A number of people have asked me the question of do I need to be religious to recover from drug addiction? I see where they are coming from. The famed 12 Step Program has multiple mentions of “God” or a “Higher Power” to whom you need to give up your will. Since most rehabs use the 12 Step Program, religion can seem like part and parcel of recovery.
This creates a lot of confusion for recovering addicts who are not religious. Do they have to change their beliefs to recover from drug addiction? Is that even possible? There is plenty of evidence that the 12 Step Program works, but what do you do if you are not religious?
The good news is that you certainly don’t need to be religious to recover from drug addiction. Not even the 12 Step Program requires that.
Here is what you need to know.
God and the 12 Step Program
The 12 Step Program seems like it fits seamlessly into the context of religion. There are multiple mentions of “God” and a higher power. However, the God of the 12 Step Program is more complex than you might think.
There are many 12 Step Meetings around the world set up specifically for people who do not believe in a god. They emphasize the wording of the third step:
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him
This step makes it clear that you do not need to subscribe to someone else’s perception of a god. On the contrary, how you understand “God” is what matters. In fact, some rehabs and meetings go so far as to replace the terminology of “God” with “Higher Power.”
A higher power is anything that puts into context your own lack of control over how the world works. Giving into that higher power means accepting that you cannot change most things. You simply have to accept that you are struggling, you don’t have the answers, and that others may know better than you.
New members who do not believe in the concept of god are encouraged to think about their higher power as the fellowship itself (which is committing to take care of them), the universe, or anything else that is bigger than the individual. While feeling small can be frightening for some, in the context of the 12 Step Program, it is meant as a relief – you don’t need to know the answers and the mistakes that weigh on you are put in perspective.
That said, not everyone can get on board with the 12 Step Program, whether because of its evident religiosity or for other reasons.
Non-12 Step Programs
Not all rehabs take a 12 Step approach. On the contrary, many modern rehabs take a more holistic approach to recovery. They use psychological principles to help recovering addicts overcome their addiction, changing their habits and learning to live clean or sober.
Some programs take issue with the principle of “once an addict, always an addict.” Their aim is to help people learn to see themselves as they are without the substance. They may use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, hypnotherapy, and many other tools to holistically help each individual.
Many rehabs are certainly better-suited to religious individuals. However, you do not need to be religious to recover from drug addiction. There are many programs that will help you get clean without requiring you to believe in any kind of god.