AA is a Cult, part 36

Content warning: This post discusses depression and suicide. 

One of the foundational theories of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression is Beck’s cognitive triad. Depressed people feel powerless, like the world is unfair, and like things will never get better. These three thoughts combine to make forward progress seem both pointless and impossible. I believe Alcoholics Anonymous promotes a depressed mental state. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps patients learn how to counter these automatic negative thoughts, to not believe every bad thing they think. Along with antidepressant medication, it has been shown to work for a majority of patients. Some people have what is known as treatment resistant depression and do not find significant symptom relief from these methods. 

Alcoholism and substance abuse are highly comorbid (dually diasgnosed) with depression and other mental distress such as PTSD. A significant portion of alcoholic women are sexual assault survivors. Studies on comorbidity consistently show that about one in three alcoholics suffers from major depressive disorder. For them if not for everyone, CBT and antidepressants will work far better than substance avoidance and cult participation. 

Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps encourage negative thinking. They tell newcomers they are powerless, unmanageable, insane, and doomed to “jails, institutions, or death” if they don’t “keep coming back”. They ask members to continuously focus on their wrongs, shortcomings, and ” defects of character”. They claim the whole outside world is waiting to tempt members and lead them astray, that “people, places, and things” have power over their sobriety. 

Suicide in Alcoholics Anonymous is not uncommon. Exact rates are impossible to estimate because almost no one is studying this, but there is a wealth of anecdotal testimonies of fellow members, sponsors, and sponsees killing themselves. My own Al-Anon sponsor was a bipolar woman who’d been convinced to go off her prescriptions. She attempted suicide one night before a planned visit. I was able to cal 911 in time. That was my first huge suspicion this group might not know what they were doing, but I stayed for another year. 

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