Groupthink and Safety Within Alcoholics Anonymous

Groupthink can be a serious problem for any group of people, and the consequences of Groupthink can be great. When you hear about tragedies such as mass suicides by cults, or wonder how our country really escalated into that certain unnecessary war, one theory is that Groupthink is involved. Groupthink is also rife within Alcoholics Anonymous. Let me define Groupthink for you so that you can understand what it is before going forward. This definition is taken from the Psychology Today’s article on Groupthink and is a good standard definition of it.

Groupthink occurs when a group of well-intentioned people make irrational or non-optimal decisions that are spurred by the urge to conform or the discouragement of dissent. This problematic or premature consensus may be fueled by a particular agenda or simply because group members value harmony and coherence above rational thinking. In a groupthink situation, group members refrain from expressing doubts and judgments or disagreeing with the consensus. In the interest of making a decision that furthers their group cause, members may ignore any ethical or moral consequences.

As you can guess from this definition, Groupthink can cause serious issues. I have seen Groupthink in AA many times when I’ve spoken up about my experiences of rape by another AA member or simply when I talk up about Psychology in regards to AA theory. Seemingly good, nice people will reply in completely offensive, irrational and unethical ways to me because of Groupthink while everyone else stays quiet. Few people in AA have supported me in my experiences of even healing from rape in AA. In fact, when I started sharing about it, my sponsor dropped me and everyone simply went quiet. Very few people from the group showed real support, and the feeling that I got was to shut up about this.

Groupthink tends to be higher in groups where people feel like their survival or well-being is dependent on the group’s survival. Groupthink also increases in a group that values unity. The more that a group feels like unity is important, the more likely it is that problematic Groupthink and the consequences of it will occur. Also, the more that a person or group of people feel like the group is necessary for their survival, the more likely it also is that this will occur. Now if you’ve ever been to AA, you know that unity is highly valued, and that many people feel like AA has saved their life. This leads the group and organization itself to be very vulnerable to Groupthink.

Another consequence of Groupthink is that it can result in irrational thinking and in a person or group of people discarding legitimate or even factual information that threatens the unity of survival of the group. In groups like AA, this leads to all kinds of biases, the passing around of incorrect information that matches a group’s conscience, irrational thinking and behavior, and to a sense of unity that is really not what it seems. This is because the unity itself is influenced by Groupthink. This can result in a cycle of increasing Groupthink, which results in a greater sense of unity, which results in more Groupthink. Eventually in this scenario rational thinking and moral behavior itself can go right out the door.

Groupthink also leads AA to be more vulnerable to sexual predators. People don’t like to do things in AA that go against the grain, and talking about a person in the group who is unsafe represents a threat to the unity of the group. Thus Groupthink kicks in, resulting in people being unable to admit that somebody in the AA group could be unsafe and that therefore they cannot side with the victim. In addition, people in a group with Groupthink will act totally immorally if they feel like their group is threatened- even if it’s not. This results in quite a bit of victim blame for people who speak out about experiences of abuse within AA, and predators can see this. This has gotten AA into a cycle today where predators can influence whole AA communities because they prey off of social and group dynamics such as Groupthink and the lack of people’s ability or willingness to see problems within the group. Because of the dynamics of group think and a predator’s ability to influence it and prey off of it, today AA is not a very safe place. But most AA members are not even willing to even consider this due to Groupthink. Because of this, AA is in a viscous cycle when it comes to it’s inability to keep it’s members safe.

Furthermore, when a person is influenced by Groupthink, they usually don’t realize this and are not very likely to even consider the fact that they are being influenced by Groupthink. This is because even the idea of Groupthink and of social dynamics influencing a group and member’s thinking threatens the survival of the group itself. So anyone in AA reading this will probably deny that Groupthink is even occurring in AA- and this itself is actually one of the consequences of Groupthink.

So as you can see, due to Groupthink, organizations like AA can get into a problematic cycle. They can be preyed upon by predators and members can refuse to examine anything other than what the group thinks or says. People are prone to irrational thinking due to Groupthink and to irrational behaviors. If you don’t believe me on this, go to a business meeting in AA when a topic is being addressed that could threaten the group’s unity. Here you will see people behaving or thinking irrationally, heated arguments, and all kinds things that are caused by Groupthink. You will see adamant talks by a small portion of members of the importance of unity and the group conscience rather than the importance of each individual member among other things. You will also see that most people sit quietly and don’t say much, or if they do it doesn’t go against the grain of the group conscience. They are waiting patiently for the business meeting to just be over with. But hey, it’s just another AA business meeting, right?

Thanks for reading!

4 thoughts on “Groupthink and Safety Within Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. Totally relate. I’m sorry your experience was minimised. That is so damaging and retraumatising. Makes me angry. I always felt like my abuse was denied in those rooms. It was the alcohol and the isms/ rather than that being a symptom and for me the abuse being the root cause.


    1. I’m sorry that happened to you too! In AA people attribute everything to alcoholism itself. You drank because you have a disease. You drank due to cravings and an allergy. What this ignores though is that maybe a person drank to cope with trauma, depression, or social anxiety. But AA promotes oveefocus on the disease aspect and I believe that this can lead people to not address the underlying issues that a person has. It’s sad and is part of the reason why AA is such an unhealthy place, which is that you have a bunch of people who are suffering from mental illness who think that their symptoms of mental illness are actually due to alcoholism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally. I appreciate you talking to this. I have written a few blogs about it, but not expressing the sentiment as eloquently as you (I was still muddling through it). As a survivor my default was negative thinking and also fear. I felt it contributed a lot to my fear based programming and kept me stuck. I have since found success at co dependents anonymous! Only one meeting a week and its principles are founded on self love and care. Plus I work with the root cause of my drinking- shame and ritual abuse. Once I started doing that things changed dramatically. I feel stronger. Really enjoying your blog. Thx


  2. Thanks! That sounds very much like me. I already had all of this shame and so it was easy to fall prey to the ideas of AA. If you didn’t read this, I also went through ritual abuse. I did go to Adult Children of Alcoholics for awhile but found that it was just too triggering to hear other people’s shares. So I read the ACA book and it taught me quite a bit.


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