Most addiction recovery programs use a 12-step program as a key part of their curriculum. Why? Over the 80 years since Alcoholic Anonymous started and authored the 12-step concept, the effectiveness of the approach has been proven. For some people, step 2 – belief in a higher power, is a stumbling block.

Many people are deterred from joining this type of program because they are concerned that a belief in a higher power is the same as believing in a religion. This is not necessarily true. Believing in a higher power does not equal being religious. There are many ways a non-religious person can find their own personal higher power to support the journey through sobriety.

Many people who do not believe in God benefit from 12-step substance abuse treatment programs. While it is true that 12-step programs focus on surrendering one’s personal power to a higher being, Agnostic, Atheist, and those who follow religions that are not God-based still get all of the benefits these programs offer. A belief in God is not a requirement. There are many ways to define a higher power. To understand how this is possible, let’s start with the root question – what is a higher power in recovery?

Why is the belief in a higher power important in rehab?

The 12-step rehabilitation programs use three key ideas throughout the program. These are acceptance, surrender, and active involvement. All three are crucial to the success of the program and need to be followed for the person to be able to succeed. What do these terms mean in recovery?

  • Acceptance is the understanding that drug addiction is a chronic and progressive disease and that they cannot recover from it with willpower alone. Life has become unmanageable because of drugs or alcohol. Abstinence is the only way forward.
  • Surrender means giving up control to a power greater than one’s self, and accepting help from others to overcome the disease.
  • Active Involvement means both participating fully in the program and giving back to others fighting addiction. The 12-step program only works if the person puts forth the effort to work through the program.

Religion is not required

Addiction is considered both a medical disorder and a spiritual disorder. During step 2, the person learns that the belief in a higher power is considered essential to the ability to recover and to keep working toward recovery. However, this is where many people who are not religious will have a problem with moving forward. If they don’t believe in God or another spiritual force, it can be difficult for them to figure out what to believe in and how to use that belief in their recovery. It is possible to find a higher power that is not based in religion, and to use that power throughout the program, and beyond, to aid with addiction recovery. In fact, people who are able to choose their own higher power without restrictions or limitations, find that the value of this belief becomes apparent.

Why is a higher power important?

One core part of recovery is acknowledging how the addiction is harming the individual and their life. The addiction disrupts your value system and clouds judgement leading to destructive choices and behaviors. It is the realization that life is not what one wants that usually leads them to seek treatment.

Acceptance of a higher power provides a means where the person can examine their personal values and goals. After an examination of one’s personal values and beliefs, it becomes easier to see how the illness is destroying their life. The identified personal values also help form the goals for recovery.

A life that has led a person away from their values and beliefs is incredibly painful. Many people struggle with feelings of hopelessness and emptiness. They may feel completely alone. It is hard to regain a strong sense of self and personal value. The integration of spirituality into drug treatment provides guidance and support allowing the person to reconnect with their inner self. They recognize themselves as a part of something larger and valuable. It helps the person find direction and purpose, as they determine what is important to them.

Religion isn’t a requirement of spirituality

Many people derive their values and beliefs from a religion. However, faith is not the only place personal values can come from.  There is some confusion between religion and spirituality. Religion is a belief in a higher being or life force that controls the universe. Spirituality does not require a higher being, but rather a belief in the human spirit and soul. Dr. Larry Culliford has defined spirituality as,

“Spirituality [can be] thought of as a boundary-less dimension of human experience. It is possible to look at spirituality as something free from institutional structures and hierarchies, not so much about dogma and beliefs as about attitudes and practices, about what motivates you (us) at the deepest level, influencing how you think and behave, helping you find a true and useful place in your community, culture, and the world.”

Spirituality is unique to the individual and may evolve over time. Whether a belief is in a being, a life force, or the power of humanity, it forms a set a values that guides the way a person lives life.

Options for a higher power

Spirituality is unique to the individual which means that the definition of a higher power can be nearly anything that person finds adds value and support to their life. It can be as simple as a belief in humanity. Some people will use the group itself as a higher power, as they can focus on the belief that they can make it through the program with help from others. Others may focus on a belief in nature, love, music, or reality. The main idea is to simply find what works for them. Once they have defined their higher force, they can then move forward with the program.

While 12-step programs can be incredibly beneficial for those seeking to recover from an addiction, the belief in a higher power requirement does not need to be a stumbling block. Once the person understands exactly what is meant by a higher power, they can use that knowledge to find a higher power they can believe in.

Whether it’s the power of the group, the power of love, or the power of nature, they can find something to believe in that will help them get through the program and on their way to being free from their addiction.

References:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-4
https://psychcentral.com/blog/a-higher-power-for-those-who-dont-believe-in-a-higher-power/
https://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Spirituality-Introduction-Larry-Culliford/dp/184905004X

 

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