How Fundamentalist AA can be Dangerous to Recovering Alcoholics

How Fundamentalist AA can be Dangerous to Recovering Alcoholics


There is nothing wrong with a 12 step program unless it limits you in your growth. When taken to an extreme this is exactly what can happen though.

A fundamentalist in AA is someone who, upon hearing a new idea about how to recover from alcoholism, first checks to see if that idea is compatible with the 12 step model. If it’s not in the Big Book, they discard the idea without further investigation. This is fundamentalism. It ignores outside ideas about recovery while still claiming open-mindedness.

In fundamentalist AA, open-mindedness is only considered to be virtuous if you are exploring the 12 step program. Things that fall outside of AA dogma simply become “outside issues” that really “do not pertain to recovery” at all.

For example, the fundamentalist in AA is likely to dismiss the idea that a holistic approach can be more powerful than the spiritual approach, and claim that things such as exercise, emotional balance, and education are not important in maintaining sobriety. The only solution for them is through strict adherence to AA principles. Even though the Big Book of AA says “more will be revealed” and “we know only a little,” the fundamentalist ignores these ideas and elevates the rest of the Big Book to ultimate and complete knowledge.

Not everyone in AA does this. Only the fanatical fundamentalist does this, which can give a bad image to the whole program. The program is actually quite sound and helpful. Taking it to an extreme is what gets us into trouble.

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Fundamentalism is a fear-based response that is driven by a need to reinforce one’s own recovery program. We see people relapsing all around us in recovery and the fundamentalist is clinging to the belief that only the devout and hard-core follower can truly make it in the long run.

Your solution should change over time

Fundamentalism is dangerous to recovery because your solution needs to change over time. In other words, what kept you sober at 30 days clean will not keep you sober at 3 years clean or at 10 years clean. You have to grow and change and evolve in order to keep maintaining sobriety. This is part of the creative process and it is a good thing, as long as you continue to use the 3 strategies and engage in positive action.

With fundamentalism the solution never changes, and exploring new ideas in recovery is frowned upon. The fundamentalist argues that the solution is already well laid out in the 12 step program, so why deviate and look to other means? The creative holistic approach argues that this is limiting their growth, and seeks to push themselves outside the boundaries of the 12 step program.

If you are involved in a 12 step program there is nothing inherently wrong with that. The only danger is if that program is limiting your growth in some way. Beware of extremists who claim that they have all the answers (while still claiming to be open-minded).

The key to long term recovery is creation through purposeful growth and passionate living. If a 12 step program is stifling that drive then it is worth changing meetings or seeking alternatives. There are some in AA who are truly open minded and living a creative life but you must seek them out and go beyond traditional 12 step dogma in order to replicate their success.


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