12 Step Questions

Below is a list of some of the frequently asked questions that we have received.

Q: What is Thirteenth-stepping?

A: This is an unofficial term used to describe the actions of some members, typically men, who attend meetings largely to hit on women. It has become an issue at a number of meeting sites around the world. Groups that focus on alcoholism or chemical dependency are left to try and self-govern, but 12 step groups that deal with sexual compulsions will often screen new members and keep meeting places closely guarded secrets in order to discourage the practice..

Q: Is it true some people are addicted to 12 step meetings?

A: We think this is fallacious notion. Granted some members attend weekly meetings for years and years following their sobriety, others go to a handful of different meetings each week. This can be termed a lot of things, but certainly not ‘addictive’.

Q: Does A.A. consider alcoholism and addiction a disease in the clinical sense?

A: We’ll let co-founder Bill W respond to that: “We AAs have never called alcoholism a disease because, technically speaking, it is not a disease entity. For example, there is no such thing as heart disease. Instead there are many separate heart ailments or combinations of them. It is something like that with alcoholism. Therefore, we did not wish to get in wrong with the medical profession by pronouncing alcoholism a disease entity. Hence, we have always called it an illness or a malady – a far safer term for us to use.“

Q: How do they assure members of their confidentiality?

A: They make no such assurances; they can’t. they aren’t bound by any legal confidentiality agreements. In short they operate on the honor system. Nothing is stopping anyone from divulging a variety of information, such as the names of those attending meetings.

Q: Aren’t 12 Step programs basically cults?

A: This is a far more complex question than yes or no. Some experts see numerous similarities between 12 step programs and cults, but a closer look at all the official literature makes this a hard sell. There may be an intense amount of peer pressure, but to call it coercion would be to take it too far.

Granted, groups like AA sell materials such as the ‘Big Book’ but officially there is no requirement to make any such purchase. One need never surrender a shred of personal information. And there is no central figure around whom the organization congregates perse. Yes, cofounder Bill W is a central figure, but his relative anonymity largely prevents him from becoming a figure of worship. AA itself claims no political affiliation, they have no lobbying groups, and make no public statements.

Additionally, consider that as many as 9 in 10 new members stop attending meetings within the first year. Clearly nobody’s keeping them. The 12 step program may dominate residential and outpatient treatment programs, but even noted anti-cult writer and speaker Rick Ross’ definition of a cult fails to apply to 12 step programs: to Ross, a cult is “a group with an absolute authoritarian leader who is seen by members to have an exclusive position as a mediator between God or the higher power and all the world, an ascending hierarchical structure, beliefs in their own elite status and malevolence of all outsiders who oppose the group.

Typically, recruitment is deceptive, with the groups withholding information about themselves and discouraging critical thinking. The idea is to strip the mind of all thoughts that are not consistent with the group think.”

This isn’t to suggest that certain meetings aren’t run with cult-like qualities; lacking a central organization or hierarchical structure seems only to preclude any attempt to label 12 step programs en masse as a cult.

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