Non-Religious Addiction Treatment Approaches

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Atheists can find addiction treatment rooted in evidence-based practices, such as behavioral therapy. Many non-religious or secular programs take a whole-person approach to recovery to treat addiction and related issues.

Non-Religious Addiction Treatment Options

According to research published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 73% of addiction treatment programs in the U.S. include a spirituality-based element.

This may include spiritual guidance and counseling, principles from the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) that emphasize a higher power, and other approaches to recovery.

But for someone who does not follow a religion or identifies as an atheist, this type of treatment can feel isolating, unrelatable, and at times offensive.

As outlined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), treatment needs to be accessible to everyone and meet the needs of each individual to be effective.

This means providing non-religious options for addiction treatment. Many rehab centers in the U.S. do this; you do not need to subscribe to a faith to get quality treatment.

Effective Treatment For Atheists

Addiction treatment does not need to have a spiritual or religious element to be effective. The NIDA suggests 13 principles of effective treatment for substance abuse.

These principles stress the clinical and professional treatment of addictions focused on therapy and evidence-based practices.

While there are no known rehab programs specifically designed for atheists, you can find treatment centers that utilize these principles of recovery without the use of religion.

Here are a few principles from the NIDA that highlight evidence-based treatment practices that do not require belief in a higher power:

Recognizing Addiction’s Effect On The Brain

“Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior.”

A nonreligious rehab program should address addiction as something that affects the brain and a person’s behavior.

There are clinical and scientific explanations of why drugs and alcohol control behavior. Drugs physically change your brain’s neural pathways and create long-lasting changes in the brain.

There are plenty of drug and alcohol rehab programs that look at addiction through this lens and use strategies of treatment that consider brain function, changing established patterns, and more.

Individualized Treatment

“No single treatment is appropriate for everyone.”

You can find a drug treatment program that creates individualized treatment plans that meet your specific needs.

Treatment specialists will work with you to create a plan that uses methods you respond to. For some, this might mean spiritual-based counseling, and for others, a more secular approach.

The right rehab center will take your beliefs, culture, background, and other factors into account to find a level of care that fits your needs.

Treating The Whole Person

“Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse.”

Non-religious alcohol and drug rehab centers should consider a person’s:

  • medical history and current issues
  • psychological problems or mental illness
  • social challenges
  • vocational issues
  • legal problems
  • family history

By taking a whole-person approach to recovery, a treatment center will take into account more than just the substance use disorder, and address additional issues that compound the addiction.

Behavioral Therapy

“Behavioral therapies—including individual, family, or group counseling—are the most commonly used forms of drug abuse treatment.”

Many faith-based programs use spiritual counseling that incorporates elements of prayer and religious text-based guidance.

However, atheists typically benefit from behavioral therapies in addiction treatment.

The most effective behavioral therapies include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • motivational interviewing
  • individual, group, and family therapy

These types of therapies can help individuals in recovery to discover harmful thought patterns and increase self-awareness to build recovery skills.

With behavioral therapy, you can become more in-tune with your learned behaviors, coping strategies, and triggers, rather than a spiritual aspect of yourself or leaning on a higher power.

Following The 12 Steps From A Non-Religious Perspective

If you find yourself in a rehab facility that uses the 12 steps, or you’re interested in exploring groups that use the 12 steps, you can do so without believing in God or a higher power.

The 12 steps are focused on themes of honesty, humility, and reaching out for help. Many of the guiding principles of this recovery model discuss belief in a higher power.

For example:

  • Step two: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
  • Step three: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
  • Step five: “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

You can incorporate your own meaning of “God” within each of the 12 steps to find something you can personally relate to.

In step three, you can replace “God” with your sponsor or a rehab program. With this amendment, you’re committing to give yourself over to a person or program that can help.

Alternatives To 12-Step Groups

If you prefer a group that does not mention a higher power, there are multiple options to choose from for atheists.

These include:

  • LifeRing Secular Recovery: LifeRing hosts in-person and online meetings that center on a philosophy of sobriety, secularity, and self-help.
  • Moderation Management (MM): This is an alcohol addiction program offering nonreligious meetings and therapy.
  • Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS): SOS is a nonprofit network of groups that offer secular-based meetings and resources for those overcoming addiction.
  • SMART Recovery: You can attend science-based support meetings that do not discuss religion or a higher power.
  • Women for Sobriety: This program for women works on increasing self-value, self-worth, and self-efficacy with in-person and online meetings across the U.S.

Resources For Atheists Seeking Addiction Recovery

If you’re looking for science-based addiction recovery, there are several resources to get you started. Use the resources below to find treatment and learn more about atheists in recovery.



Other resources for recovery:


Canton, Massachusetts

Bedrock Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

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Plymouth, Massachusetts

Ohio Recovery Center


Levels of Care:

Payment Options: Insurance Accepted, Self Pay

View Center Profile
Spring Hill Recovery Center


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