Religion and the Twelve Steps
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you have likely heard about the Twelve Steps for recovery. Originally founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson for alcohol addiction treatment, 12-Step programs have expanded and are used worldwide to help people achieve lasting recovery. The goal of the 12-Step approach is to help people who struggle to control their use of substances, thoughts, or behaviors. Many utilize the basic outline of this program due to its known success.
What Are the Twelve Steps?
In the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, Wilson defines the Twelve Steps as follows.
- We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
- Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
- Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
- Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
- Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when doing so would injure them or others.
- Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
- Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
- Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and practice these principles in all our affairs.
Are the Twelve Steps related with Religion?
As you can see, religious language is used when describing each step. This is because the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous were Christian. Due to this, they used the language they were familiar with.
However, despite the wording used, each step is not based on Christianity. Instead, each step is based on a spiritual idea. You do not have to be religious to benefit from them. The Twelve Steps are principles written in a spiritual nature but can be interpreted in a way that you find useful.
Religious vs. Spiritual
Many who utilize the Twelve Steps are not religious. Instead, they are spiritual. Being religious means being a member of a specific organized belief system. On the other hand, spirituality is a separate practice that often involves finding purpose, peace, or meaning in life. Spirituality often relates to being connected to others or life itself but does not follow the same level or structure that organized religion does.
Working the Twelve Steps Without Religion
The Twelve Steps are not religious. If you were to attend a program that incorporates them, you would not be asked to participate in religious activities. You would also not be asked what your beliefs are, as the goal of 12-Step programs is to sustain sobriety; it is not an effort to convert. Some 12-Step programs have even gone as far as removing any mention of God to help members feel more comfortable with the Twelve Steps.
The Twelve Steps are not religious, and many use them in treatment and to maintain sobriety. Some may connect with the Twelve Steps through their individual spiritual beliefs, while others may find comfort in how they lead you to address your issues with substance use.
With support, you can find your path through treatment and recovery, discovering what methods are helpful for you along the way. It is possible to participate in treatment programs and 12-Step meetings that incorporate the Twelve Steps without believing in God or being religious.
Are the Twelve Steps Helpful?
The Twelve Steps are effective. Two groups that utilize the Twelve Steps. Have been studied to provide evidence of their impact are Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Researchers have found that those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are more likely to have prolonged periods of abstinence. Additionally, early, consistent, and frequent attendance at meetings are associated with improved abstinence.
However, each person has a different journey to addiction and throughout treatment. As such, not all people will want to be in a treatment program that includes the Twelve Steps. This is okay. While some programs incorporate the Twelve Steps, and others do not, the most important thing is to find a program that fits you and your needs.