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People use addiction as a substitute for intimate relations and AA cleverly provides an intimate relationship." Caroline (not her real name), 39, took four years to break away from AA and looks back with loathing at what she now sees as its self-serving and coercive methods.

"I had doubts from the start but I carried on because, at the time, I had very low self-esteem and no confidence.

A number of ex-members and addiction treatment professionals have accused it of having cult-like qualities and using brainwashing and bullying methods that weak and vulnerable people are particularly susceptible to.

In the US, the anti-AA lobby has been further fuelled by the recent publication of two books; Alcoholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure?

This aspect of AA rhetoric is supposed to be negotiable nowadays, but Caroline disagrees: "As with any religion, you have to play by their rules or you're out.Members feed off each other in a very unhealthy way; it's like a dating agency.Opposition is not encouraged; I once made the mistake of mentioning to another member that I was in contact with a woman who had dropped out.It is tacitly accepted that it's beyond reproach and must do nothing but good, probably because we have all at least heard of someone who swears by it.But AA (and the 12 Step approach to addiction recovery it pioneered and patented) is currently very much in the dock.

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