12-Step Recovery and “Things of God.” A Perfect Match.


12-Step Recovery and

12-Step Recovery and “Things of God.” A Perfect Match.
~ by Chaplain Joe Herzanek

We are re-posting this article on 12-Step Recovery Groups (AA, Al-Anon, Nar-Anon) in response to a recent local newspaper article. Would love your comments at the end of the post if you like. Thanks!

I’m often asked, especially by many in the Christian Community, if the AA 12-step program conflicts with Biblical Christianity. Some feel that the two just don’t go together. Personally, after three decades of studying and being part of both groups, I have to disagree.

Some in the faith community have come up with alternative support groups to the AA 12-steps (12-Step Recovery). These well-meaning Christians, in my opinion are attempting to “reinvent the wheel.” The real rub seems to come from the term “Higher Power.” There are people who feel that if they don’t say “Jesus Christ—the Son of God” during these meetings, that they are somehow denying their faith. This is just not true.

After counseling with thousands of addicts (and their families) over the past three decades, I’ve discovered two common challenges that occur, when discussions by alcohol and drug dependent people turn spiritual, or to “things of God.”

The first challenge deals with a person’s “history.” An extremely high percentage of recovering people have a negative, or skewed background concerning a belief in God and 12-Step Recovery. Most of these people end up thinking that if there is a God, he surely doesn’t care much about me. Many churches (not all) will try to use guilt to convince a person that they need God. Well-meaning parents and some family members have also used this tactic. In addition to this, negative news stories about men and women of faith, caught living a double life have become more and more common—making the “God thing” as it relates to 12-Step Recovery, even more complex. There’s nothing like a high-profile pastor—caught living a “secret double life”—a hypocrite, to add fuel to the fire (no pun intended).

I would venture to say that for most of us, coming to a clear understanding and commitment to our faith was a process. I know it was for me. It was not until I did my own personal searching and seeking, that I was able to make an “informed decision.” Well-thought, and informed commitments seem to last much longer than those made rashly, during an emotional, spur-of-the-moment event.

As I search the scriptures about Jesus, I see a pattern in His approach. Jesus, quite often attended to a person’s physical needs before talking about spiritual matters. Feeding the hungry, healing the blind, deaf or crippled, came first. Once a person’s physical needs were addressed, He opened the door for deeper discussions. You might say He had earned the right to be bold about faith.

We, (myself included) in the Christian Community will sometimes approach problems in just the opposite way. I think this is a big mistake—especially when I look around at some people’s quick emotional “conversions” which are often followed by repeated relapses to an old way of living.

Are faith, prayer and a strong belief in a kind and loving, benevolent God—critical for 12-Step Recovery and real, long-lasting change? You bet. But it’s good to remember that some things take time.

It’s also good to remember that concerning a person’s addiction, God is just as concerned, if not more, about the addict’s well being as we are. None of this has caught Him by surprise.

The second challenge with 12-step recovery and faith is this; the founders, Bill W. and Dr. Bob knew that they needed to “walk a fine line” when it came to religion and/or God. I’ve read much, and done a lot of research over the years—on both of these men. It’s a fact that both of them studied and read the Bible daily. It’s also a fact that their faith had great influence on their writings.

So why, you might ask, is the 12-step literature so generic when it comes to “things of God?” It appears to me that Bill W. and Dr. Bob intimately understood the mind of the alcoholic. They knew that if they placed great emphasis on a specific belief on Jesus Christ, it would alienate a large number of those needing recovery.

I believe these men had to come to a consensus on this matter. They needed to resolve these questions: What are we truly wanting to do? . . . to accomplish?

I feel they made the perfect choice. Yes, the “God part” is critical and must be a big part of AA and 12-Step Recovery. They knew that if they stepped “over the line” and were looked on as “preachy” many would “tune out.” They decided to trust God—to bring true seekers to Him.

Bill W. and Dr. Bob decided to let AA help with the sobriety part, and to let “God be God” (He will take it from there).


> Phone Counseling for Family Members
Recommended Books and DVDs for families of substance abusers and addicts
Low cost, No cost Alcohol and Drug Treatment Directory

> Drug Addiction and Alcoholism Recovery Resources for Friends, Families and Employers

If you found this article helpful please see our “Ask Joe” posts listed at the bottom and consider reading

“Why Don’t they Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.”

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Why Don't They Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.
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Recent Amazon.com reviews:

Best book ever about addiction. Written by one whose done it and is recovering. Easy to read, not preachy, just honest. I recommend this book to anyone with an addict in their life! ~Lynda A

Got an addiction problem in your family? Read this book. Joe knows his stuff. This book helps you better understand those dealing with friends and family that are addicted to drugs and alcohol. I have read several of these books but this one is the best. ~RJ

I, like many people, have some knowledge of what drugs and addiction are, but are clueless on what the process of recovery entails. This book does a great job in what it would take to help a loved one, who is an addict and is willing to get clean and stay clean. It also gives one hope that your loved one will survive the nightmare they are living through with their family. ~CG

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> Do you have to stop seeing all your old friends in order to recover?
> Is a relapse—failure?
>Should my husband “back off?”
> If someone can stop using drugs or alcohol for weeks at a time, they “aren’t an addict—correct?
>Chronic Pain Management & Pain Pill Addiction: What to do?
>How can I know if my addicted friend or loved one is telling the truth?
>How can I tell if someone is an addict/alcoholic or just a heavy user?
>What is Methadone? What is Harm Reduction?

> Self-Tests: Codependence
> Self-Tests: Alcohol and Drug Addiction

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4 thoughts on “12-Step Recovery and “Things of God.” A Perfect Match.

  1. Dawn Birkeland

    Joe – Thank you for writing this article. I think you are right on the mark. I have always been a Christian and gone to church. However, I feel I have a much closer and substantial relationship with God as a result of attending Al-Anon meetings for nearly a year and a half to deal with my son’s addiction to drugs. At first it bothered me that the program referred to “a Higher Power” instead of God or Jesus Christ. But I have come to find out that most of the people, in my group at least, choose to call their Higher Power “God” and that i am free to do so as well. I believe the program has helped to strenghthen my faith. Thank you for keeping your program alive for the many of us who need to hear your experience, strength, and hope.


  2. Joe

    Thanks for your comment Kimberly,
    I know you are not alone. Seeking clarity from clinicians can be very beneficial for Christians and anyone else as well. I think there are many who have the same misconception that getting professional help is a lack of faith. Sad but not true.

  3. Kimberly Gregoire

    Joe, I could not agree with you more on this. I have been a Christion for 35 years but I went to counseling 20 years ago and felt guilty, like I was betraying God or I had a lack of faith and just the opposite happened, it deepened my faith and I also had to learn that I COULD trust the Lord. God used all that to slowly woo me back to him. So I am so pleased that you clarify all that in this article as well as the more recent one about whats missing in recovery.

    Thank you for sharing the truth. And as we know there can only be one absolute truth if it were no so it could not be called the truth! It’s just that getting to the truth we have to sort out all the lies!

  4. Cathy

    12-Step Recovery and “Things of God.” A Perfect Match – I completely agree with you. What’s most important is that AA’s main goal is to reach out to all who might benefit. Suggesting that members have a conventional religious belief would eliminate many, and would thus defeat the purpose. Conventional religion is a great resource for those who are interested, but should be not be a prerequisite for AA. Appreciate the well written article.

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