12 Step Programs for Atheists

An atheist walks into a 12 step meeting. While this may seem like the opening line to a joke, it is, in fact, a far more common occurrence than one might imagine. Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate based on religion, faith, or the belief in a higher power. Since the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s, 12 step programs have become the most prominent treatment option for addictions of all kinds. However, one of the foundations of the traditional 12 step programs is faith in God, and the utilization of prayer.

Are there 12 step programs for people that don’t believe in God?

However, there has been an explosion of reworked and reorganized groups changing the traditional 12 steps, in order to make them all inclusive. Even for those that don’t believe in God. There are now 12 step groups for:

12 step program

There are non-religious 12 step programs.

  • agnostics,
  • Native Americans,
  • humanists,
  • free thinkers, and
  • atheists.

All of these groups were created with the mindset that the founders of the 12 step program intended for everyone to benefit and have the opportunity for sobriety.

What are the 12 steps for atheists?

According to AA Agnostica, all of the various non-theist 12 step programs have developed their own version of the 12 steps. There is no organizational standard, but they all follow the basic principles of the traditional 12 steps. These principles are:

  1. Admittance- This is an admission that you need help with your addiction.
  2. Belief- This involves understanding and believing that you are worthy of sobriety, and are capable of achieving it.
  3. Desire to Change- This means a willingness to try various things in order to find what will help you.
  4. Self-Inventory- This is where you examine yourself in order to determine what has caused you to become an addict.
  5. Reflection- In this step, you reflect on these negatives in your life, and possibly discuss them with someone else.
  6. Surrender– This means being willing to give up self-destructive thoughts and actions, and end relationships with people that are harmful to your sobriety.
  7. Action- This is where you enact the changes necessary to help you get your life back on track.
  8. List- This is where you list all of the people your addiction has harmed.
  9. Amends- Here, you make direct amends to the people on your list, unless doing so would cause further harm.
  10. Continued Reflection- This step involves regularly re-examining yourself and your life to assure that negative habits are not recurring.
  11. Involvement- This means finding new, positive habits and people to replace the negative ones.
  12. Moral Compass- This means giving back, and otherwise living a clean, kind, and upstanding existence.

These principles form the basis of both the traditional and non-theist 12 steps.

How are the 12 steps for atheists different from traditional programs?

Essentially, the only difference between 12 step programs for atheists, and traditional programs is the direct references to God and prayer. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that the primary factor in the success of 12 step programs is their function as group therapy. So, whether you believe in God or not, there is a 12 step program that can help you.

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