I am a long-time clinician that specializes in the treatment of addictive disorders.  I am looking for input from members in this community about how they might view the 12-steps.  I got sober in AA (close to 32 years ago) but left shortly after I started as the heavy reliance on God was off-putting.  I don't have a 12-step orientation and have met clients who could use a fresh approach/new eyes about a non-believers view of the steps.  

I am not a fan of the program so I don't want to get into the discussion about the merits of program, etc.



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Hi. I am afraid I do not know too much about the 12 steps but my initial thoughts on looking them up are that by turning away from alcohol and to religion a person is just replacing one psychological crutch with another and failing to address the underlying issues which led to drinking? I am not at all sure that turning your will over to God is any way to understand and beat the compulsion to drink excessively? Surely examining the reasons behind addictive tendencies is the key?

I strongly disagree with you. I am starting to follow several 12 steps programs. I come from a strongly atheist country and arriving in the US, where atheist are a small minority, made me think of it a simply a different culture. And when you go to a different country there are usually a lot of things that you don't understand, that you think could be useless, that you might even think of being stupid, but you never criticize them because you are a foreigner and respect the culture of others. I would probably never have realized that without coming to the US. And a believe that this respect for other cultures can be applied even in your own country.

As a complete atheist (absolutely atheist, really) I think that the 12 steps program is really of big help for addicted people. It is indeed possible to use religion as a replacement addiction and I know some persons who immediately started using it like that. But it is absolutely not what the 12 steps program is about. I am really interested in how god can help people and I have my own atheist interpretation about how it works. As for myself, I "pretend" that god exists (although I will never really believe it is the case) but I manage to get a feeling that really helps me a lot. I think it is all in the brain, I dont believe in these things, but I really believe it helps. There are several interesting books about buddhism and the 12 steps, for example. They use meditation as a tool for recovery. It is just a simple mental exercise, no gods, no beliefs, and explain that the only obstacle to remove someones defects is just seeing the defects. Once you see them and accept them, they go away by themselves. This is what I think they do by using god to remove your defects. they just give up controlling themselves with willpower and they accept their problems as just being part of the landscape of their life. They act as they should act without waiting for their own willpower to be there. It is that "blind faith" that makes things get more simple. Sometimes the solution to a problem is just accepting not to solve the problem by thinking and forcing it, just leave it be there. Just act and don't force things, just act and don't try to change your brain and your feelings yourself. They believe that god will remove the defects. I personnaly believe that it is just time that removes it, but for that you need to give up trying to control everything, and try to let the problems settle down. And be honest with yourself. Leave time remove your problems and just focus on the feelings that are there in the present moment, without trying to influence them. I am atheist and for now I tried the buddhist method and the christian method, and I have to admit that I prefer the christian method. Just "do as if". I think it is more efficient. I think that if there are so many believers, it is just because religion fits the brain, and I think that there are many useful things in religion that can help.

Addicts have a tendency to feel guilty all the time, and always try to stand up and reject anything that they think is there to make them feel guilty. But they see guilt everywhere and thus tend to reject many things. But depending on the people, religion is not necessarily there to make you feel guilty. Anyway you do what you want. But try not to reject the whole thing just because you have had a bad experience with some persons, or even 90% of the persons. There are good things to take there and it is better to take them.

And about the end of your comment, the 12 steps are not a way of solving the core problem of your addiction. The 12 steps are not a therapy technique, it is just a support to help you stop acting out and stop trying to control everything and remove bad habits. The real core of the problem, you have to solve it with your therapist, thats why it is usually advised to go to a 12 steps group AND a therapist. I personally think that both are absolutely necessary.

I love that statement, and want to start using it more often in real conversations. Even if I'm just lying, and want to cash in on how humble it makes me seem.

Just listen to this

Doug Stanhope - AA Is A Poorly Constructed Cult And Doesn't Work

Dear Todd:

I have not had issues with drink during my life other than making sure I never began.

When I lived in Portland, OR, I became aware of some of the local athests, that had a drinking issue, and had their own program. I think it was a peer based model, other than this I have no further knowledge, sorry. The group might still be in operation, but my last time index was in 1983.

I wish you well. I understand how hard it can be, watching my father.


My opinion is that in order for real freedom from addiction to be gained, one has to have a profound and fundamental change.  I see the steps as a possible means to help addicts to gain a different perspective regarding how they relate to substances, themselves, others, and the cosmos.  I wrote my thesis on spiritual recovery from addiction, so this is something about which I have thought a great deal.  It is the fundamental change in perspective that supports the recovery, but that change can come about in many ways. 

Atheists can still use the steps to affect some of that change if they have enough presence of mind and self-awareness to not take them literally and to see the big picture.  However, they become stifling after a while.  Because of the cult-like nature of how 12-Step programs work, it can be difficult to move on.  

I think the psychological work that can be done using the steps needs to be done, but not necessarily in that form, and that the steps do not work for everybody.  The problem with the way the steps are used in the fellowships is that the guidance, which may happen to be very good, does not come from professionals. 

This is a really good question, and I wish I had a better answer.  Recovery from addiction is a bitch no matter which way one chooses to go.

I have actually known more people who stopped drinking without AA than those who did with AA.

I would suggest that the people you know are not chronic alcoholics.

I have not personally dealt with addiction, but I am close to someone who has, and who has successfully used the 12-step program to recover from his alcohol addiction. He is not an atheist, more of an agnostic, but he replaced the idea of god with something else, his belief in the overarching power of evolution. He did this in the early days of the internet, not going to AA meetings in church basements but ones in the world wide web on message boards. He's been sober for 21 years now, so I'd say that it worked pretty well for him

I am not familiar with their approach and how it differs from AA (besides the obvious), but I know there is a nontheistic alternative called Rational Recovery. Anyone familiar with it?

I come from the UK, so religion isn't as big as it is in the US. I do, however, know several people who have "found God" since becoming sober. I find this absolutely ridiculous and simply have to ignore these folk.

I have happily conceded that I cannot stop drinking on my own and have found AA to be a great help, but there are a few key points I had to consider.

Often people say, "your Higher Power can be anything you choose". Nonsense. It would be much more simple if people reworded this. Instead of believing in a Higher Power, I simply see Step 2 as asking other people to help me. "I came to believe that other people could help me stop drinking and I, in turn, could help them." As long as a person doesn't preach then I don't care what they believe in, as long as I think they can keep me away from alcohol and understand the problems I had with drinking.

I concede that it's irritating when people talk about how God has helped them get sober, but we meet annoying people every day and just have to deal with it. If anyone tries to force religion on you then I would suggest they aren't following the 12 Steps correctly.

I don't know the religious beliefs of most of the people I know in AA, nor do I care. As long as their religious beliefs don't impose on my life or sobriety then they can believe in Santa for all I care.

I don't say the Serenity Prayer, I have not asked God to remove my shortcomings, I don't pray to my Higher Power, and I don't intend to start doing any of these things. What I do intend to do is keep working my 12 Steps and remain sober.

Remember, the 12 Steps in The Big Book are only suggestions. I don't suggest wandering too far from the original Steps, but don't let the Higher Power bit put you off, please.

I used to go to AA, but left for a number of reasons.  My "12-steps" has morphed into something like this;

1-  I am a part of the world, and my actions have consequences that effect those around me that share the world with me.  It is my choice whether those actions are positive or negative, and I choose to try to make the world a better place for me being in it.

2-  Do the right thing; every day, every action, to the best of my ability.  No excuses.

3-  When I screw up (and I will, because everybody does), then admit it, apologize, set things right, and give back a little something extra to show that I really mean it.

4-  Maintain positive activities to occupy the time that I normally would be using, and cultivate positive relationships with new people to replace the old "using buddies" that I can no longer associate with.

5-  No matter what, do not use.  Not a drink, not a snort, not a single pill, not ever.  Not ever.

That's pretty much it, and it's been working well for me.


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