Hnn | HNN Articles

Modernizing Secular Addiction Recovery

 

By Roy Speckhardt

This article was first published on Patheos.com.

Men and women of all ethnic backgrounds and religious or nonreligious affiliations suffer from debilitating addictions, which have detrimental effects on millions of lives. Addiction recovery treatments shouldn't discriminate either, but Alcoholics Anonymous does. AA's Toronto administration recently removed two of its affiliate groups in the area for not holding to its religious standards, which include a belief in God, as stated in the organization's "Twelve Steps" to recovery.

For AA members, the Twelve Steps dictate a lifestyle code, a strict roadmap away from addiction. If you want to recover from addiction through AA, it's imperative to treat the program as a "higher power," says The Fix, a magazine focused on recovery issues. Members are encouraged to recite the Lord's Prayer during meetings, to follow the steps meticulously and without deviance, and to abstain completely from their abused substance. AA insists that recovery be a lifelong process, maintaining that even an addict who has been clean or sober for ten years should continue to come to meetings.

So when secular Toronto-area AA meeting groups Beyond Belief and We Agnostics were unceremoniously kicked out of the organization by the regional chapter association, there was no question that straying from the original God-centric tenets of the Twelve Steps was the driving factor. Both groups had adapted the Twelve Steps to their worldview, which didn't require a supreme being. Instead, they removed all references to God, and utilized a more humanist-centric method of group recovery. And the religious organization retaliated by removing them from directories, their website, and existence under the AA umbrella.

Humanists and other atheists and agnostics suffering from addiction now have more modern alternatives. Rather than join a group that actively blocks membership by those without a belief in God, nontheists can seek out other programs that not only accept them, but empower them to overcome addiction by helping develop tools and encouraging mutual support among members. SMART Recovery (Self Management And Recovery Training) is a program that pioneered an individualistic approach, free from proselytization and ethical requirements for people of any or no religious background.

Joe Gerstein, the SMART Recovery founding president, describes the program as "science-based, incorporating validated approaches," as opposed to the Twelve Step program used by AA, which makes the individual dependent on God, faith, and the meetings themselves. AA, he says, is "abstinence-focused," whereas SMART Recovery meetings aim to help people regardless of their stage of addiction and recovery. He also notes that several legal cases in the United States have unanimously ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous is "pervasively religious," and as of 2007 judges and parole offices can no longer court-order that particular program as once was frequently done.

What truly makes SMART Recovery stand apart from the Twelve Step program is their 4-Point Program. Aside from the cosmetic difference of having a third of the guiding tenets, any mention of God is conspicuously absent. The 4-Point Program emphasizes that recovery is in the hands of the person with the addiction. Only he or she can follow through on recovery, by self-motivating, restricting urges, problem-solving, and adapting to a sober lifestyle. Gerstein stresses that the program works to empower the individual, and most importantly, assist him or her in moving beyond the addiction, and eventually move on from the program. It doesn't seek to ensnare anyone for life, which might only remind someone of past addiction.

SMART Recovery isn't designed for nontheists alone. Gerstein estimates that approximately a third of participants are atheists, agnostics, or humanists of some sort. Another third are "passively religious," or spiritual in some sense. The final third he says are actively religious. The diversity in membership speaks to the success of its approach. Rather than a strict path toward recovery, SMART emphasizes an approach tailored toward each individual's needs, based on scientifically proven methods and cognitive behavioral psychology. A prescription-drug addicted mother of three in Wichita, Kansas would not pursue sobriety the same way as a crack cocaine addicted individual in prison in California, or an anorexic teenage girl in upstate New York.

By removing meeting groups from the Alcoholics Anonymous umbrella, AA has shown that unquestioning subscription to a belief in God and maintenance of strict religious code are more important to their organizing principles than providing a safe and accepting place for people to recover from addictions. Programs like SMART Recovery provide an alternative for those looking for self-empowerment, unbiased support, and scientific approaches to overcome addictions. Recovery can be a difficult journey, so if you need it, pursue it with a group that doesn't discriminate.

Roy Speckhardt is the Executive Director of the American Humanist Association. He is also a board member of the organization providing Humanists leadership training, the Humanist Institute, and an advisory board member of Secular Student Alliance. Follow him at http://twitter.com/americnhumanist.

blog comments powered by Disqus

American Humanist Association

The American Humanist Association expresses shock and sorrow over another atheis...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Do you ever feel pressured to participate in religious practices simply because...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Did Jesus have long hair? Nah. Was he nailed to a cross? Most likely not. The b...

1 days ago

American Humanist Association

Check out the latest trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities from the P...

2 days ago

American Humanist Association

Well, this is cool! What if US dollar notes were redesigned to honor science, ra...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

Another great step for humanism! Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, has...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

A few days ago, the AHA sent letters to newly elected members of Congress, askin...

3 days ago

American Humanist Association

According to Larry King, "I don't believe that I'm going anywhere. I'm not relig...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

AHA's Merrill Miller reviews the new documentary "She's Beautiful When She's Ang...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

Time for another humanist question. Why do humanists/atheists still spell god wi...

4 days ago

American Humanist Association

The American Humanist Association has sent letters to newly elected members of C...

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

Would you go to Mars knowing you would not return?

5 days ago

American Humanist Association

BREAKING NEWS!! ATHEIST comedian is running for California state senate!!

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

Last week AHA's Roy Speckhardt and Maggie Ardiente were invited to attend the sw...

6 days ago

American Humanist Association

AHA's Pledge Boycott is going strong, as more and more kids and families are sit...

7 days ago

American Humanist Association

AHA's David Niose was on the Alan Colmes radio show last night discussing the "u...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

It appears that the AHA is now considered one of the top five dangerous enemies...

8 days ago

American Humanist Association

Have humanist questions? Ask a humanist! The link below will take you to the one...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

The American Humanist Association has been nominated by the Reddit community to...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

When pastor Ryan Bell decided to spend a year as an atheist, he had no idea how...

9 days ago

American Humanist Association

AHA Legal Director David Niose will be on the Alan Colmes Show (Fox News Radio)...

9 days ago