Alcoholics Anonymous as a spiritual experience
December 14th, 2010
06:03 PM ET

Alcoholics Anonymous as a spiritual experience

Only the first of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous mentions alcohol. The other 11 talk about redemption, restoring moral character, and devotion to God (or other higher power).

From that perspective, it makes sense that a new study finds that Alcoholics Anonymous increases spirituality. But it goes further than that: Spirituality may actually play a role in successful recovery from alcoholism, says research in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The way that Alcoholics Anonymous members share their experiences of suffering is akin to what happens in a military unit or a musical group or a family, where the idea of "we’re all in this together" becomes particularly strong, said Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

Read the full story on AA and spirituality here on CNN's medical blog The Chart.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief

soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. aahistorian

    The quest for the real Christian roots of A.A. in Vermont, in the Christian upbringing of the co-founders, and in the founding of the first A.A. Christian Fellowship group in Akron:
    We will be in Burlington, Vermont Sunday meeting with those who will start on the journey from Burlington, St. Johnsbury, Northfield, the Moody home, Manchester, Glastenbury, Rutland, and East Dorset to hear, see, learn, discuss, and tell the real facts about the training of Bill, Ebby, Rowland, Cebra, Shep, and Dr. Bob in Vermont.And we will have with us the two new books on the subject-just published

    August 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  2. RightTurnClyde

    Alcoholics Anonymous works! That's the most important criterion. It works. Spirituality is the foundation of every human achievement: the will, the belief, the persistence in the face of unlikely odds. Strong belief and incredible will had to have been spiritual attributes for Columbus, Churchill, the Frozen Chosun, Chamberlain at Little Round Top or Moses. All led by force of will and commitment to their belief. Each faced incredibly difficult odds. Each persisted in spite of all odds. Each succeeded. AA knows how to beat a formidable addiction. I've known several who have done it (it's consistent if one does the program).

    December 21, 2010 at 10:54 am |
  3. Fricsaid

    It never fails. I say show me a story that has to do with God and I'll show you an Atheist in close tow. I've never seen a lot get so angry in the beliefs of others. Well, it appears that terrorist are that way, but other than them......;)

    December 15, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
    • Gary

      Most terrorists are religious fanatic's .......

      December 16, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
    • David Johnson


      Okay, here is a chicken Vs. egg riddle for you:

      Do crazy people become religious, or does religion make people crazy?

      Fundies! Feel free to play!


      December 17, 2010 at 8:07 am |
  4. The Irony

    @ ScottK

    Placing your faith in man, and all of his so called "scientific theories" before you place your faith in God, your Creator, is a dangerous thing. My "proof" is with me daily, something you would never understand until you SEEK HIM.

    ..and please do, lose the ego.

    December 15, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Gary

      keep seeking and more power to you........As an agnostic I just can not believe in something I can not see,hear, or feel

      December 16, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • The Irony

      @ Gary

      If you have accepted Christ into your life, you can definitely feel it. The Spirit is very present within you when you take this step. Yes, it is a process, but well worth it. The key is to surrender (which takes time), and let Him guide you. You will begin to sense His presence daily. Don't give up, everyone's faith will be tested. God is no fool, Gary.

      December 17, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  5. GSA

    @The Irony – maybe take a look at other religions. Take a long, hard look and not at the big 3 or 4 main religions and don't just blindly follow the masses or what your parents taught you. You will find that many not only have writings that hold true to the spiritual sense but also have backing with facts and science. I'm Sikh and our holy book (original writings not translations or re-writes or translated through radicals) dates the Earth back billions of years ago and speaks of dinosaurs, time and space travel as well as God in the spiritual sense, love, caring, forgiveness, peace, understanding and finding truth and meaning through hard-work for the greater good. The religion is only 500 years old or so but the writings hold true no matter what angle you try to look at them from. Like ScottK mentions, the fact that anyone would believe anything that says the earth is only 6000 yrs old is beyond me.
    That being said, the majority of Sikhs have fallen to the wayside as well and can't seem to grasp the simple and plain logic written out for them and instead make their own "rules and requirements" which plague all religions and religious leaders alike.

    December 15, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • The Irony

      @ GSA

      I have studied, and currently still do study different religions, including the new age non-sense alot of these people believe in nowadays. Everything from buddhism to 2012, I've got it covered. And guess what?? Every single time it has brought me right back to the truth in Christ. There is no other, no match, and no proof given to one for his or her faith as there is in CHRIST JESUS. He came here for a REAL reason and it's just too bad so many of you are being misled by heresy, false religions, and false doctrine. There is so much BS on the internet that people either don't know what to believe, or don't believe in anything at all (besides themselves). All I can say to you non-believers is this: I was once JUST LIKE YOU. I did not have a relationship with God and did not want one. By chance, I decided to take the first step and seek Him instead of listening to other men who doubt. Seek and you WILL find, I promise you that. But remember, building a relationship with anyone, including God, takes a little time. However, you will not be disappointed in the One you find.

      One more thing: I've noticed that politics, particularly the far right, carry some responsibility for turning people away from God. The enemy's #1 weapon is DIVISION and he will use anything, including government, media, and political issues, to keep us divided. Please do not let these ignoramuses steer you away from your Creator. Don't allow them to steal your life or your faith because they have abused theirs. You have to see through the fog and realize what is happening and what really matters. This life is temporary, there is so much more ahead of you. Yes, there are Christians who do not practice Christ, and there are real Christians, who love God, their fellow man, and strive for unity. However, we can not sit dormant and allow our non-believing brothers and sisters to miss out on what we found. This thing is real, and you have to wrap your head and your heart around this statement before it is too late. SEEK HIM AND YOU WILL FIND HIM.

      December 17, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  6. The Irony

    Based on the over-whelming amount of igorance of non-believers, not only on this board but across the Belief blog in general, I can truly without shadow of a doubt say that Christ will be returning soon. The bible has clearly stated that there will be a great "falling away" before God wraps this thing up. In other words, the ignorance and pure blashemus nature of people would be pushed to the forefront as it is happening at the present time. I would just like to take a moment to say thank you, yes, thank you for the confirmation of God's prophetic word that you have absolutely no clue about. Most of you actually believe that you can use human "logic" to decipher things of the spiritual realm? lol. Good luck with that! It seems to me that if it doesn't make "sense" to YOUR tiny little human brain, then it's just not possible and can not happen? Really? Wow. You people have ALOT to learn. Here's a suggestion before I leave you to the rest of your own suicide missions: Instead of seeking ways to doubt God, try SEEKING GOD. I mean, did any of you ever think of that?? If you actually believe in your heart that MY faith in God exists because I am simply going out on a limb, then you truly truly don't get it...like....AT ALL. The "proof" you so desperately seem to need is right at the door, but you choose to chase after this theory, or that theory, or whatever makes sense to you in this "physical world." Sorry folks, but you will continue going in that endless circle until the day your heart stops if you don't humble yourself, let go of that useless ego, get on your knees and approach God directly. No man or woman down here will be able to provide the "proof" you are looking for . But it's just so hard for you to wrap your head around these facts I've given you.....isn't it?

    December 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • civilioutside

      Speaking of ignorance... apparently you don't realize that a substantial portion of atheists come to their nonbelief after seeking god and not finding him or any other. So yeah... we did think of that.

      December 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • ScottK

      "let go of that useless ego" and I guess we should also let go of that mountain of scientific evidence that proves the earth is over 4 billion years old, not 6000, and the fosil record that clearly points to evolviing life instead of "poof" instant creation. By the way, try looking up the difference between scientific theory vs theory because they are not the same thing and you just might learn something. I dont disagree, ignorance is bliss and you seem to be very happy in your own little world.

      December 15, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • The Irony

      @ ScottK

      Placing your faith in man, and all of his so called "scientific theories" before you place your faith in God, your Creator, is a dangerous thing. My "proof" is with me daily, something you would never understand until you SEEK HIM.

      ...and please do, lose the ego.

      December 15, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Frogist

      @The Irony: Not another copy/paster! We already have Reality and Mike, Not me... now you too?! End times or no, a little tolerance and humility would serve you well. BTW you have any comments about AA?

      December 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @The Irony

      You Said: "I can truly say without shadow of a doubt say that Christ will be returning soon."

      *sighs*-- The Irony.... You can absolutely say without a shadow of a doubt that you 'believe' that Jesus Christ will be returning soon, or anything else for that matter, however... your 'believing' it, without a shadow of a doubt, 'does not' make it *the truth*. Yes... it is certainly possible. But, please, don't delude yourself, nor make yourself look and sound ignorant, by trying to state your 'beliefs' as if they are = to FACTS... which you and I both know, they are not. Possibilities... yes. Facts... no.

      Good luck to you @The Irony...


      December 16, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  7. DWTT


    December 15, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  8. JustRemember

    He stated Himself that He didn't come for those who didn't need Him...

    December 15, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • CatholicMom


      You are so right……..

      Some ‘think’ they don’t need a Savior until they are on their death bed. Thank God, it is never too late to learn the Truth.

      December 15, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  9. David Johnson

    Riddle for the fundies:

    What do Jesus and Santa have in common?

    Ans. – Neither one is coming. LOL


    December 15, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  10. David Johnson


    You said: "I'm glad there are alternative programs that do not mix religion in with other aspects of it because it would be a shame to get out from under one dangerous addiction just to get hooked on another."

    Oh, I love what you say sometimes! May the baby Jesus bring you lots of presents! Or, have I got my myths mixed up again?


    December 15, 2010 at 9:12 am |
  11. Frogist

    Spirituality can be defined without supernatural terms. It can be self-awareness, interconnectedness of people, recognizing your effect on your surroundings etc etc. It is a very broad term. And apparently these are some of the important parts of recognizing your addiction and how it is detrimental to your life. I realize that many AA groups are NOT proselytizing for a single religion or any religion. But it does worry me that the religious side of it could turn people away from a program that is successful in really helping people do away with their addictions. I'm glad there are alternative programs that do not mix religion in with other aspects of it because it would be a shame to get out from under one dangerous addiction just to get hooked on another.

    December 15, 2010 at 9:05 am |
    • Frogist

      @David Johnson: LOL! Jesus, Santa... heck I don't care so long as I get something nice in my stocking.

      December 15, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  12. David Johnson

    Alcohol and religion are both an addiction. There should be a 12 point program to get off the "god".

    December 15, 2010 at 7:23 am |
  13. Reality

    The One Step Program to Save Christians from the Resurrection Con:

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

    Even now even Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university's theology grad school notes:

    "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

    The Single Step Program continued:

    "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

    The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

    Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

    December 14, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • Mike, not me

      The next paragraph in the introduction of the book The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue states

      Ben Meyer comments that most Jesus scholars of the day couple the liberal emphasis on the ethics with an equally liberal "hermeneutic of empathy" In turn, a host of imaginative these were put forward in an effort to understand more fully Jesus religious experience by tracing out the psychological development of Jesus's messianic awareness. This was very attractive in that it allowed the authors to write something akin to a biography of Jesus. The weakness of this approach lay in the fact that it depended more on the imagination than on the historical method. Again the resurrection is moved to the background as the light is focused on Jesus' psche and the effect hist teachings had on the early Chrurch.

      William Wrede responded to such ideas by insisting that the nineteenth-century psychological theories of Jesus' work were derived from somewhere other than the text. Wrede declares: And this is the malady to which we must here allude–lut us not dignify it with the euphemish "historical imagination." The Scientific study of the life of Jesus is suffering from psychological "suppositionitis" which amounts to a sort of historical guesswork. For this reason interpretations to suit every taste proliferated. The number of arbitrary psychological interpretations at the same time from the basis of important structures of thought; and how often do people think that the task of criticism has already been discharged by palying tuneful psychological variations on the given factual theme!"

      December 15, 2010 at 8:28 am |
    • jeff

      @mike, not me – hey, I'm enjoying your book recommendation – I also got "Reinventing Jesus" by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace. Very interesting look at the texts we have, the methods of textual criticism, etc. And, interestingly, a number of the members of the Jesus Seminar are used as poster children for bad scholarship...

      grace and peace,


      December 15, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Reality

      Added suggested reading on the subject of the historical Jesus:

      John Dominic Crossan

      Excavating Jesus: Beneath the Stones, Behind the Texts (Harper San Francisco 2001)
      The Birth of Christianity (Harper San Francisco 1999)
      The Jesus Controversy : Perspectives in Conflict (Trinity Pr Intl 1999)
      Who Is Jesus? (Westminster John Knox 1999)
      The Essential Jesus (Book Sales 1998)
      Who Killed Jesus? (Harper San Francisco 1996)
      Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (Harper San Francisco 1995)
      In Parables : The Challenge of the Historical Jesus (Polebridge Press 1994)
      The Historical Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1993)
      An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Chronological Stratification (online)
      An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Independent Attestation (online)
      Common Sayings Tradition in Gospel of Thomas and Q Gospel (online)
      Seminar: HJ Materials & Methodology (online)
      A Closer Look at the Mustard Seed (online)
      Was Jesus Buried? (online)
      Alchemy and Accuracy (online)
      A Review of John Dominic Crossan's The Birth of Christianity (Harvard Theological Review 2001, reproduced online)
      Danny Yee's Book Reviews: The Historical Jesus (online)
      Simple Choices? A Response to John Dominic Crossan

      Marcus Borg

      The Meaning of Jesus : Two Visions (Harper San Francisco 2000)
      Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus (Trinity Pr Intl 1998)
      The Lost Gospel Q : The Original Sayings of Jesus (Ulysses Pr 1996)
      Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (Harper San Francisco 1995)
      Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship (Trinity Pr Intl 1994)
      Jesus : A New Vision (Harper San Francisco 1991)
      A Renaissance in Jesus Studies (online)
      David Friedrich Strauss: Miracle and Myth (online)
      The Historical Jesus and Christian Preaching (online)

      Robert Funk

      The Gospel of Jesus : According to the Jesus Seminar (Polebridge Press 1999)
      The Acts of Jesus : The Search for the Authentic Deeds of Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1998)
      The Five Gospels : The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (Harper San Francisco 1997)
      Honest to Jesus : Jesus for a New Millennium (Harper Collins 1997)
      The Jesus Seminar Description Website (online)
      Premises and Rules of Evidence (online)
      The Jesus Seminar: Decisions of Authenticity (online)

      Gerd Lüdemann

      Jesus After 2000 Years : What He Really Said and Did (Prometheus Books 2001)
      The Great Deception : And What Jesus Really Said and Did (Prometheus Books 1999)
      Virgin Birth : The Real Story of Mary and Her Son Jesus (Trinity Pr Intl 1998)
      What Really Happened to Jesus : A Historical Approach to the Resurrection (Westminster John Knox Pr 1996)
      Heretics: The Other Side of Early Christianity (Westminster John Knox Pr 1996)
      Resurrection of Jesus : History, Experience, Theology (Fortress Pr 1995)
      Gerd Lüdemann on the Secular Web (online)
      Gerd Lüdemann's Homepage (online)

      John P. Meier- Notre Dame

      A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 3 (Anchor Books 2001)
      A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 2 (Doubleday 1994)
      A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 1 (Doubleday 1991)
      Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier (online)
      The Present State of the 'Third Quest' for the Historical Jesus: Loss and Gain (online)
      The Historical Jesus and the Historical Samaritans: What can be Said? (online)
      The Historical Jesus and the Life of Faith (by David L. Bartlett, reproduced online)
      "Companions and Competi-tors" – and Context? (online)

      Luke Timothy Johnson- Notre Dame

      The Writings of the New Testament : An Interpretation (Fortress Pr 1999)
      The Real Jesus : The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and Truth of the Traditional Gospels (Harper San Francisco 1997)
      "Whose Faith Saves?" Summary of a Lecture by Luke Timothy Johnson (online)
      The New Testament and the Examined Life: Thoughts on Teaching (online)
      Reshuffling the Gospels: Jesus According to Spong and Wilson (online)
      Higher Critical Review. The Real Jesus. By Robert Price. (online)
      Jesus at 2000: The e-mail debate (online)

      December 15, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  14. Reality

    There are a number of Step Programs for saving people:

    For example:

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    December 14, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  15. ScottK

    There are AA groups that alter the 12 steps to cater to those without a belief in God, but they still talk about higher powers and giving yourself over to that power, which still ends up going down the God path. I guess if people feel the need to invent a cricket named Jimminy to sit on their shoulder and slap the drinks out of their hands then fine, whatever helps them stay sober. Its just sad that so many people are afflicted with this disease and they are told their only hope is to believe in invisible people.

    December 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
    • jeff

      @ScottK, while I don't know recovery rates for atheists versus those who believe in God, or any breakout by religion, I do know that some folks navigate the "Higher Power" issue by viewing the Group Of Drunks as their source for encouragement, accountability, etc. Alcoholism can be an incredibly isolating disease, and it causes folks to turn inward and experience great loneliness, with a feeling that nobody else could be broken like you are. When you meet a bunch of other folks who were just as messed up as you were (or worse), and you see that they are a happy group who have discovered some way to remain sober, it provides tremendous relief/encouragement. For me, that was the starting point, because I was an atheist/agnostic. Nobody required me to believe in invisible people. I just ended up continuing down the spirituality path, and finding three that I really really liked 🙂

      grace and peace,


      December 14, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.