If you are an atheist or if religion isn’t a significant part of your life, you might think that drug or alcohol rehab can’t work for you. You may have heard that 12-step recovery has a strong focus on religious and spiritual ideas, and as a non-religious person you know that that’s the last thing that will help you overcome your compulsion to use substances.
While some rehabs and some groups of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have a decidedly religious flavor about them, it’s not unheard of to find both rehabs and meetings that are less focused on religion and more focused on the needs of individual members. There are also alternative programs that people follow when they are not comfortable with the 12 steps of AA and NA.
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Alternatives to 12-Step Programs
There are programs outside of the 12-step programs of AA and NA that offer hope to people who object to religious overtones. One of the most well-known of these is SMART recovery, which is science-based and uses concepts of self-help to empower the individual to learn to abstain without reliance on religious concepts.
Rational Recovery is another alternative to 12-step programs. This program doesn’t emphasize any type of spiritual philosophy. Although lifelong abstinence is emphasized, addiction isn’t seen as a disease.
Atheism in AA and NA
While 12-step programs do use the phrase “higher power,” this concept doesn’t mean God or any other kind of deity to everyone. When you go to AA or NA for support, you will find that when you visit different meetings, each one has a different feel or emphasis.
There are meetings in which people are God-focused and are threatened by people who express confusion or questioning. At the same time, there are other meetings in which people have a more open mind and may think of the group itself as the higher power. The support that comes from fellowship can be very powerful and does not have to be based on religion per se.
It may take time to find a group that doesn’t emphasize reliance on a deity, but it can be done. The underlying teaching of the 12 steps is that everyone has the right to choose his or her own concept of a higher power, which means that nowhere does it say that your higher power has to be a god.
Finding Help if You are an Atheist or Agnostic
You might think the fact that you are an atheist means there isn’t a way to get help by going to rehab for drug or alcohol abuse. Just like not all AA and NA groups emphasize the religious angle, not all rehabs do, either. Talk to people at more than one recovery facility and let them know your concerns.
Some rehabs do offer support groups that are not based on the 12 steps and are specifically geared to non-religious people. Individualized options may be customized for each person’s needs. Most rehabs include time spent in individual and group counseling as well as support groups, but these support groups don’t have to be based on the 12 steps or any other religious beliefs.
You don’t have to believe in God or any kind of spiritual principles to overcome addiction. You can base your recovery from addiction on secular beliefs and obtain support from others who have the same beliefs that you do. A non-religious approach to treatment includes behavior therapy, which can help empower you to learn new behaviors and end any that are self-destructive.
Don’t give up on the idea of recovering from addiction just because you object to religion. Addiction is a progressive illness, and it will continue to negatively impact your life if you don’t get help. It is possible to recover without religion.
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