Don’t Forget to Check out our Two Part Podcast Series on Leaving The Cult of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Leaving the Cult of Alcoholics Anonymous Part 1

Leaving the Cult of Alcoholics Anonymous Part 2 



I was steeped in AA and treatment since my first memories. I came from a 12 step family. My mother was a NYS certified alcoholism counselor, some of my eleven siblings went through multiple rehabs, and eventually I too fell into the 12 step prophecy that I would develop “alcoholism” and “drug addiction” (because, the theory went, I came from a family that had history with heavy drug and alcohol use, and so therefore I was doomed should I ever let booze past my lips). Because I had gone to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with my family since I could remember, my entrance into the AA cult was as natural as breathing, it was “inevitable” after all. I had been warned many times throughout my childhood. “It’s just a matter of time before you’ll need treatment if you ever drink or take any drugs Mark. And if you do, you’ll need lifelong 12 step meetings to remain sober and have any chance at a successful life,” they’d say sternly.

Of course I fell for the ruse, not knowing any different. A DUI accident at 18 years old fast tracked me into mandated AA meeting attendance, and I unwittingly became a victim of the 12step/treatment complex. The courts decided I needed to attend daily AA and NA meetings for a minimum of one year along with daily “intensive outpatient therapy”. Luckily, I had already wanted to change my drinking habits before the DUI occurred, and so I quit easily after the accident and began my 12 step journey after the traffic courts made their treatment decree.

A Painful Downslide

In the late ‘80’s there weren’t any viable alternatives to AA. In those days, when you fell from grace as a result of booze or drugs like I did, you went to AA or rehab. It’s just what you did. Not much has changed. Never mind the fact that I’d watched AA and therapy destroy my parents’ marriage and split our family in two. Never mind that I watched my brothers and sisters struggle and be judged for their endless “relapses.” Never mind that I wanted nothing more than to just be a normal kid who could drink and have fun without the guilt of AA’s doctrines playing over and over in my mind. Never mind that the meetings were horribly depressing, oddly tense and smoky affairs with no concrete solutions being offered there. Nope, none of that mattered; AA was after all “the only way out” of addiction; the gold standard; “the most successful program ever devised for addicts and alcoholics,” with “millions helped worldwide.”

But here’s the problem, the success rhetoric did not match the reality of what I watched in the meetings. People died from overdoses regularly, suicide was a common topic at after-meeting diner stops, rape of newcomer women was common. The only ones who seemed to hold it together were the miserable old timers who demanded your allegiance. If this gold standard reputation was in fact true, then why did I look around in “the rooms” and see a reality that was quite the opposite from what they were selling?

It took me more than a decade to figure out that I was a member of a cult, that I was a mere cog in the treatment wheel, an unlucky believer in a model that was tied together with strings of myths and magic and no real substance. Worse yet, was that I regrettably spent the early years trying to convince others like me that the 12 steps was “the only way” out of addiction. I’d bought in to the 12 step marketing and the “one alcoholic working with another alcoholic” pyramid scheme they so carefully promoted.

Thankfully, the one piece I never believed in was the powerlessness narrative that is the central tenet of the 12 step model. That one omission kept me from sinking into the cult completely and losing my identity. I could not tell people something I didn’t believe in, and the truth was, I knew I was never truly powerless. If I was, I would have never stopped after all. And the simple truth was evident all around me in those wretched meetings – people, like me, HAD decided to stop prior to attending AA. No one else did that for them; no meeting or sponsor could stop someone from doing what they wanted to do. I knew this. I knew the core of personal change was a personal decision to change. I knew this because I had made that decision too, and I’d watched hundreds of others do it as well. They changed their lives within and without treatment and/or meetings. One fact remained – they personally and internally chose to change their habits and they, like me, were successful. This self evident fact was the crack in the AA cult armor that continued to split wider as the years went on, and e it drove me to research and develop The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap. From that beginning I gained the clarity to remove myself from the cult entirely and move on with my life, and show others how to extricate themselves from its devastating grip as well.

I’ve attended more than 3,000 AA meetings. I lived and breathed the model during that decade of misery. I worked within the “service structure” of AA, understood its underpinnings, its finances, where the money went and how they kept the multimillion dollar enterprise alive and running. I could see the abysmal rate of success (and watched as members touted the 75% success rate lie over and over to newcomers to get them to join and become lifetime members).

Knowing the AA model was not what they were saying it was, I decided to try to change AA from within by creating a new set of meetings for people to attend, but watched as this new “fellowship” naturally morphed back into the control-based cult rooted in powerlessness. I tried to be a “better old timer” by telling people they could recover completely, only to be admonished and cast out of AA by “district heads” for telling such heresy. “People only get a daily reprieve Mark – what you’re saying is dangerous!” Next thing I knew my name along with the names of my businesses which existed to help people were being slandered in an AA newsletter that was sent across the country to more than 14,000 groups. I needed to step back in line and stop making waves in the cult. I was told in no uncertain terms that I must trust in the powerlessness agenda or face more of these Gestapo tactics. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t lie. I couldn’t continue to exist in that charade that was harming so many. I decided then, in 1998, after 10 years of trying to change it, to begin the process of leaving AA for good and in extricating myself from the cult thinking, a new model emerged.

Leaving AA

In the Freedom Model for Addictions, the book begins with the following passage:

Anyone, even those who have a serious drug or alcohol problem, can choose to use moderately, and contrary to popular belief, they can do so successfully.

That is a bold statement, and furthermore, it’s absolutely a fact. Your inherent personal freedom allows for you to control your current use patterns, your past use patterns, and your future use patterns – whatever they are. Freedom is the belief, without fear, that you determine the course of your life and all that is in it, and that includes drug and alcohol use.

Now, you might be asking why the first words in The Freedom Model are about moderation. I started with this topic because I wanted to demonstrate to you just how revolutionary The Freedom Model approach is. By stating that moderation is a doable option for everyone, regardless of the severity of their habit, we hopefully have gotten your attention.

I left AA and I was finally free. I decided not to use drugs and/or alcohol with my own human mind and reasoning. I rejected the AA statement that “alcohol is cunning baffling and powerful.” I decided to look at the facts. Alcohol (and drugs) have no power – they are lifeless substances. They have no will, they have no volition, they have no motive. It was time to take the power back. I have a life force. I have free will. I have motives and desires and choices. And I chose to no longer view an inert substance with humanlike qualities. I decided to no longer pit my free will against an imaginary power of a substance. This was the basis for leaving AA. This was the basis to stop fearing a literal boogieman. This was the decision to move on and be free.

I get asked all the time, “Do you drink Mark?” It’s usually a question painted with a challenge. I answer, “Of course. But if you’re asking do I drink with the same motives I once did, I say, of course not. In those days I feared the boogieman I learned to fear in AA. Once I realized booze was not the force it was described to me when I was a boy, I was able to put things in perspective. Then I was able to ask myself some fundamental questions. The most significant of which was – do I want to drink a lot and get drunk a lot? It was a simple question really. And once I realized alcohol and drugs were whatever I made them out to be, the perceived benefits of drinking began to shrink. This then made being moderate and sober much more attractive options than being loaded. Once that conversion occurred in my mind, I never had a problem with booze again.”

After having helped people for more than 3 decades, I know a certain group will read what I’ve written here and they won’t get it. It’s a bridge too far because they have been taught so much of the addiction and treatment mythology. They are caught in the trap. So for you out there who are struggling to even imagine an “easy” way to stop or moderate your use of booze and/or drugs, I suggest you read The Freedom Model for Addictions. Every addiction and treatment myth is addressed in detail and debunked with solid research for you. You will never fear drugs or alcohol again. You will be able to avoid having to live “in recovery” too. You really can be free – but you need the facts to do so effectively.