Can the 12 Steps Work for Atheists?

getting helpAlcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous, and other 12-step groups are heavily based on not only recognizing the existence of a “power greater than ourselves” but also in giving over control of one’s life to the will of that higher power in order to overcome addiction and avoid relapse.

Some newcomers work through these steps without a second thought to the “God part,” but for others, the religious overtones are problematic. These newcomers, especially those who are non-religious or atheist, say that the heavy emphasis on God in 12-step meetings makes it impossible for them to stick with the program. Is it possible to find benefits in 12-step meetings if you’re an atheist?

‘Take What You Need…’

It’s possible to find benefits to your recovery in almost everything if your perspective is set to do so. There’s a common saying in 12-step programs: “Take what you need and leave the rest.” For those who are living with addiction, the peer support of others in recovery, the shares, and/or the message of a particular meeting may be enough to make it worthwhile to attend despite the religious overtones. For others, it isn’t possible – or worth it – to sift through the God talk in order to find positive takeaways.

Atheist 12-Step Groups

For those who appreciate the structure and support provided by 12-step groups, and who find value in working the steps and having a sponsor, there are 12-step organizations that drop religious references from the material but change little else. The focus is on faith in oneself and the development of personal integrity over reliance on a higher power. Many find that these groups – like Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) and AA Agnostica – allow them their personal religious freedom while also providing them with support in recovery.

Beyond the 12 Steps

Others who prefer to avoid religious discussion and the 12 steps entirely will find that there are numerous personal paths to ongoing sobriety. Therapist-run support groups often provide as much or more in the way of peer support and accountability. They may also be focused on a certain aspect of sobriety, like parenting or career development, or they may incorporate personal therapy as well.

There are also a number of options in holistic and alternative therapeutic support. Interactive therapies like art therapy, cinema therapy, or photography therapy can be the gateway to a new hobby or a new peer group. Holistic treatments like yoga or acupuncture can lead to a new career or new lifestyle choices. Any therapy or activity that provides positive structure to sobriety, connections with positive people, improved ability to manage relapse urges, and ongoing progress in recovery are more than adequate options in aftercare.

The First Step Toward Sobriety

No matter your religious preferences, no 12-step program is a rehabilitation program; it is recommended that anyone struggling with addiction begin their journey into recovery by enrolling in a drug rehab program. Contact us at Axis now to learn more about our intensive addiction treatment options and how we can support you in rehab and beyond.