Futures Recovery Healthcare

God in Twelve-Step Programs: Do You Have to Believe?


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Twelve-step programs and the concept of God may go hand-in-hand for some but it’s a common misconception that you need to be religious or believe in God to be a part of a twelve-step program. When it comes to 12-step programs and God, there’s a lot of room for interpretation–and it’s meant to be that way.

If you are living with an alcohol or drug addiction and want to begin the recovery process, you may be looking to 12-Step programs. When you consider these programs, you may be hesitant because you think you must be religious or have a strong faith in God for these programs to work. It’s important to understand that this simply isn’t true. 

The concept of God can be very different for different people. For some, when the subject of God comes up they are very comfortable and have a strong faith in God. These individuals may have grown up going to church or synagogue on a regular basis. On the other hand, they may have found their faith later in life. Either way, it is easy for them to believe in God. 

There are others, however, who may feel uncomfortable, even fearful when the topic of God comes up. Maybe they too were raised going to church but had a bad experience or didn’t like certain practices of their childhood religion and have veered away and lost faith. Still, others may not have been raised with any concept of God. For these people, believing in God may come hard. 

What’s more, when it comes to God and a God-concept, different religious groups believe steadfastly in different ‘Gods’. From Allah to Budha, there are different concepts of God that different religious groups believe is the only true God. 

As you can see, for a variety of reasons, there can be many different concepts of God. And for some, they don’t believe in a God at all. In fact, according to a 2021 Pew Research survey, about three in 10 Americans consider themselves “religiously unaffiliated”. What’s more, those identifying as Christians have decreased from around 75% in 2011 to 63% in 2021. 

Times are changing when it comes to religions and strictly adhering to concepts of God associated with these religions. However, when it comes to 12-Step programs, the understanding that there are different and unique concepts of God has been a foundation of the program since the start. 

12-Step Programs and a Higher Power

12-Step programs are support groups that help individuals struggling with specific addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous or AA was the first 12-Step program. This life-saving program helps individuals with alcohol addiction, alcohol misuse issues, alcoholism, and alcohol use disorder (AUD) find ways to stop drinking, get sober, and go on to lead happy and abundant lives. 

From this program, founded in 1935 in Akron, Ohio by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, other 12-Step programs have grown. These programs are also very effective in helping individuals stop using alcohol or drugs as well as other behaviors. Some of the most common types of 12-Step groups include:

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Alanon
  • Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
  • Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA)
  • Nar-anon 
  • And more

Each of these 12-Step groups follows a version of the original AA 12-Steps. There are many similarities amongst these groups and some differences. When it comes to the concept of God, each of these 12-Step programs asks individuals to believe in a concept of God or a Higher Power that makes sense to them.

Many people mistakenly believe that to be in a 12-Step program, you must believe in a traditional view of God and religion. This isn’t true. In fact, in the very 12-Steps, the belief in a God of your own understanding is clearly stated. 

The second of the 12 steps states; 

“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

This illustrates how immediately in the 12-Steps the concept of God isn’t traditional. At this step, the person who wants to heal and recover from addiction is asked to simply believe that there is a Power greater than themselves. 

The next step, Step Three again encourages an individual’s own understanding of a God. Step Three states:

“Made a decision to turn our wills and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him”.

Again, the idea that the individual can form their own concept of a Higher Power and of God is clearly stated. Finally, in Step 11, the reference is made. 

Step 11 reads, 

“Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him…”.

As you can see the 12-Steps encourage the individual to form their own concept of God or just of a Higher Power, a power greater than themselves. 

For many, despite the openness of welcoming different understandings of God, they still find it difficult in 12-Step programs when God is mentioned. It’s important to realize that this is okay and, in fact, many others have been early in a 12-Step program and struggled with the same thing. 

What’s more, the founders of AA, were able to foresee this as a possible reason for some to stay away from AA. They wanted to speak to this issue and assure readers and those who needed help that having a shaky concept of God or not believing in God at all was no reason that AA couldn’t work for them too. 

In fact, an entire chapter in Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book is devoted to the nonbeliever. Chapter Four, We Agnostics, speaks directly to those people. In this chapter, the authors talk about those in the program who also didn’t believe in God or struggled with this concept.  

In this important chapter that is aimed to help the nonbeliever find a Higher Power so they can make the start at sobriety, the authors talk in detail about how many of the original members were agnostic or atheist. They go on to discuss how each one had a ‘spiritual experience’ that helped them come to believe in some type of power greater than themselves. 

Additionally, Bill W. and Dr. Bob understood first-hand how difficult it can be for some to face having to believe in a concept of God. Here’s an example from page 44 in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Fourth Edition, 

“To one who feels he is an atheist or agnostic such an experience seems impossible, but to continue as he is means disaster, especially if he is an alcoholic of the hopeless variety. To be doomed to an alcoholic death or to live on a spiritual basis are not always easy alternatives to face.” 

They go on to reassure these individuals stating, 

“But it isn’t always so difficult. About half of our original fellowship were of exactly that type.”

If you are living with addiction to alcohol or drugs it’s important to understand that just believing that there is something out there in the world greater than you is all you need to do to begin the 12-Step programs. In fact, you don’t have to believe in anything to simply go to 12-Step meetings which in itself can be life-changing. 

There are many who have successfully become sober despite having no belief in a Higher Power to begin. And, many who attend AA and NA, know how disconcerting this can first be. 

“Many times we talk to a new man and watch his hope rise as we discuss his alcoholic problems and explain our fellowship. But his face falls when we speak of spiritual matters, especially when we mention God…”

However, many of these individuals formed their own concept of a Higher Power or God. These people have found that this is plenty to base a spiritual journey upon. And, this spiritual journey has been the starting point for a life of recovery from alcohol and/or drugs. 

No matter what your current belief in God or a Higher Power is, you too can find support to recover from an alcohol or drug addiction. For many, 12-Step programs are the key to ongoing and long-term sobriety. Programs such as AA, NA, GA, provided the much-needed tools to achieve long-lasting sobriety and a life beyond your wildest dreams. 

If you or someone you love needs help with a problem with alcohol or drugs, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. At Futures, we know that everyone is different and there is no one size fits all treatment program for addiction. We offer three different treatment programs as well as an inpatient mental health unit. Additionally, we are able to effectively treat those individuals with co-occurring mental health and addiction issues. 

To learn more about our programs visit Core, Orenda, Rise or call us at 866-804-2098.


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