alcohol treatment replaced with religion?

Can an Alcoholic Get Sober Without Going to Treatment or Attending AA?

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Yes they can. There are many paths in recovery. But the question is complicated, and is worthy of further exploration:

It is a fairly common and widely held belief that getting clean and sober requires you to go through rehab and then attend AA for the rest of your life. Because of the press, the media, and the stories we have heard, the “rehab to AA” route has become our basic assumption about how people get clean and sober. But is this really the only way?

Short answer: Addicts and alcoholics can absolutely achieve recovery without treatment or 12 step programs.

We know this to be true, based on the fact that both treatment centers and 12 step programs are relatively new creations (only a few hundred years old), whereas people have been successfully recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism for thousands of years. Some people erroneously believe that before AA, no one had ever achieved sobriety. This is not true, and the idea could limit some people in their recovery. How? Because there is a whole world of spiritual growth and personal development outside the realm of the 12 step program.

Does this mean AA is bad, or not useful? Of course not! However, it is very possible to grow spiritually and overcome addiction by other means. In addition, some people are terrified of AA meetings. Their are some who suffer from anxiety, or who cannot tolerate speaking in a group setting. To these people, telling them that AA is the only way is like a death sentence, and is grounds and justification for more drinking. The same might be true for some addicts with a certain aversion to rehab. Whatever. The point is, it is possible to find another way. (note: if you are looking for possible solutions, you might want to have a look at this).

However…..there are 2 sides to this coin.

Why limit yourself?

The challenge that lays in front of the newcomer is monumental. At first, the task of living clean and sober can seem overwhelming. Unfortunately, the rather grim statistics predict that most addicts are likely to relapse, even those who are afforded every opportunity to succeed, and have every support option available to them. This is not said to discourage you. Instead, use it as a tool to help motivate you. In other words, realize that the odds are stacked against the newcomer, and you need to use every available tool at our disposal if you are going to succeed.

The thing about 12 step programs and treatment centers is that they offer concentrated support. They specialize in helping recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, and it isn’t likely that you can find that same level of support anywhere else.

Support might be found elsewhere, such as in a religious community, but the support isn’t specific to the problem of addiction. The peer support there might not be able to relate to you as an alcoholic or drug addict, and therefore cannot give specific and meaningful advice when it comes to the typical trials and struggles of recovery.

In short, most addicts and alcoholics need (at the very least) a supportive community of others in recovery that can help them to stay clean and sober. Treatment centers and 12 step programs are the quickest, easiest, and in some cases, the only place to find this level of concentrated support. To avoid them is to complicate your recovery efforts and possibly make the goal of long term sobriety very difficult to achieve.

Action items – what you can do

1) Stay open to support – regardless of the source (be it AA, church, family members, etc.)

2) Don’t get scared off by the extremists that claim AA is the only way (or that it doesn’t work).

3) Figure out what works for you and then pursue that strategy with overwhelming force.


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  • Steven

    Yes, it is possible to stop drinking without the help of treatment or AA. I drank excessively for 27 years. I’m surprised I am still alive today. On March 10, 1998 I stopped, three months before my 50th birthday.

    After 27 years of foolishness, I decided I wanted a life that made sense. I didn’t want the next fifty years to be like the last fifty years.

    Hey! It’s been ten wonderful years and I am doing just fine.

    People ask me if AA helped. I have to tell them I never went. To quote Groucho Marx: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”

    Two books, however, helped me a great deal and I pick them up and read them every couple of years. Drinking A Love Story by Caroline Knapp has had a profound effect on me. I also have to thank Thich Nhat Hanh for his book, The Miracle of Mindfulness.

    Peace and bright blessings!

  • Nathan Harris

    Your third action item is great advice

  • Patrick

    Thanks for your comment Steven. Congratulations on your 10 years of sobriety, that is truly a blessing. I have been meaning to pick up the Miracle of Mindfulness on a recommendation from another friend of mine, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Thanks for the reminder.

    Good luck to you in your recovery and God bless.

  • Sue

    I drank most of my life until I was 35 and then I watched a friend of mine, a mother, my age, who had a son the same age as mine, die from brain cancer. She wanted to live so desperately to see her son grow up, and here, I was killing myself and missing my son’s growing up years, due to drinking. I couldn’t reconcile myself to that, so I quit. Since then, several very tragic things has happened in my life, one of my children died, my husband died, I remarried and that husband left me as soon as my death benefits ran out, my second husband convinced me to quit my true passion in life which was teaching, I had to declare bankruptcy. I ended up moving back to my hometown, working in a retail store. I realize these are no excuses, and life happens, and you are in control of somethings,but certainly how you react to life circumstances. Since moving, I began drinking again. And now, I desperately want to stop, every morning, feeling lousy and guilty, I vow not to drink that day. But as the day goes on, I begin thinking of drinking that night, and it improves my mood. It’s like I can focus on getting through the day knowing I have that reward at the end. I hate that I have no ambition, except to drink, the things I used to enjoy are now chores. Plus, I have a 16 yr old son with cerebral palsy at home and my mood swings are driving him crazy. He is a sweet and special child with whom I have a very close relationship, he’s a blessing that I am throwing away with every drink. My health is starting to be affected, my family is worried and disappointed and frankly disgusted. They really don’t want to have anything to do with me. I have no friends. I can’t afford counseling, and this is a small town so my reputation and the reputation of my family would be ruined if I go to counseling. I know I can do this on my own. If I could just get a few days of sobriety under my belt the benefits of feeling physically and emotionally better would be enough to keep me away from the alcohol. Oh well, thanks for listening. I appreciate it.

  • Patrick

    Hi there Sue

    The one thing that jumped out at me in your comment there was the dangerous statement “I know I can do this on my own.”

    Really? How come you have not done it then? I knew I was beat and that alcohol had me down for the count. It took me 20 months in long term treatment and a whole lot of help from a whole bunch of people to get me to sober up.

    If you are a true alcoholic, then you need help in order to stop. In fact, that is the definition of an alcoholic. Not someone who drinks too much, but someone who cannot stop on their own. That is a true alcoholic.

    Only you can say for sure if you are a true alcoholic.

    Are you?

    Prayers for you and your son…..

  • Sue

    Thanks for the insight Patrick, I appreciate anything which anyone has to offer. I’ll have to think about your comment. I never considered that maybe I wasn’t a true alcoholic. Maybe I have been using that as an excuse to drink? You know, I am an alcoholic, therefore, I can’t help but drink, therefore, it’s beyond my control to stop drinking…interesting.

    Thanks, and thanks for the prayers.

  • Patrick

    The flip side to that idea Sue is that you need to pay close attention to the outcome when and if you try to stop drinking on your own.

    Can’t stop on your own = true alcoholic.

    Denial is when you claim that you did not really want to stop in the first place.

    Tricky, tricky. Be careful and let us know how you are doing…..

  • Sue

    Thanks for the insight and the support. I will keep you updated. The first step is a huge one, and that is terminating my relationship with my boyfriend. He is a heavy alcohol user if not an alcoholic. His whole life revolves around alcohol. He does nothing outside of work which does not involve alcohol. I love him very much, but I wonder if there is really a relationship, I’ve been seeing him for 3 years and I can’t tell you of one night where he didn’t drink, and very few where he wasn’t drunk. With the alcohol aside, he is a very good person and he just came out of a marriage 3 years ago which he did not want the divorce. I worry what might happen to him if I leave him. And to be honest, I don’t really want to go through that pain either. Right now, the relationship isn’t the greatest (especially when he is drunk), but the dysfunctionality of the relationship isn’t as painful (yet) as the breakup would be. I can think this whole situation to death…which also enables me not to act. And I think that is the key, to act and see what results of that action. Anyway, Patrick, I appreciate your responses. Take care.

  • Michael

    Steven …. your post dates 2 years passed. I see no apparent way to connect with you, but connect with you I must ( because of several connections ) ! Please email, if you find this reply at

    thanks so much.

    – Michael

  • Mikey

    AA did nothing for me. I’ve been to rehab and had the 12 steps crammed down my throat ever since; but still I would go back. I hit rock bottom when my wife threatened to leave me (for real this time) and I sat in a shrik’s office with the doc, myself, my mother, and my wife. They called me on all my lies and bullshit. That was the bottom. Since then a light has illuminated within me with the pure intent of being a clean and sober person with the intent of being the best person/husband/and human being possible. The thought of taking another drink is as incomprehesible to me as imagining a four-sided circle.

    Hope is out there for those who have nowhere else to go.

  • Addict in Recovery

    One thing I can say for certain is that with respect to drug addiction and alcoholism, no two sufferers are the same. Drug rehab certainly helped me with the initial recovery period since it took away my freedoms and kept me occupied in positive ways. At the same rate however, I have seen many addicts & alcoholics make a firm decision to change their lives and have since remained sober and productive!

  • Anonymous

    I have had some sort of addiction since I was 12 years old. I am now 56. I was able to beat Heroine in my 20’s, prescription drugs in my 30’s, an Crack Cocaine in my 40,s, but, for the life of me, I cant stop drinking, and I do mean for the life of me, since my life of addiction has left me with liver damage, and who knows what else. Maybe its because alcohol is so easy to obtain. You can walk in buy all you want, and everyone is nice and friendly. How do you quit when you just dont want to, but, you know if you dont, you will more than likely, die. well, I have to try. Wish me luck. Bobbie

  • Margaret

    I quit drinking cold-turkey after 31 years of slow suicide, from age 18 to 49. At the end I was drinking shots of Bacardi 151. My body couldn’t take it anymore. I listened to the pain and I’ve been sober ever since. All my desire to drink is completely gone. I feel profound gratitude and, yes, serenity, even without AA. In rehab circles, I was what is known as a “retread.” It didn’t work for me. All I did was flush thousands of dollars down the sewer.

    Good luck to all of you who still struggle. For 31 years of hard drinking, I doubted I could ever sober up, but here I am at last. If I can do it, anyone can. Just walk away from it. Find a good doctor if you need help with the shakes. If you’re religious, say a prayer every day. Believe it or not, one of the stories in the Big Book is of an old man who did just that. No meetings, no sponsors. He just quit drinking. After that, he simply got up every day and thanked God, and it worked for him for the rest of his life. Show that story to the Big Book thumpers if you ever run across them. I do so every time they question my sobriety, and it shuts them up every time.

  • Michelle

    Your history is inaccurate. Carl Yung a freudian student, and many other doctors in the field of addiction/alcoholism stated that most people of this type do not get better, except on occasion once in a while and a rare occurrence if they have a spiritual experience significant enough to bring about a psychic change. In the days before AA most people in this group ended up in an institution. There was no cure, it was mostly by accident. AA is a program that gives a map to this spiritual experience and has be the most effective treatment. It is a bout a spiritual path for your life, not just a way to get sober. If you have not read the book or worked the steps you have no idea what happens or what they produce. But that is neither here nor there. Your history is flawed, period.