Are 12-Step Programs Religious?

Religion is the topic of many questions and concerns about the Twelve Steps. Is it religious? Do I have to be religious for it to work?

The issue is complex, but the short answer is “no.” Here’s how we would explain the relationship between the 12 Steps and religion.

The 12 Steps were developed by religious people.

Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, were religious men and they wrote the 12 Steps with religious language, including multiple references to God.

However, further iterations of the steps have been rewritten for better inclusion of all people, including those who are non-religious.

The steps are not religious.

The 12 Steps are practical principles, not religious mandates. Some people may get tripped up by certain words or phrases (like “higher power”), but the underlying principle is always applicable.

Find a higher power.

For the founders of AA, the higher power was God. In practice though, recognizing “higher power” really just means recognizing our own lack of control. In addiction, we are incapable of controlling things—our choices, the consequences of our choices, etc. So your higher power could be truth or reality—anything that helps you understand that you don’t control your addiction.

You can be helped regardless of belief.

At Oaks, our residents span many beliefs. We want each person to journey through the steps and find freedom from addiction, no matter what he or she believes. You will probably encounter residents who are religious, but respect for each person’s belief and journey is vital.

The Twelve Steps offer hope for everyone.

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