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Can I Recover if I’m not Religious?

AA and NA famously rely on submission to a higher power. Six of the 12 Steps involve God–deciding “to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God,” being “entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character,” asking “God to remove our shortcomings,” etc. A huge percentage of the Big Book is devoted to faith in a higher power. There is a chapter addressed specifically to agnostics. It can be summarized as, “Get over yourself and believe in God.” Meetings are often held in churches. You might wonder if recovery is only for the righteous.

While AA and NA are effective, they aren’t the only paths to recovery. There are a range of therapeutic approaches that have proven effective, usually combined with group therapy and sometimes combined with medication. Some of these approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, contingency management or motivational incentives, community reinforcement, motivational enhancement therapy, matrix model, and family behavior therapy.

Some of these approaches work better than others for specific addictions. For example, motivational enhancement therapy works better for alcohol, and the matrix model works better for stimulants. Cognitive behavior therapy is the broadest approach and helps you manage the stress, anxiety, and depression that can lead to relapse. A good therapist will have a variety of techniques and a lot of experience helping people recover from addiction.

Although the 12 Steps relies on a higher power, it can still work if you aren’t religious. In the Big Book, it quickly becomes clear that when they say you’re free to conceive of the higher power any way you wish, it means you can choose Jehovah, Yahweh, or Allah. In practice, however, people take greater liberty with the idea. For example, Frank M. at the AA Agnostica blog conceives of the higher power simply as reality. That means accepting that you, like everything else in the universe, are subject to the laws of cause and effect. You can’t have one drink–that’s just not how you’re made. Believing you can change the laws of cause and effect is asking for trouble.

It can be frustrating for an atheist or agnostic in recovery to be surrounded by people who have not only found religion, but believe you must find it too if you want to stay in recovery. One way to deal with that frustration is to use it as an opportunity to practice acceptance. Outside of addiction, you aren’t likely to have much in common with many of your group. That’s OK. You’re there to support each other in recovery and contribute whatever you can. NA or AA can still be a useful part of recovery if you can contribute to the atmosphere of mutual support.

Recovery isn’t only available to people with certain religious ideas and there’s no single approach that works for everyone. The best approach is the one that works for you and Gardens Wellness Center can help you figure out what that is. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at