In six out of 12 steps g-d is either explicitly or implicitly mentioned. At the same time promulgators of these programs say their program is non-religious. In order to illustrate the 12-step programs cultishness I will use a checklist made by Dr. Langlich and Dr. Langlone to decide if AA is a cult.
The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law. To illustrate this point look no farther than any AA meeting place. In these places pictures of the founding members are put up all over the place. Also, their opinions are generally used as guiding principles in many AA meetings
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished. I must concede that people are not punished in AA, but questioning the program is generally met with harsh critiscisim
Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s). See step 11. Also, look up AA slogans and look no further than how they open and close their meetings
The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity). Many members consider themselves to be better than people who are not in AA. There is a general attitude of superiorty since they are so spiritual and good.
Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. Members of 12-step programs are supposed to devote a significant amount of time to the "program". They are supposed to spend time working the steps, going to meetings, carrying the message, and of course meeting with a sponsor.
Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.
The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group. "AA saved my life, I would be nowhere with out it" "I need to go to meetings or I will die an Alcoholic death"
Anonymity allows people of very diverse social, political, religious, and philosophical backgrounds to come together and learn from each others experience, strength and hope.
I cannot speak for anyone else, but my NA experience, my Sponsor, and the work I have done in all 12 steps has allowed me to develop as and individual, become less self-centered, and discover my own spiritual path. I attempt to instill in my sponsees the same principles as we all work toward learning a new way to live.
12-step programs are not like cults as they encourage self reflection and choosing to change and become a better person while a cult is driven to take away individuality and create a thoughtless body to follow and conform. A twelve step program encourages a person to move beyond addiction or accept issues and change what is possible to be changed. A cult looks only to change a person into a sheep, a thoughtless Borg who is programmed to gather others to assimilate into the Collective.