Non-Spiritual Alcohol and Drug Treatment Programs

You don't have to believe in a higher power to achieve sobriety

Group meeting

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Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), arguably the most well-known alcohol recovery program, is based on a set of spiritual principles that provide tools for living sober. While 12-step programs such as A.A. offer hope and recovery to many who are willing to embrace the higher power of their understanding, for agnostics or atheists seeking sobriety, faith-based systems of recovery are often a turn-off.

For any alcohol or drug rehabilitation program to work, the person seeking sobriety must not feel alienated or uncomfortable with the beliefs or practices it puts forth. For example, prayer or overt religious messages may be enough to dissuade an atheist from returning to a treatment program—and because seeking sobriety is hard enough, that experience may be enough to make that person give up. 

Luckily, there are many different treatment options available to help you quit drinking or using drugs, and most of them have nothing at all to do with spirituality. In fact, there are many self-help and mutual support groups available that do not use the 12-step method or any spiritual approach to recovery. Furthermore, many people quit drinking and abusing drugs by using medical, evidence-based, and therapeutic treatment methods alone, such as detoxification treatment or pharmacological interventions. 

Alcohol and Drug Treatment Facilities

There are thousands of alcohol and drug treatment centers and clinics in the United States that offer both outpatient or residential treatment for alcoholism and addiction. While many of these facilities base their treatment upon the spiritual 12-step programs or incorporate the 12 steps into their programs, there are many facilities that specifically do not use the 12-step approach or faith-based methods. They use cognitive behavioral therapy and other secular, evidence-based methods of addiction treatment.

To find out what kind of method a facility uses, contact them by telephone or through their website and ask if they use the 12-step approach. If they do not use a 12-step method, their websites will usually say so.

You can find a treatment locator on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's website. also has an online directory of recovery programs and the option to search by state, as well as a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, where a counselor can provide referrals to a rehabilitation center that meets your needs. Read more on the components of effective treatment programs, and how to locate a treatment facility.

Recovery Support Groups

Research has shown that people trying to quit have better results if they participate in a mutual support or self-help group in their recovery program. Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous is the most popular and readily-available of these groups, but there are secular support groups that do not use the 12 steps or any religious or spiritual forms of support. These groups may not be active in all parts of the country, but most have online meetings and forums in which you can participate for support.

It is important to note that just because many atheists and agnostics won't be interested the Alcoholics Anonymous program doesn't mean plenty haven't found recovery there despite the spiritual underpinnings. There is a chapter in the book Alcoholics Anonymous called "We Agnostics" that explains how to approach the 12 steps without having a belief in a higher power. Many agnostics and atheists have found lasting recovery through the fellowship and accountability aspects of A.A. without embracing a spiritual higher power.


When chronic or heavy drinkers or those addicted to drugs try to quit, most experience withdrawal symptoms that can be quite severe. Detoxification treatment is aimed at reducing or eliminating those symptoms while your body is getting used to not having alcohol or drugs in your system during the "drying out" period.

Detox treatment usually involves taking tranquilizers to calm the shakes and using diet and vitamins to help get your body back on a more healthy path. This can be done on an outpatient basis or in an inpatient setting in the case of severe withdrawal symptoms. Usually, there is no counseling or other treatment, spiritual or otherwise, involved in the detoxification phase of recovery.

Pharmaceutical Treatment

Some people are able to quit using drugs or drinking alcohol by using pharmaceutical treatment -- medications designed to help someone remain abstinent. Some of these medications reduce cravings, some reduce the effects of drugs and alcohol, and some simply make you sick if you try to drink.

Using these treatment methods is a matter of getting a prescription for one of the FDA-approved medications from your doctor or healthcare provider.

There is no counseling or other support involved unless you choose to seek them. There is research, however, that indicates that participating in a mutual support group along with other treatment approaches, produces better outcomes.

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