Why Religion Does Not Always Work in Addiction Recovery

Recently, Alcoholics Anonymous celebrated the 75th anniversary of its “Big Book”—a guide that has served as a frame of reference for many 12-step recovery programs. While the success and inspiration of the 12-step method is one that many embrace and encourage, this anniversary has also been met by recent research on the true efficacy of these types of faith-based programs.

Many mental health professionals and addiction recovery specialists have begun to take a closer look at the true impact that AA offers; while the group has made strides to help many seek recovery for nearly a century, its effectiveness is starting to lose validity.

Specifically, a recent report from NPR revealed that only five to 10 percent of AA participants were able to achieve a state of recovery. While providing a solution to those who need help in addiction is an admirable facet of the program, many have criticized the effect AA has on individuals who relapse. For instance, NPR suggests that AA stresses ideas that its methodology is correct and those who have relapsed have failed.

At Chapters Capistrano, we have found that relapse prevention and immediate response to relapse should never be based around feelings of shame or failure. Instead, individuals should be encouraged to reach out to a supporting resource to quickly seek recovery from relapse and continue working out solutions for sobriety.

So how does AA—a recovery solution often mandated by court systems—instill this sense of shame or failure for those who do not find themselves agreeing with the 12 steps? Many suggest it is the religious element; although the program does not directly promote Christianity, AA culture is built around finding support in a higher power.

This approach may work wonders for those who do find support in religion and spiritual faith; but for those who are not religious, it can be a very discouraging experience.

Individuals may not find a faith-based program effective because they:

  • Are also experiencing dual diagnosis in which addiction occurs simultaneously or is prompted by a mental health issue.
  • Are more responsive to science-based solutions.
  • Do not believe in any religion or spiritual path.
  • Follow a religion or spiritual belief that is vastly different from the AA model.
  • Find greater solutions through intensive therapy, including both group and one-on-one counseling.

Alternatives to Faith-Based Addiction Recovery

The new evidence emerging involving the efficacy of AA and other 12-step programs is a challenging topic in the addiction recovery community. For one, this perspective can lead many to totally discredit the positive impact that 12-step programs can have.

It is important to recognize that many people do respond positively to faith-based programs and that these options should be made available to those who seek this type of recovery. However, it is also critical to not force faith-based programs on to those who may not respond positively to the modality.

Those who have found no or little success from their experience with AA, or are apprehensive of it to begin with, should consider alternative approaches to addiction recovery.

At Chapters Capistrano, we offer several flexible treatment models that do include faith-based 12-step modalities, but also provide alternatives to those who seek another solution. For instance, Chapters offers:

If you would like to learn more about these programs and how they can adapt to the addiction struggles of you or a loved one, please contact us immediately at 1-888-334-7509.

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Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance use disorder, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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