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Treatment Options for the Non-Religious

Most treatment for addiction does not require clients to have any type of religious conviction or belief. While a small segment of available treatments for substance abuse is based on the notion of a higher power and religion, most treatment options are appropriate for nonreligious individuals.

How a Religious or Spiritual Component Can Complement Treatment

Research studies have suggested that there is a significant contribution from spiritual or religious approaches in the treatment of substance use disorders.

If you adopt a spiritual aspect to your recovery, you will often express greater satisfaction with your life and even experience greater physical health as a result of your recovery.

It may be that religious beliefs or spiritual approaches to treatment are associated with protective factors that insulate people from relapses or even developing substance abuse issues in the first place. Many of the individuals who created some of the recovery programs that are popular today were deeply religious and attempted to incorporate their views into the overall recovery program (see below).However, a spiritual or religious aspect is neither necessary nor enough to experience a successful recovery. If you want to engage in your recovery program without invoking religious or spiritual notions, you will find that most of the major treatment interventions do not require a belief in religion or spirituality.

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Nonreligious Treatment

Unless you are admitted to a program that is run by members of a specific religion or theological perspective — such as treatment programs offered by the Salvation Army or particular churches — it is unlikely that you will be forced to adopt a religious approach or perspective to your recovery.

Medications and behavioral interventions are often used in treatment. Therapy for substance abuse will most often be based on cognitive behavioral therapy principles (CBT). CBT is a specific category of therapy that addresses a person’s thoughts and beliefs systems as well as their behavior.

CBT is not just one type of therapy, but a family of therapies that are based on the principles of cognitive psychology and behavioral psychology, and how these paradigms can be combined and help individuals change.

CBT principles require no belief in a higher power, and they do not refer to any type of spirituality or belief in God unless you specifically seek out therapists who combine spiritual or religious principles with CBT.

When you are placed into individual or group therapy for substance abuse, you can discuss this issue with the therapist and request either a spiritually based approach or a nonreligious approach. The therapist will either accommodate you or refer you to someone who can fulfill your needs.

Peer Support Groups

People in a circle discussing addiction treatment options

Peer support groups can be important sources of social support. They offer an organized approach to recovery that you can integrate into your therapies and other interventions.

These groups are not therapy groups because the people who run them are not licensed and trained professional therapists. Instead, they are people who are in recovery. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous groups are typically organized and run by people who have alcohol use disorders.

The most common type is the 12-step model, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and these groups have a spiritual or religious foundation to them. The organizers of the first AA meetings developed the principles of AA according to Christian religious doctrines, and this is why AA and other 12-step groups are based on the notion of a higher power and refer to God in their program. Very often, 12-step meetings are held in churches.

If you want to avoid any association with spirituality and religion, 12-step groups are not for you. There are nonreligious peer support groups that offer an alternative to the 12-step model.

If you are looking to be involved in a peer support group that does not have any type of religious or spiritual overtones, investigate these nonreligious options:

  • Life Ring is a recovery group that embraces a nonreligious/nonspiritual approach to abstinence.
  • Moderation Management (MM) focuses on the controlled use of alcohol.
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety helps individuals practice abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
  • The SMART Recovery program (Self-Management and Recovery Training) utilizes a nonreligious program
  • Women for Sobriety is a nonreligious recovery program for women.

In addition, you can look at your local community mental health center for groups that meet to discuss issues with addiction and substance abuse. Many of these will most likely not have a spiritual foundation to them.

Other Interventions That Typically Do Not Have a Religious Foundation

Most interventions associated with addiction recovery don’t have a religious aspect. Adjunctive therapies, like art therapy, music therapy, adventure therapy, or wilderness therapy, will be customized to the individual.

If a client is not religious, religion will simply not be discussed or included in any of the person’s therapies.


(October 2013) Relationship of spirituality or religion to recovery from substance abuse: a systematic review. Journal of Addictions Nursing. Retrieved April 2019 from

(September 2015) About Medication Assisted Treatment. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved April 2019 from

(December 2011) The Basic Principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. PsychCentral. Retrieved April 2019 from

(2019) Handbook of cognitive-behavioral therapies. Guilford Publications. from

(2011) Kaplan and Sadock's synopsis of psychiatry: Behavioral sciences/clinical psychiatry. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. from

(2019) LifeRing Secular Recovery. Retrieved April 2019 from

(April 2019) Moderation Management. Retrieved April 2019 from

(2019) Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Retrieved April 2019 from

(2018) SMART Recovery. Retrieved April 2019 from

(2018). Women for Sobriety. Retrieved April 2019 from

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