hiding under the cloak of anonymity. (According to AA, anonymity is a spiritual principle!)  What’s worse is these AA members insist the child in the meeting has the same sickness they do and are as sick as they are.  This manipulates a still-developing brain for life.  When the child grows into adulthood, they believe they are damaged, defective, and doomed an alcoholic death before they even reach the legal drinking age of 21.  AA definitely uses fear to brainwash children while offering absolutely no protection to our sons and daughters.

Recently, the Word of Life Christian Church has been in the news because parishioners were abused, shamed, and one of them was beaten to death.  Although this is an extreme example of spiritual abuse, it reminds me of the 12 Step residential rehab I attended in 2011.  Members of the church had to clean the floors, do maintenance work, and suffer from sleep deprivation.  At rehab, we had to do chores often after 10 p.m. at night because that was the time we’d arrive back from the AA meetings we were permitted to attend off site with our sponsors.  Only after our assigned chores were done were we allowed some downtime to do homework and turn it in sometime around 11 p.m.  After that, we were supposed to wait sometimes until past midnight for the “evening” group.  By the time we could go to bed, it could be nearly 1 a.m., and our wakeup call was 7 a.m.  If we didn’t fall asleep right away, we were running on little to no sleep.

The idea was chores taught us to be responsible, even though as adults in their twenties up to our sixties we learned about chores as early as kindergarten or before that.  As for the lack of sleep, the church new story mentions the pastor purposely imposed sleep deprivation as “part of a plan to control them.”

  • “They sleep-deprive you because you become open to suggestions, usually what they’re teaching you,” Mr. Handville said. “They’re breaking you down so they can build you up the way they want to.” Benjamin Mueller, reporter from the New York Times, 10/15/15 “Congregants Were Abused and Shamed, Ex-Member Says”

Tragically, 19-year old Lucas Leonard was beaten to death.  His brother, Christopher, 17, survived yet has been hospitalized due to his severe injuries.  Bruce T. and Deborah Leonard, their parents, as well as 5 others, are charged with assault in the beating.  Imagine if this happened in an AA meeting.  Not only would AA not be held responsible or shut down, AA would never comment per their traditions to stay anonymous or else draw controversy.  With websites like existing, publishing thousands of news articles and links about crimes in AA and Narcotics Anonymous, the fact is 12 Step programs are already controversial yet they live in a perpetual state of denial and members insist these are isolated incidents.   The emotionless comeback is: “What do you expect when you go to a meeting full of drunks and addicts?”  Victim blaming is the scapegoat to clear AA of any accountability to keep members safe.

How unsafe are 12 Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous?  Here’s a short list of criminal activity at their meetings:

  • Mesa, Arizona: Man accused of stabbing a woman after an AA meeting. They were not prior acquaintances. This was a random act. October 2015. (See whole story here.)
  • Anchorage, Alaska: 18 year old male shot and killed at the Alano Club. July 2015. In 2009, at the same sober club, an 18 year old was shot and critically injured. (Read here.)
  • Los Angeles, California: Man sentenced for killing and dismembering a man he sponsored for AA/NA meetings in 2010. June 2015. (See more here.)

These three recent news reports should cause public outrage, instead, have you heard of any of them?  Why does the media ignore the common link where people are murdered because they were attending 12 Step groups?  Why isn’t the general public crying out for safety in these support groups?  It is one thing to be sickened by the Word of Life church news, but in that case it was an isolated incident.  With 12 Step meetings, with nearly 2 million reported members, and 90-95% of American rehab centers sending patients to meetings, there should be even more public outrage.  There should be a Presidential address confronting the abuse and crimes happening in what is purported to be a network of meetings claiming to be a spiritual fellowships rehabilitating alcoholics and addicts but instead has caused great harm due to the lack of safety.  Not to mention, the mind control techniques implemented to keep members from ever leaving their AA and NA meetings.

The AA president of murder in SC, Reagan
The AA president of murder in SC, Reagan

In August 2015, South Carolina’s The Post and Courier  reporter Christina Elmore covered the story of David Mark Reagan, 57, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison because he strangled Kathy Hawkins, 52, to death after a domestic dispute.  Her lifeless body was found on August 20th, 2013.  She was killed on her daughter’s 10th birthday.  Taking further advantage of his dead girlfriend, Reagan was caught on surveillance using her credit card to buy booze after he killed her.  According to his attorney, Luke Malloy, Reagan was “an amazing man” when he was sober.  He met Hawkins at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting even though he had a history domestic violence arrests.  In September 2006, Regan had “punched, kicked and kneed a live-in girlfriend.”  My only guess is, according to AA mythology, even if Reagan admitted while sober to being abusive his membership in AA would still make him a reformed and well-respected member.  All he would have to do is claim he turned over his character defects to God and God removed all of his defects of character.  However, clearly asking God to fix your abusive tendencies is not a foolproof plan and one can always lie about believing in God or wanting to change their ways.  It must bring Hawkins family some peace of mind to know, according to the 9th Step of AA, Reagan has apologized for what he has done.

Hawkins was murdered by Reagan, the man she met in AA who claimed she was the love of his life.
Hawkins was murdered by Reagan, the man she met in AA who claimed she was the love of his life.

The best known headline for murder in Alcoholics Anonymous is the case of Eric Earle who murdered Karla Brada in 2011.  In October, 2014, Earle was sentenced to 26 years in prison for first-degree murder.  Karla, 31, was assaulted multiple times by Earle, yet both of them were AA members.  They met in AA.  It is highly likely Karla was reluctant to blame Earle for his attacks because she was looking for “her part in it,” as the 4th Step requires a victim hurt by others to do.  It’s possible, as the 4th step also suggests, that Karla was blaming herself and, as the 6th step requires, was blaming her character defects for how Earle treated her.  After all, according to the Big Book of AA: Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt. (Big Book, How It Works, page 62.)  Even if other women in AA warned Karla not to date anyone in her first year of solid sobriety, it is a common fact AA has no rules.  According to the AA document “A.A. Fact File,” as well as other AA sources: Alcoholics Anonymous is not organized in the formal or political sense.  There are no governing officers, no rules or regulations, no fees or dues.

A classic AA response would be
A classic AA response would be “What was her part in it?”

Since there are no rules in AA, only suggestions, it is fair to assume less-than-savory individuals can use this against their potential targets.  One can imagine hearing a predatory person saying his victim, “There are no rules in AA, babe.  I’ve been in the program for years and everyone dates.  There’s no rule against it.  That’s just something someone made up for themselves, it doesn’t apply to everyone.  We’re different.  We’re in love.  Why would God bring us together if this wasn’t meant to be.”  Then, BAM!  The predator has explained his case and he has manipulated a woman into believing they are in love.  Was this what happened with Earle and Karla?  Is this another example of spiritual abuse?

Let’s be rigorously and vigorously honest and state for a fact that Alcoholics Anonymous insults God and religion by claiming it knows God more than the churches or the Bible does.  I’m saying this even though I’m an atheist.  I was raised in the Catholic Church and no longer practice that faith.  However, how many AA meetings are held in church basements?  Countless.  It is our duty to contact churches that hold AA meetings and inform them that AA goes against Christianity.  AA has no problem coercing non-believers to pray the Lord’s Prayer even though technically these non-believers are falsely testifying— they are blasphemers.  If that doesn’t bother you, consider that your United States taxes are going towards court mandated and Medicare funded treatment that collects money to instruct clients to attend *FREE* AA meetings.  It’s not ok to force religion unto others just because they are addicts/alcoholics and they “don’t matter.”  Think about how faulty that thought process is and how it reflects on your own morals.  It’s ok to infringe on someone’s right to worship or not worship as they choose so long as they are addicted to drugs and alcohol?  This is how we as a culture have stigmatized  addicts.  We are lackadaisical when it comes to treating people with substance abuse and do not care if we are harming them spiritually or otherwise.  Hey, as long as they stay off the sauce whatever works right?  Wrong.

I haven’t seen such an eagerness to attack or harm others since the famous Stanford Prison Experiment.  No matter how horrible an addict can treat their friends, loved ones, or themselves, have you ever had a group of organized addicts force you to pray the Our Father if you are Jewish, Muslim, or atheist?  I think never.

Maybe we should heed the words of Pastor Chad Prigmore, whose website’s mission is to clarify to Christians how blasphemous Alcoholics Anonymous is.  Chris has rightly pointed out the ways in which AA and the 12 Steps are insulting to Jesus Christ.  If you are a Christian, listen up, because this is important.  Co-founder of AA, and main author of the Big Book, Bill Wilson, said he was “completing the works that Christ didn’t finish” and even claimed he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, according to a 1952 letter by Wilson’s pal

Henrietta Seiberling.

Goodyear Tire money helped get Bill and Bob together, next came Rockefeller.
Goodyear Tire money helped get Bill and Bob together, next came Rockefeller.

What mystifies me is why back in 2004 I willingly went on a field trip with the women from my Saturday morning AA meeting to Akron, Ohio where we visited the Seiberling mansion.  Seiberling was the wife of Frank Augustus Seiberling, the co-founder of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (1898) and the Seiberling Rubber Company (1921) who also built Stan Hywet Hall— Today this mansion is a mecca for AA pilgrimages and, ironically, wine tastings.  The importance of Stan Hywet Hall is this is where Bill Wilson first met Dr. Bob Smith, the other co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Prigmore goes on to point out that in the 12×12 (a.k.a. the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions book first published in 1952 by Alcoholics Anonymous) it is declared a moral inventory would convince people to forgive others who they feel have harmed them.  Yet, Jesus teaches in Matthew 26:28: … for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  If you’re not a Christian, this is not a problem, but if you are, Prigmore also points out that Corinthians forbids non-believers for claiming false witness to Christ; the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the end of AA meetings means non-Christians are lying by making a false proclamation.  The greatest infringement is when Jesus is insulted in the 12×12 where the book claims that only thru action in AA a person can gain entry to God or their Higher Power.  I am not a biblical scholar by any means, but if you want to learn more, please visit the Recovery Reformation website and the article I’m paraphrasing in THIS LINK.

For the Christians reading this, let me paraphrase a bit more from Pastor Prigmore’s works:  The 12 Steps are not Christian despite whatever some uneducated AA member insists.   As Prigmore writes: The 12 Steps are not Christian in any way and are in fact apostasy, spiritualistic, pagan, and anti-Biblical. 

Now, to drive home the fact that Alcoholics Anonymous is not a spiritual program, nor a Christian one, and has elements of abuse similar if not exclusive to cults, I want to mention the seminal book that explained cults to me like no other:  You Might Be A Zombie and Other Bad NewsThis New York Times Bestseller, published in 2011, from the editors of (please editors, give me credit for this plug!) breaks down cults in a section titled, “Four Brainwashint Techniques They’re Using On You Right Now.”  *Side note:  Years ago I pitched them an idea on 6 Ways AA Lies and it was rejected because some staff were either in AA or knew of others in AA and they felt it was disrespectful.*

You might be in a cult if you're in AA
You might be in a cult if you’re in AA

According to this book, here are four ways cults operate.  You tell me if this reminds of you Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and literature:

  1. Brainwashing: Getting people to OBEY by chanting slogans. Live and Let Live? One Day At a Time? It Works if You Work It? Let Go and Let God? Apparently changing works because chanting forces your brain into repetitive-task mode so you can’t think rationally. For instance, try solving a complex logic puzzle while screaming the chorus to that “I get knocked down” song over and over again. (page 192) Chanting slogans works because it shuts down “nagging” doubting voices who need to be convinced your cult works.
  2. Slipping Bullshit Into Your Subconscious: This technique attacks the way your brain stores information and memories. It’s source amnesia. Quote: “you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t’ remember how you learned it.” Because of the Internet and the rapid succession of headlines announcing this or that as being fact, the brain just stores the headlines and not the details. Therefore, a factual account that ‘Do the 12 Steps Work?’ (question mark!) turns into ‘The 12 Steps Work Every Time’ in your brain. ‘AA Members Question Critics’ can become ‘Critics of AA and their Flawed Opinons.’ Before you know it, critics of AA are flawed and AA works every time. Nice huh?
  3. Controlling What You Watch and Read: This is evident the minute you hear the phrase ‘AA conference approved literature.’ The fact that materials about alcoholism from non-AA sources are virtually completely ignored, if not banned, in your local AA meetings means AA is restricting your access to outside information.
  4. Keeping You In Line With Shame: Or what the book refers to as the appeal to ridicule fallacy. The key is the listener is unlikely to examine or investigate if the ridicule has any merit. Oh you want to go to a SMART meeting? How many SMART meetings are out there compared to AA? That’s because it doesn’t work. How ‘smart’  is that?!! Here’s a book quote: There are primitive, lower parts of your brain called amygdalae that control base, emotional reactions. That’s where things like contempt and shame come from. (page 196)

Mockery developed as a conformity enforcer, to keep people in line, states the Zombie book.  It can keep an AA member in line by shutting down critical thinking.  “Billy Bob hasn’t been in a meeting lately, he must have fallen off the wagon!”  Haha! Of course he did, because without AA you will surely DIE.  “Sandy Sue sure seems cranky today, she must be a dry drunk!”  Of course she is, because mocking others enforces a sense of intellectual pride in those who believe the mockery.

So, dear readers, is Alcoholics Anonymous a cult?  Are the crimes happening in AA part of the culture of AA?  Are people spiritually abused by the 12 Steps and the AA program?  Let me know in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!