How Can You Benefit From AA as an Atheist?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the nonprofit, volunteer-based fellowship of peers committed to enabling sobriety among its members, has practically become synonymous with addiction recovery in America. Since its inception in 1935, AA has been at the forefront of treating addictive disorders by emphasizing addiction as a medical condition and providing a universal treatment model for each afflicted individual through a community-based approach to addiction recovery. That universal model includes the previously mentioned development of community support from fellow recovering addicts and the commonly-known 12-step program.

Although the majority of rehab centers have no direct affiliation with AA, they have universally adopted and utilized some variation of the 12 steps into their treatment programs. The far-reaching influence of the 12 steps is hard to ignore for those in treatment, which can make the religious affiliations of AA and its methods of treatment initially difficult for non-religious participants.

AA was founded by members of the Protestant Christian Oxford Group and many of the religious and spiritual implications from that movement still linger within AA practice today. For its part, AA attests to no direct affiliation to any religious denomination and remains an inclusive organization to all members whose purpose is continued sobriety. These statements contradict the actual practice at meetings of what is a spiritual organization. At least seven of the 12 tenets of AA make either make direct or indirect references to God, religion, or spirituality. Many meetings even open and close with prayer, and several lower circuit courts, two state supreme courts, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, have deemed AA as a religious-based treatment program finding it unconstitutional to force inmates to attend.

This level of spirituality in a universally adopted method of addiction recovery treatment may be off-putting at first to an atheist or agnostic substance abuser. However, the religious implications have no relevance to the cognitive and behavioral positive outcomes that come from practicing the 12 steps. 

AA and its 12-step program, through religious terminology implying the need for a spiritual awakening, devised a method to treat addictive disorders through practices that would later be heralded for effectiveness by the psychological and medical community. AA’s community-based approach is about as direct of a reference as you can get to today’s modern-day group therapy sessions that are proven methods of treatment for addiction. The constant emphasis on reflection and betterment of the self is equally as important in the continuously advancing field of psychology for treating addictive disorders and co-occurring mental health issues.

Community Peer-Based Approach

One of the most effective methods of treatment developed by AA is the concept of a peer-based community group. The formation of groups of fellow addicts meeting to help one another in their quest for long term sobriety proved, both then and today, vital to the addiction recovery process. The inspirational concept is even arguably one of the cornerstones that not only advanced addiction treatment but the field of psychology and mental health as well. 

AA meetings generally consist of sharing personal stories of addiction either through readings from AA literature or from guest speakers who have achieved long-term sobriety. These stories are living examples of the often too familiar effects of addictive disorders that also provide the potential hope for success in recovery from addiction.  

Even for atheists and agnostics, AA meetings can provide a variety of psychological and behavioral benefits. AA members can fight off any residual feelings of isolation from their addictive disorders as well as ward off its resurgence in recovery by either simply attending or even sharing at meetings. AA meetings also allow members to learn tips and preventative measures from fellow addicts to better help them sustain long-term sobriety. 

Attendance at AA meetings provides a chance for substance abusers to continue group therapy sessions, as well. Learning more about your addictive disorder at meetings held in a safe environment, at no cost, and practically every day of the week is an opportunity addiction recovery patients can not afford to pass up.

Saying the Same Thing In A Different Way

The 12-step terminology referencing God and spirituality may be a hard pill to swallow for any atheist or agnostic. However, if you look past the religious connotations of AA’s terminology, the 12 steps are depicting methods of self-reflection condoned and championed by the psychological and medical community for addiction treatment. AA’s 12 steps are essentially saying the same thing that modern dual diagnosis treatment programs recommend – that a cognitive and behavioral approach needs to be taken to successfully treat addictive disorders; they are just saying it differently.

By reinterpreting the 12 steps into a non-spiritual, psychological approach to reflection and betterment of the self, atheists and agnostics can still find a way to benefit from AA’s methods of treatment. This entails understanding that prayer from step 11 is just another word for meditation and that being powerless, referenced in steps 1 through 3, is simply coming to terms with the medical implications of your disease. Addiction is neither your fault nor is a curable disease. 

There may be no cure for addictive disorders, but like any chronic illness or autoimmune disease, there are treatment options — the 12-step method for one — through which long-term sobriety can be maintained. For atheists and agnostics, remember that there is still plenty of psychological benefits that can be attained from following AA’s program of treatment despite its religious implications.


If you or someone you love is suffering from an addictive disorder and co-occurring mental health issues, then Choice House has expertise in dual-diagnosis addiction treatment to help. We provide a variety of therapeutic modalities to help men achieve and maintain long term sobriety as they create a new foundation of love, empathy, and understanding. Our treatment program consists of 90-day inpatient service, an intensive outpatient program, and residency at our sober living campus. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, our facilities are ideally situated just a few steps from the Rocky Mountain National park and a short drive from the bustling city of Louisville. Taking full advantage of literally having the beatific Rocky Mountain nature preserve in our backyard, we utilize a unique outdoor wilderness therapy modality that allows men to reconnect with nature, fellow recovery patients, and themselves through physical activities like hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking. We firmly believe that the life long bonds of friendships you establish here will prove vital to your recovery efforts even after you have left Choice House facilities. The proximity to the city of Louisville also proves beneficial to outpatient services as well as residents of our sober living campus. Recovery patients have the opportunity to better transition back into active employment and social lives while maintaining the guidance and supervision so necessary in early recovery. For more information regarding Choice House’s facilities or treatment programs, please give us a call at (720) 577-4422.

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