What is Higher Power in Recovery?

If you’ve just begun your recovery journey, you’ve probably heard the phrase “higher power” at least a few times. Many people with substance use disorders credit their Higher Power for granting them the strength that they needed to stay clean and sober. The connection between a Higher Power and sobriety began with the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. When Bill W. and Dr. Bob wrote the 12 Steps for recovery, they emphasized finding a Higher Power and entrusting oneself to the mercy of that power. Are you trying to decide how a Higher Power will factor into your recovery? The paragraphs below may help you make sense of the connection.

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What is a Higher Power?

A Higher Power is simply a force that is greater than oneself. For many, connecting to that force is crucial to recovery.


The AA literature often refers to the Higher Power as “God,” and for many people in recovery, that wording fits well enough into their religious beliefs. One’s Higher Power certainly can be the Abrahamic God that most Americans can easily recall. However, the 12 Steps make a point that members should get to know God “as [they] understood him.” Members are not restricted to a specific set of religious beliefs.


Since 1935 when AA was founded, the Higher Power has been a driving force in sobriety and recovery. Can you have a Higher Power if you’re not religious? This is the question we will address. With all the varied religious beliefs including those who do not believe in a Higher Power at all such as atheists and agnostics, we are about to make sense of this difficult subject.


Why does having a Higher Power help with recovery? Religious and spiritual people reap many mental health benefits from their faith. Spiritual practices like prayer provide people with healthy coping techniques during difficult situations. Maintaining a spiritual community helps provide a sense of purpose and connection. Generally, belief in a benevolent power leads to lower anxiety levels, lower stress, and better overall mental health.


The Higher Power in recovery can lend purpose and motivation to people as they work toward full sobriety, and the mental health connection means that those who embrace a Higher Power can find peace in the face of triggers.

Do you need help to overcome an addiction? Call 800-492-QUIT today.

Finding Your Higher Power

If you happen to be religious or spiritual, trusting in a Higher Power should be relatively easy. If you’re non-religious or if the idea of a traditional Higher Power doesn’t quite work for you, you can still find your own Higher Power to help you through the 12 Steps and beyond. For atheists, agnostics, and other non-religious people, a Higher Power might look like one or more of the options listed below:


  • Love
  • Kindness
  • The universe
  • The forward motion of time
  • Purpose


For those who don’t practice formal religion, the process of finding a Higher Power can get complicated and sometimes confusing. Nevertheless, your choice of a Higher Power can help you through tough periods in your recovery.

Nearly 25% of US adults consider themselves spiritual, but not religious.

Read More About This Research

Higher Power Alternatives

What if the Higher Power concept just doesn’t quite work for you? You might search for secular 12 Step groups in your area. Some groups alter the language of the 12 Steps to better fit with the beliefs of the group. You can get advice from the group members about how they reconciled their beliefs with the 12 Step process.


You should also keep in mind that you don’t have to do the 12 Steps at all. AA and other 12 Step groups are not your only options if you want to discuss recovery with like-minded people. Several recovery groups use entirely different formats but still provide the sense of community and support that 12 Step groups provide. The options below might give you a place to start:


  • LifeRing Secular Recovery
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety
  • Women for Sobriety
  • SMART Recovery


Whatever path you take for your recovery, whether you’re religious or not, you can still use certain religious practices to benefit your sobriety. Meditation, for example, is a traditionally religious practice, but it provides believers and non-believers alike with a way to handle stress and anxiety.


You can always seek professional help by calling us. If you are challenged by alcoholism, there is likely an Alcoholics Anonymous near you too. Your options are many and we are here to help 24 hours a day.

Knowing Where to Begin

When you have a substance use disorder, sometimes you know that you want to feel better, but you’re not sure how to start. You hear terms like “Higher Power” and “12 Steps” and wonder how it all fits into your life. The good news is that you don’t have to figure everything out yourself. We’re here to help.


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