Is Alcoholics Anonymous really a religious cult that uses communist-derived techniques to brainwash its members? A Review of Jeffrey A. Schaler, Addiction is a Choice

Is Alcoholics Anonymous really a religious cult that uses communist-derived techniques to brainwash its members? A Review of Jeffrey A. Schaler, Addiction is a Choice

Anderson, Jack R

Dr. Schaler has impressive credentials: a doctoral degree in psychology, multiple faculty appointments at prestigious universities, including the title of “adjunct professor,” which frequently connotes polymath stature, and international experience as a forensic expert. Remarkably productive, he authored or coauthored thirty-eight of the more than four hundred references in the bibliography.

He is a gifted writer and weaves his webs of words so skillfully that he could undoubtedly convince many readers that black is white, that up is down, and that the self-contradictory statement of his title, Addiction is a Choice, is true.

In the introduction and first few chapters, Dr. Schaler dances gracefully around the definition of “addiction,” which he says means “commitment, dedication, devotion, bent, or inclination.” He conspicuously omits the definition given in the Webster’s on my desk: “the state or quality of being addicted: specifically: compulsive use of habit-forming drugs.” Apparently he does not accept compulsion as an important factor in human behavior and excludes obsessive compulsive disorder and all other volitional disorders from his diagnostic lexicon. He says he advises individuals who are diagnosed as involuntarily addicted that “they can control themselves and their lives, that they have the power to renounce an old addiction if they want to.”

Schaler’s use of “addiction” reminded me of a passage from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. ” `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful voice, `it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’


Schaler agrees that “just about everyone” believes that addicts are driven by an irresistible compulsion. This includes politicians, government officials, social workers, addiction treatment providers, physicians, ministers of religion and the media. The only ones who disagree are “those people who actually know something about the subject.”

To explain why so many people believe in the volitional disorders, Schaler says, “. . . ‘religious’ thinking is actually strongly associated with the belief in the disease model; it is the more secular, better-educated, and more scientifically minded people who tend to be proponents of the free-will model.” He further states that anyone who disagrees with his belief that addicts can overcome their addiction through willpower alone are themselves addicted to the disease model.

He puts down those who provide addiction treatment with the following passage. “The addiction treatment providers, the many thousands of people who make their living in the addiction treatment industry, mostly accept the disease theory. They are, in fact, for the most part, `recovered addicts’ themselves, redeemed sinners who spend their lives being paid to preach the gospel that social deviants are sick.”

Schaler refers to the U.S. Government’s anti-drug programs as “sanctimonious hypocrisy and cant.” He believes citizens should have the right to take any drugs they want to, without any governmental interference. He accuses antismoking crusaders of conducting an illiberal and monstrous campaign of repression.”


Chapter 8, “Busting the Disease Model Cult,” begins, “Members of a cult behave like a colony of insects when disturbed. A challenge to the cult’s beliefs stirs up a frenzy of activity, directed toward protecting the beliefs and attacking the outsider who has challenged them.”

Dr. Schaler calls Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) a religious cult. He writes: “Alexander and Rollins describe how the eight brainwashing techniques employed by the Chinese Communists, identified by Linton, operate in AA. According to Alexander and Rollins, `AA uses all the methods employed by cults.’ ”

The references to Communist tactics are apparently intended to further demonize AA. In another chapter Schaler says, “. . . human life can be devastated or horribly blighted by ill-chosen addictions,” and gives as an example of such an addiction: “a young person in the 1930’s becoming a Communist or a National Socialist.” Paradoxically, his insistence that religion is an addiction echoes Karl Marx’s voice of more than a hundred years ago. “Das Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes. Religion … is the opium of the people” (from Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie).

Communist-bashing has long been popular in America. Religion-bashing is a horse of a different color, as a presidential nomination candidate recently learned.


In a section of Chapter 8, entitled “How the cult attacks its critics,” Dr. Schaler describes some aspects of his many encounters with disease-model proponents “. . . on the editorial pages of large and small newspapers, live radio talk shows, scientific journals, local political settings and on some of the first newsgroups on the Internet concerned with addiction.”

The names he has been called include “thoughtless dweeb “crackpot psychologist,” “fascist,” “doctor baby,” “arrogant son of a bitch,” “contemptible,” and “immature guy with a Dr. before his name.” Considering his confrontational and inflammatory rhetoric, these names may be the nicest things his opponents have said about him.

I have never believed ad hominem attacks had any place in professional discussions and have to agree with Dr. Schaler that these were unjustified. Exchanges of “You’re a so-and-so” and “You’re a bigger one” do not advance understanding or anything else. On the other hand, I believe he is entirely wrong in attributing these attacks to mindless reactions by members of his metaphorical “colony of insects.” I think he should listen closely when AA members tell him that “people who don’t know better will be led astray” by his ideas with catastrophic results.

From my own experience covering emergency rooms, I would estimate that at any given moment there are several hundred addicts in ERs and ICUs in hospitals scattered throughout the USA, fighting for their very existence, with worried physicians administering IM and IV medications to ameliorate their convulsions, hallucinations, cardiopulmonary symptoms and autonomic storms.

Many of these addicts, after years of clean sobriety in such groups as AA and Synanon, succumbed to arguments from highly credentialed but misguided professionals that they could use their willpower to drink or take drugs in moderation if they so chose. Ineluctably, their first drink, shot, snort, or whatever started them down the road to personal ruin. Some of them, despite the physicians’ best efforts, will not make it.

Members of support groups like AA become attached to each other over their years of association. When one of their number dies because a well-intentioned professional treatment provider encourages him to use alcohol or other chemicals “in moderation,” their grief over the loss of their loved one and their anger at the misguided professional are appropriate emotional responses, not evidence of “Communistic style brainwashing.”


Enough said. Probably more than enough. Obviously Addiction is a Choice is exciting and adrenaline-stimulating. Whatever your interest, whether you are an alcoholic, a heavy drinker, a drug addict, a drug user, a tobacco smoker, a treatment provider, a government official, a police officer or a taxpayer who helps foot the enormous bill generated by alcohol and drug problems in our society, I advise you to read this book.

Jack R. Anderson

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Please address all correspondence to Dr. Jack R. Anderson, 2450 Q Street, Apt. 102, Lincoln, NE 68503-3651. Email:

Copyright Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies Spring 2000

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