More non-religious support groups are needed

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As America becomes an increasingly more diverse country, I believe that we need to be accommodating of everyone’s differences. One of those major differences right now is religion. While the country is founded on “freedom of religion,” there are still a lot of subtle ways that Christianity is enforced by social norms, like the lack of resources for non-Christians struggling with addiction.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step program that helps people overcome their alcohol and drug addictions. It is based off a book of the same name, first published in 1939. While it is amazing that there are people willing to help those suffering from alcoholism, I believe there’s a need for more types of support groups. Seven of the 12 steps involve either God or a Christian faith. The end goal of sobriety is to achieve a spiritual awakening.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, as for many people, their belief in God helps them to get through their hardest challenges. However, I believe that there is a need for secular alternatives to this group, and other alternatives for people of faiths outside Christianity.

According to the New York Times, there are roughly 150 secular AA groups as of 2014. While this may sound like a lot, it averages out to three per state. Some of these groups have reworded the steps to fit with members’ beliefs. Instead of needing divine assistance, for example, it has been changed to “strengths beyond our awareness and resources to restore us to sanity.”

One group that offers an alternative is Women for Sobriety. It was founded by Jean Kirkpatrick, and it focuses on empowering women to lead a life without alcohol addiction. The program does have spiritual and metaphysical aspects, but it does not focus on any particular deity, so women from different religions, and potentially agnostic women, may feel comfortable.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is another alternative, founded by James Christopher. The group’s approach is pretty much the same as AA, with all the references to God or religion removed.

Perhaps one of the most popular alternatives is SMART Recovery (SR). SR is based upon science and self-empowerment. They offer face-to-face meetings as well as online meetings for those who may not live near a group or have limited access to a vehicle. The program has four steps to help addicts live a life of alcohol abstinence. They do not require lifetime meeting attendance once abstinence is attained.

Moderation Management is another group I’ve come across. In addition to no religious basis, it has a nine-step program that focuses on teaching people about responsible drinking. Successful outcomes would include if the person suffering from alcoholism manages to lessen their drinking or quit completely.

I think it would be beneficial if there were more secular groups for addicts to turn
to. There should be some that incorporate other religions as well, but I couldn’t really find any. Many therapists recommend their patients try mindfulness, and there’s a lot of studies that prove how beneficial it is. Mindfulness could be implemented in a secular AA-type group, but it could also be used in a Buddhist group because that’s where meditation is derived from.

Because some religions forbid alcohol, like Islam, there may not be many support groups for their members who have an issue with alcohol. An AA-type group for Muslims may be helpful, as alcoholism for members of a religion that forbids alcohol may present a unique struggle that a secular or other religious support group may not be equipped to handle.

Still, all these support groups are a great thing. Before the ‘90s and ‘00s, there weren’t a lot of alternative groups for alcoholics that weren’t Christian or focused on those interested in becoming a Christian. I think that whatever route someone takes to
heal is a great one, and I hope that in the future there will be many more options so everyone suffering from an addiction can find the help they need.