Is 12-Step Recovery a Religious Program?

12 Step is Based in Religious Belief

Many newcomers to the rooms of 12-Step recovery fellowships will see or hear the word “God” often. It may seem, at a surface level, that 12-Step recovery is based in religious belief. The word itself bring up all sorts of religious connotations, and can be disheartening to a newcomer who does not have religious beliefs. However, 12-Step recovery is not religious in any way, and the use of the term “God” refers only to the concept of a higher power of an individual’s own understanding. It can be an entirely personal conception separate from religion.

The goal of engaging in the 12-Step recovery program is to have a spiritual awakening that entirely changes an individual’s motivations, desires, and reaction to life. The development and maintenance of a spiritual experience allows and individual to be happy, joyous, and free in sobriety. Even the term “spiritual,” however, may draw certain associations with religious systems of thought.

Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland explains, “One of the most common misconceptions about Alcoholics Anonymous is that it is a religious organization. New members especially, confronted with A.A.’s emphasis on recovery from alcoholism by spiritual means, often translate “spiritual” as “religious” and shy away from meetings, avoiding what they perceive as a new and frightening set of beliefs.

By the time they walk into their first meeting, many alcoholics have lost what faith they might once have possessed; others have tried religion to stop drinking and failed; still others simply want nothing to do with it. Yet with rare exceptions, once A.A. members achieve any length of sobriety, they have found a source of strength outside themselves — a Higher Power, by whatever name — and the stumbling block has disappeared.”

They Speak of a Higher Power

In the context of 12-Step recovery, the term “god” is simply a shortcut to saying, “a higher power of my own understanding.” The Big Book, the central text of Alcoholics Anonymous that outlines the 12-Step recovery program, explains, “When, therefore, we speak to you of God, we mean your own conception of God. This applies, too, to other spiritual expressions which you find in this book.

Do not let prejudice you may have again spiritual terms deter you from honestly asking yourself what they mean to you.” We must, therefore, draw distinctions between “God” and “higher power of your own understanding,” and between “spiritual” and “religious.” Once we realize that our conception of a higher power and spirituality can be entirely of our own understanding, we open ourselves up to the potential for growth in our recovery. We can have deep and effective spiritual experiences on our journey of recovery that will allow us to achieve peace and serenity in our sobriety.

Addiction and alcoholism do not have to control your life. You can make the decision to seek help now and discover a life of happiness, joyousness, and freedom in sobriety. The Lakehouse Recovery Center, located on beautiful Lake Sherwood in Southern California, offers a highly successful hybrid approach to treatment combining advanced approaches along with 12-Step, alternative, and holistic recovery services. For information about individualized treatment options, please call today: (877) 762-3707


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