Faithless but in Alcoholics Anonymous

When you’re going through rehab you might hear people talk about their “higher power”. You’re not really religious or spiritual. You didn’t grow up in a church and you don’t really hold to the idea of an ultimate creator. Or maybe you were raised in a faith tradition. You sang the songs and went to church, maybe you even bought in to the doctrine as a child, but you have since left the church either because you do not believe with its principles or the way it puts forth its message into the world. Regardless of the reason, you’re not necessarily comfortable with the idea of a higher power being your support structure. In all of the twelve step treatment programs, they tell you that it is through your belief in a higher power that you can be sober. Often the drug rehab centers in South Florida, detox centers too, suggest committing to a twelve step program like Alcoholics Anonymous. You’d like to. You appreciate the opportunity for building accountability with a group of like minded individuals who are struggling with many of the same demons that you struggle with. But you don’t want to lie. And you don’t believe.


How can you be an atheist and still attend a twelve step program?


  1. Consider your “higher power” the people in the program with you. Maybe you don’t believe in a god the way your peers in the program do, but I bet you believe in your peers. Try thinking about them as your higher power. That isn’t to say, you should think of them as all powerful, all knowing, and vengeful. But you should think of them as a mighty source of personal power for you. You should know that when you open up to share they are all shifting their posture toward you. They’re listening and caring. The group of you together are a force for addiction to reckon with. You’re all fighting every day and supporting each other through those struggles. That’s devine. That’s grace. Look at the group as a whole as the thing which is bigger than your addiction. Addiction is bigger than you, but you’ve got a band of scrappy recovering addicts in your back pocket. You’ve got this.
  2. Your twelve step program should adapt to fit you, not the other way around. Joining a program like AA is meant to make sobriety more attainable, not to add to the stress that probably helped lead you to addiction in the first place. If something doesn’t work for you, study the language of the program around the issue at hand and work with your sponsor to make sure the guidelines of the program can work for you. If you need to shift something to be able to follow the program keep one thing in mind. The whole point of a program like this is to help people get off of drugs and alcohol and make the difficult choice every day to stay sober. It’s impossible for the program to work like this if you can’t even take part in it. Work with your sponsor to figure out how AA, or whatever program you join can better serve you as a community and a means to sobriety.
  3. Be honest about who you are and your beliefs. You can be respectful in your honesty. You don’t need to judge or be pushy when you talk about being an atheist. I’m assuming you don’t want the people you’re attending the program with to prosthelytize to you? Don’t do it to them either! Let them have what they need to live a happy and courageous life, and insist you have what you need. If you are transparent, earnest, and vulnerable, you’ll find that everyone there wants to support you. Very few people will give you a hard time about your religious beliefs and if they do, the way through that conflict is through clear and honest communication.
  4. Ask and Tell! If you never tell anyone about your feelings regarding higher powers, you may never find the other non believers in the group. They’re hiding there waiting for someone else to say something. You may never connect if you don’t say something.


Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step programs welcome people of all religions and backgrounds. They suggest that you explore believing in a higher power because part of healing from trauma and recovering from addiction requires an addict to believe two things:

  1. That their addiction is more than they can handle on their own, that they need support and they need solidarity. A higher power brings all of this to the table
  2. That they have a means to defeat that addiction that is even bigger than the addiction. Therefore much bigger than you.

Twelve step programs make network building and support structure construction easy. The groups have experienced people who want so very much to help and who have been in situations very similar to yours. Occasionally they can feel neglectful of someone who doesn’t believe in God, but you can see the idea of a higher power played out in other ways like peers, nature, energy, or anything else you hold in high regard. 

Contact us today to learn more about 12-step addiction programs and how you can quit abusing alcohol or drugs.

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