Do you need to be Religious for 12 Step Treatment?

Published On: August 4, 2015

If you’ve researched Alcoholics Anonymous you may have discovered the ’12 step’ teachings. Designed as a form of alcohol addiction treatment, these teachings (at least in their original carnation) contain religious undertones. In fact, the US courts are no longer permitted the power to compel those on parole or in jail to attend AA/NA meetings for this very reason. The religious aspect of AA/NA meetings would effectively breach the ‘Establishment Clause’ of the First Amendment prohibiting Governmental interference in religion.

Why you should give 12 steps a chance even if you’re an atheist

If you’re agnostic or an atheist the above factors may force you to conclude that AA or its various sibling organisations are not for you. However, we urge you not to right-off this valuable resource so readily. In the UK AA/NA is atheist/agnostic friendly. Sessions take on a more spiritual rather than a religious vibe. For instance ‘God’ is often substituted for a ‘Higher Power’ or for ‘God as you understand him’.

The modern evolution of 12 step teachings

A non-religious stance has been formally adopted by Teen Addictions Anonymous, an organisation founded less than a decade ago in 2008. Their literature states: “The conflict of church and state, prayer in schools and entrusting in God as a form of education, were obvious conflicts that students understood needed to be resolved. Therefore, the students adjusted the 12-step program to fit their own interpretation.”

Another organisation eager to water down its religious past is ‘Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous’ (SLAA). SLAA states on its website: “As we realized how helpful this network of support was, we sensed that a belief in any specific God or divinity was unnecessary. Our need for faith could be answered with affirming hope, a sense of the possibility for spiritual guidance that was already apparent in the experiences of the SLAA members who preceded us.”

Marijuana Anonymous (MA) has also taken steps to shift the focus from religion to spirituality. Many of its members find this shift in focus much more palatable. MA states on its website: “The program of recovery works for people who do not believe in God and for people who do. It does not work for people who think they are God. … “Higher Power” means different things to different people. To some of us, it is a God of an organized religion; to others, it is a state of being commonly called spirituality. Some of us believe in no deity; a Higher Power may be the strength gained from being a part of, and caring for, a community of others. There is room in MA for all beliefs. We do not proselytize any particular view or religion”.

Online Gamers Anonymous (OGA) substitutes God entirely for ‘someone qualified in counselling’ (see Step 3 of OGA’s version of the 12 step teachings).

Reactionary pressure to return to core values

A pressure group within AA, known as Back to Basics AA, was formed in response to what it saw as the religious watering down of traditional AA principles. However, the reach of this organisation does not extend far beyond America.

Seeking further information

We urge agnostics and atheists to read Roger C.’s The Little Book: A Collection of Alternative 12 Steps. The book is published by AA Agnostic. Click here to purchase this book through Amazon and give AA a try. We also urge you to research groups such as Rational Recovery (RR), Secular Organizations for Recovery (SOS), SMART Recovery and Addiction Alternatives.

About Rehab 4 Alcoholism

If you or a loved one suffers from addiction, be sure to contact Rehab 4 Alcoholism. With addiction treatment centres throughout the United Kingdom, our advisors will find a suitable treatment centre near you.


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